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Men, Masturbation and Fertility

There’s a lot of chatter when it comes to male masturbation and what it says about a man’s fertility or whether it’s an issue when a couple is actively trying to conceive. Is fresh sperm best? Should a guy try to “save it up” for the best chances of getting his partner pregnant? Is frequent masturbation a sign of virility? All good questions! And in the interest of clearing up the confusion, we’re taking a facts-based approach to the topic of men, masturbation and fertility.

Key Takeaways

  • Men produce sperm around the clock, but each one must undergo a key maturation process before it can successfully fertilize an egg.
  • Mature sperm is stored until ejaculation, but the longer it waits, the faster its quality degrades. There is no evidence that semen retention offers any fertility benefits.
  • For couples hoping to conceive, timing sex around ovulation is key and it may be wise to forego masturbation during this fertility window.
  • Masturbation may have a short-term effect on testosterone levels, but it doesn’t negatively affect male fertility.

Sperm Production: An Overview

It’s difficult to talk about the relationship between frequent ejaculation and fertility without first addressing sperm production. People generally understand that most men produce millions of new sperm. But every single one must undergo a critical maturation process known as spermatogenesis. During this roughly three-month process, brand new sperm cells, which are initially formed in the testicles and lack the ability to move, let alone fertilize an egg, go through big changes to become fully functioning sperm capable of both movement and successful fertilization.

As an aside, this is a prime opportunity to nourish and support sperm health with a healthy lifestyle and specialized nutrition in the form of a high-quality men’s prenatal vitamin. Research is clear that specific nutrients directly affect sperm production, quality, concentration, motility and DNA, along with all sorts of modifiable external factors, from exercise to alcohol to stress management to sleep quality (1).

So, what happens to all that sperm? Where does it go? Sperm cells are stored in the testicles until they’re close to fully mature. Once they’ve developed a head filled with genetic material and a long tail that enables mobility, they move to the epididymis, which is essentially a tube located in the back of the testicles. During ejaculation, muscle contractions move the sperm to what’s known as the vas deferens, where it’s combined with seminal fluid, or semen, and then funneled to the urethra for release.

Does That Make Semen Retention The Best Approach?

You might assume that the longer a man goes without ejaculating, the more sperm he’ll have, and the greater the likelihood of a conception. In fact, there’s a whole school of thought based on this idea of semen retention and its positive effect on a man’s energy, fertility and sexual pleasure. It kind of makes sense, but there’s zero clinical evidence to support it. What’s more, it may even be problematic if the goal is a baby. That’s because the longer sperm hangs out in the epididymis, the faster its overall quality drops.

While the amount of semen and the concentration of sperm in that semen do indeed increase after one or two days of abstinence, sperm quality begins to nosedive after two days of abstinence. DNA quality in sperm also begins to decline the longer a man abstains.

Does That Mean Frequent Mastubration Or Sex Is Best?

Masturbation, and the frequency thereof, is of course a personal choice. And unless it’s affecting your lifestyle, it’s not really something you can overdo. But if the goal is to have a baby, the focus should really be on timing sex for the very best chances. A woman’s best chance of becoming pregnant is when she ovulates. That tends to happen around day 14 of her cycle, regardless of its length. An egg survives between 12 and 24 hours after it’s released. Sperm can survive between 3 and 5 days in a woman’s body, which puts the peak fertility window at about six days (up to five days before she ovulates and up to about a day afterward). That’s why experts recommend having sex daily or every other day during this window for the best shot at conceiving. There’s no clear benefit to “saving up” sperm, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant, and masturbating before or after this fertile window likely won’t move the needle one way or another. Of course, moderation here is key, and there’s a possibility that a man who is frequently ejaculating (i.e., multiple times a day) could potentially experience a lower sperm count. To play it safe, dialing back the masturbation during this fertile window is probably the wisest course of action.

What Does Masturbation Indicate About Testosterone And Male Fertility?

Masturbation alone doesn’t hugely impact testosterone levels over the long term. Some studies indicate that testosterone levels increase (in both men and women, actually) after intercourse, which suggests that sexual activity (including masturbation) is more likely to influence testosterone than the other way around (2). Other research suggests that abstaining from masturbation may increase testosterone, but it peaks around 7 days or so (3). Since this is the hormone used during spermatogenesis and it plays a key role in both sex drive and sperm production, that’s important info! 

Fertility wise, there’s no concrete evidence that a man who masturbates frequently is dealing with any kind of fertility issue, good or bad. But one interesting study did draw a link between a man’s comfort with masturbating and both the likelihood of sexual problems and the timeframe for a successful conception (4). According to the study, “A higher percentage of men uncomfortable with masturbating reported sexual problems and spending a longer time trying to have a baby,” though semen quality wasn’t associated with masturbating comfort.

The Bottom Line

Masturbating is normal and part of a healthy sex life. While it may have a temporary effect on sperm count and testosterone levels, there’s no evidence that doing it even frequently is detrimental to your fertility. Couples hoping to conceive should time sex around ovulation and guys, it’s probably best to avoid masturbating during this fertility window. Otherwise, have at it!

Article Resources

1. Skoracka, K aet al. (2020). Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility—underestimated factors. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7291266/

2. Dabbs, J et al. (1996). Male and female salivary testosterone concentrations before and after sexual activity. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0031938492904539

3. Ming, J et al. (2003). A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone levels in men. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1631/jzus.2003.0236

4. Pottinger, A M et al. (2016). Male attitude towards masturbating: an impediment to infertility evaluation and sperm parameters. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26688574/

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