Infertility and Masturbation

One area of fertility where there's more myth than real fact being circulated on the Internet is the subject of masturbation and infertility — especially how masturbation may affect a man's ability to get his partner pregnant. The truth may surprise you.

Does it expend precious resources?

The big reason many people believe masturbation negatively impacts fertility is the idea that it'll lower your sperm count when it comes time to try to get your partner pregnant. So is that true?

Based on what the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) says about frequency of ejaculation, it's basically nonsense.

"A widely held misperception is that frequent ejaculations decrease male fertility," says a 2013 report from the ASRM's Practice Committee and the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.

On the contrary, it says, a large study of 10,000 semen samples found that men with normal sperm show no decline in sperm count or motility with daily ejaculation. Men with a low sperm count actually even tend to get a boost in motility and sperm concentration from daily ejaculation. And abstaining from sex for more than five days doesn't save up those sperm — it actually drives the sperm count down!

What he's seeing counts

Some of the more interesting research about male masturbation's effect on fertility suggests that what a man is seeing or thinking at the time he ejaculates may affect his sperm. A small study from the early 1990's, for example, observed that sperm quality, motility, and sperm count were all higher in semen samples collected from men having intercourse than samples collected from men who had masturbated, suggesting that semen collection through the use of a special condom during intercourse was a better fertility option.

In a 2000 study, on study checked the sperm quality and count of a group of 19 men who masturbated without any external stimuli and also while watching sexually stimulating video (er, that is to say, you-know-what). The men's sperm count, motility, and overall sperm quality were significantly better when they were watching you-know-what than when they weren't.

Perhaps the most controversial study of all, one that may offend some people's sensitivities: In a 2005 research study that's sure to push some people's buttons, Australian researchers found that exactly what kind of you-know-what men watched while masturbating had a significant impact on sperm motility. According to the researchers, the most effective imagery, that of one woman with two men, activated a kind of "sperm competition" reaction in the subjects that produced significantly increased sperm motility.

Once a day yields optimal results?

But getting back to the main matter at hand, the ASRM's recommendation for optimal male fertility when a couple is trying to get pregnant is to have intercourse daily, resulting in a 37 percent likelihood of conception. For couples where, for whatever reason, that doesn't happen, the man can handle some of the extra work on his own, safe in the knowledge that he's not hurting their chances at getting pregnant.

Updated August 2014

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