So you’ve done your duty and gotten a semen analysis. Everything came back normal so that means you’re in the clear and you’ll have a baby in no time, right?
Not necessarily. Unfortunately, a normal semen analysis score doesn’t mean you’re completely in the clear.
Shortcomings of the Semen Analysis
While a semen analysis is a great, simple way to get a snapshot of the strength of the male reproductive system, it's not a perfect assessment by any means. If you scored on the low side of the normal range in any of the tests, you and your partner may still have difficulty conceiving.
That’s because the minimum levels for “normal” are actually based on the lowest 5 percent of fertile males. What's more, the cut off limits for normal fertility have steadily declined over the last 20 years, so a semen analysis today is increasingly likely to give you a false positive (the perception that everything is ok, even though it isn't).
What A Low-Normal Score Means for Your Fertility
Men who score in the lowest 20 percent of a normal semen analysis — what we like to call the "gray area" — are much more likely to have difficulty conceiving than men with higher levels of important semen parameters such as concentration, morphology, and motility.
Studies show that men in this group:
- Are more likely to be diagnosed with infertility: If a single parameter is in the gray area, men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with infertility. If two parameters are in the gray area, there is a five to seven times greater chance that they will struggle to conceive naturally.
- Have a lower chance of conceiving each cycle: Couples with men at the bottom of the gray area have about a 7.5 percent chance of conception per cycle while couples with men in the healthier part of the gray area have about a 20 percent chance.
- Experience a slower time to pregnancy: When compared to healthier couples, only half as many couples with a male in the gray area were able to conceive in six months or less.
A semen analysis isn’t always sensitive enough to identify infertile or subfertile males. As a result, many men are told their levels are “normal” or “completely fine” when their fertility is actually less than ideal.
To find out if you might be in the gray area of fertility, simply double the lower reference limits for a “normal” score on the semen analysis and compare them to your own. For those numbers, check out our blog post, Are Your Swimmers In Shape? The Five Most Important Numbers in a Semen Analysis.
If you do find that your numbers are low, know that male fertility can change. Diet, supplements, exercise, and healthy lifestyle changes have all been shown to improve semen parameters. Your semen analysis numbers are not set in stone! They’re simply a starting point on the road to healthy fertility.
Stay tuned for the rest of November as we continue to our series on male fertility, and make sure you read our other posts: The Three Biggest Myths About Male Fertility & Are Your Swimmers In Shape? The Five Most Important Numbers in a Semen Analysis.