Why there is more to male fertility than sperm count 

Why There Is More To Male Fertility Than Sperm Count

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When it comes to male fertility, you might be forgiven for thinking that sperm count is the be-all and end-all. Now, it’s fair to say that getting pregnant is a bit of a numbers game, but that doesn’t mean that your sperm count is the sole predictor of how likely you are to conceive naturally – there’s a bit more to it than that.

Here we’ll explain why sperm count is only part of the equation and discover what is the best indicator of male fertility.   

What is a normal sperm count?

Sperm count is one of the sperm health parameters many of us are familiar with. Whilst often used interchangeably with sperm concentration, sperm count tends to refer to the total number of spermatozoa produced per ejaculation, concentration refers to the sperm count per millilitre of semen.

On average a normal sperm count is over 15 million sperm cells per millilitre. If you have less than that, it’s classed as Oligospermia, which basically means low sperm count. If you are struggling with Oligospermia there is a chance that it may be harder to conceive or that you might require assisted fertility treatments. There can be a few different causes of low sperm count – but often it can be improved through lifestyle changes or with medical interventions. 

If you have next to no sperm cells in your ejaculate, this is known as Azoospermia. Azoospermia is harder to turn around and is usually due to a previous medical condition or genetic disorder.   

But that’s not the whole story…

If you were playing a football match, would you rather have 11 men who were slow and had lots of injuries, or 10 men who were incredibly fit and at the top of their game? Personally, we’d go for fewer men who were performing highly! And that analogy can help you understand why sperm count is only one factor in your ability to conceive. 

For sperm to reach and fertilise the egg, they have to move. The sperm cell’s ability to move (at pace and in the right direction!) is known as sperm motility. Now, you could have 25 million sperm cells per millilitre and be getting top points on sperm count. But if most of those cells are static they’re not going to help you make a baby. 

Progressive vs non-progressive motility

Even within motility, it’s important to differentiate between progressive and non-progressive. Progressive motility is what you want to see. It’s the sperm cell’s capability to swim mostly in a straight line or in very large circles – and a good indicator that it will be able to make it up the vaginal canal to fertilise the egg. Speed-wise, you want to see sperm cells moving around 25 micrometres per second.  

Non-progressive motility is when the sperm cells are moving but very slowly and not in a straight line – or sometimes in very small circles.   

Whilst not every sperm cell you have will be giving Usain Bolt levels of speed, WHO guidelines recommend that at least 32% of sperm cells in an ejaculate should have good progressive motility, else it could cause issues with making a baby. 

Now, of course, the more moving cells the better (which is where sperm count comes back into it) but to get a good idea about male fertility we need to look at Total Motile Sperm Count. 

What is Total Motile Sperm Count? 

Total Motile Sperm Count (TMSC) is the total amount of moving sperm you have in a sample and is widely considered the best indicator of male fertility. The equation to figure it out is fairly simple. 

(Sperm count per millilitre x semen volume in millilitres x percentage of sperm motility) ÷ 100 = Total Motile Sperm Count. 

For example, if you had 35 million sperm cells/mL of semen, you were ejaculating 2mL of semen and 32% of those sperm cells were showing progressive motility, the equation would look like this. 

35 million sperm/mL  x 2mL of semen x 32 (percent) motility ÷ 100 = A TMSC of 22.4 Million 

What is a good Total Motile Sperm Count?

Obviously, the higher the Total Motile Sperm Count the better! But a TMSC of 7.5 million and above is considered normal. 

Because Total Motile Sperm count takes into account a number of factors, you could have a slightly under-average sperm count but good progressive motility and still have a healthy-looking TMSC. eg. 

10 million sperm/mL x 3mL of semen x 55 (percent) motility = 16.5 million TMSC 

Likewise, you could have a slightly low motility score but have lots of sperm cells and still end up with a normal TMSC eg. 

 30 million sperm/mL x 3mL of semen x 20 (percent) motility = 18 million TMSC 

It’s important to do everything you can to optimise both your sperm count and sperm motility – and both can be impacted by unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking, stress, excessive drinking and a lack of nutrients and exercise. You can learn more about improving your overall sperm health here. 

How can I find out my Total Motile Sperm Count?

Our ExSeed at-home sperm tests can quantify everything needed to find out your Total Motile Sperm Count. You produce a sample into the cup provided and record the semen volume into the app yourself. 

Then using the ExSeed device and your smartphone you take a moving image of your sperm sample. Our in-app technology will then count the sperm cells and assess their motility – and then automatically generate a Total Motile Sperm Count! 

Click this link to find out more about our fertility test today. 

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.


Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.


Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.


Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.


There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  


A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.


Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.