Stages of Life > Fertility > Fertility - Men's Fertility

The Facts About Sperm Health

Find out how sperm health affects your sexual health.

Three sperm are drawn next to a pitri dish.
Illustration by: Tré Carden

The body is responsible for many incredible biological processes, including the daily generation of millions of sperm cells.

This process is known as spermatogenesis.

But what is sperm, exactly? What's in it? Which parts of the body make it? How do you make sure your sperm are healthy?

Let's get some answers and learn the facts about sperm health.

What is sperm?

Sperm, or spermatozoa, are the tiny, mobile reproductive cells found in a man's semen that "swim" their way to a female's egg to fertilize it. They have a thrashing tail and an oval-shaped head and carry the man's genetic contribution to the reproductive process.

Sometimes, the terms sperm and semen get used interchangeably. Doing so is incorrect.

While vital to the reproductive process, sperm cells only make up a tiny percentage of the volume of a man's semen, about 2 percent to 5 percent. Semen, on the other hand, is the thick, whitish, viscous fluid that comes out of the man's penis when he ejaculates. It provides the sperm cells with protection and nutrients during their journey to seek an egg.

Sperm cells are constantly produced in the man's testes, where several million per day are created in a process called spermatogenesis. However, it takes around 74 days for an individual sperm to become fully mature.

These cells mature inside structures in the testicles called seminiferous tubules. The body releases certain hormones throughout this process to help nurture the immature sperm until they develop into spermatozoa.

Once they are nearly mature, they move into a structure attached to the back of each testicle near the top called the epididymis, where they become motile. In other words, they gain the ability to "swim."

What is healthy sperm?

Around 9 percent of men will experience fertility problems at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A semen analysis can often help fertility specialists zero in on exactly what the problem might be.

The main parameters specialists examine during a semen analysis are pH, volume, morphology (shape), motility (movement) and count.

Semen pH is a measure of how acidic a man's semen is. It has to be the correct level of alkalinity or the lives of the sperm cells will be severely shortened on their journey in the acidic environment of the vaginal canal.

Semen volume is the total volume of the man's ejaculation, which is important. Anything less than 1.5 milliliters (mL) could indicate an ejaculatory duct blockage, issues with the vas deferens, testicle problems or a condition called retrograde ejaculation. Semen volume between 2 and 5 mL is considered normal.

Sperm morphology is a value that classifies the shape of the sperm in a man's ejaculate. Abnormally shaped sperm don't do so well. Neither do sperm that can't swim—that aren't motile. This parameter is a measure of the sperm's ability to move.

Sperm concentration (aka sperm count) tells the urologist how many sperm are present in your ejaculate on average. A figure between 15 million and 300 million sperm per mL or higher is considered normal. Less than 15 million sperm per mL is diagnosed as oligospermia or insufficient sperm. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the normal amount of total sperm per ejaculation is around 35 million to 40 million.

Why is sperm health important?

Sperm health is a significant challenge for many men. Modern lifestyle choices tend to lower men's overall health, and that includes the health of their reproductive organs and their semen and sperm quality.

Even if you aren't thinking of having children right away, undergoing a semen analysis may reveal other health issues before they become bigger problems, including the following:

  • Blockages that preclude the body from releasing the appropriate amount of sperm with each ejaculation
  • Infections that affect your reproductive organs
  • Low sperm count
  • Low testosterone or other hormonal imbalances
  • Side effects from medications

What can improve poor sperm health?

While genetics are mostly out of our control, research suggests a number of lifestyle choices may improve sperm health. Consider these five tips for improving the quality of your sperm.

1. Quit smoking

The toxins in cigarette smoke have been demonstrated to have a negative impact on sperm and semen health. One meta-study published in October 2016 suggested that smoking affects sperm count, sperm motility and semen volume.

2. Exercise

Generally speaking, people should make an effort to get 150 minutes of aerobic exercise weekly, even if it's just going for a walk. However, research published in May 2017 indicated that more intense training may do even more to positively impact sperm health.

3. Eat healthy

Eating a healthy diet low in processed foods and high in natural, whole foods is important for sperm health (and overall health, too). In particular, look for foods with antioxidants, such as kale, pecans, blueberries, strawberries, spinach, artichokes and dark chocolate.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity and being overweight can impact sperm and semen health in a number of ways. A tripling in male obesity rates in the last 30 years has coincided with an increase in male infertility.

5. Moderate drinking

Excessive alcohol consumption may have a negative impact on sperm motility and semen volume, according to a cross-sectional meta-study published in January 2017.

How does age affect sperm health?

A robust body of research suggests that, as men get older, their sperm and semen health may decline. According to a study published in June 2006, researchers have found evidence that once a man reaches 50, there is a steady increase in sperm DNA fragmentation. This fragmentation increases his chances of being infertile, fathering unsuccessful pregnancies and fathering children with certain genetic abnormalities.

Some consequences aging can have on sperm health include the following:

  • Chromosomal abnormalities
  • DNA damage
  • Increased chances of passing on a gene mutation that causes achondroplasia, or dwarfism
  • Lower sperm count
  • Lower sperm motility

Do men stop producing sperm?

Typically, men are capable of producing sperm throughout their entire lives. There is credible evidence that numerous men have fathered children well into their 90s. Al Pacino recently welcomed his fourth child at age 83, and Robert DeNiro, 79, became a father for the seventh time in May 2023.

How can I keep my sperm healthy and my sperm count high?

In addition to the lifestyle choices listed above, men have other options to improve their sperm health:

  • Commit to three one-hour sessions of intense aerobic exercise per week.
  • Limit bicycle riding to less than five hours per week.
  • Wear boxers or loose-fitting underwear. 

How can poor sperm health affect fertility?

Semen analysis checks for the things sperm cells need in order to reach an egg and fertilize it. Some examples include the following:

  • Sperm count. If there aren't enough sperm, their chances of reaching an egg are reduced.
  • Sperm motility. If they can't "swim" properly, they may not be able to make the journey.
  • Sperm morphology. The shape of the sperm is important to their overall health and ability to move.

How can I test my sperm health?

The best way to get an accurate picture of your sperm health and semen health is to ask your healthcare provider to order a test. Labs used by accredited doctors and other providers are more likely to be reliable and staffed by professional technicians who are able to accurately perform the analysis.

There are numerous at-home kits you can order and send away for analysis. Just keep in mind that these kits rarely provide you with the entire spectrum of semen analysis parameters. However, a home kit might be a good starting point to see if there might be a problem with some of the basic parameters of sperm health. You can go from there to get further testing done if required.


How can I improve my sperm health?

Exercise, healthy weight maintenance, a balanced diet of natural foods, not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can improve sperm health. 

How do I know if my sperm are healthy?

The only way to tell if your sperm are healthy is to have a semen analysis performed. Your ejaculate may appear the same as it always has, and you'd never know that the sperm within it aren't healthy. There are at-home kits where you'll send a sample away for analysis, but for a more concise test, speak to your healthcare provider.

Is healthy sperm thick or runny?

Semen and sperm are two different things. When it comes to healthy semen, it can appear in a variety of colors, thicknesses and textures, depending on your diet, how long it's been since you last ejaculated and how hydrated you are.