Posts Tagged ‘sperm’

One Elite Sperm Wins the Marathon: Understanding Semen Analysis

January 19, 2019

Andrew Siegel MD  1/19/2019

The journey of sperm from ejaculation to egg fertilization is an arduous process that is nothing short of a marathon, or perhaps more like a “tough mudder” race. The pilgrimage covers challenging and demanding terrain with abundant obstacles and impediments — the hills and valleys of the vaginal canal, the unwelcoming and entrapping cervical slime, and in the final leg, the extreme narrows and expanse of the fallopian tubes. The few mighty sperm that are capable of overcoming these formidable obstacles and stumbling blocks are not always able to cross the finish line and penetrate the egg, so there is often no winner in this marathon. In that case, these elite sperm perish, having been so close, but so far away.

Health Sport Marathon Team Athletics Run Runners

 Image above, Xenzo at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (

A semen analysis is the best test to check a male’s fertility status and potential (or lack thereof when done following a vasectomy).  Although a specimen is easily obtained and analyzed, the results can be complex and nuanced.  Therein lies the utility of the marathon metaphor as an aide to help explain the complexities and meaning of the results.

Egg Sex Cell Sperm Winner Fertilization

Thank you, maxpixel for image above,

How does one provide a specimen for a semen analysis?

Most men are highly skilled and experienced at this activity.  It requires a minor modification from the usual routine.  Instead of cleaning up with tissues, carefully deposit the specimen into the specimen cup provided, seal the top and place the cup into a paper bag and hustle it off to the lab with the accompanying prescription ASAP.  The semen will be placed on a slide and examined microscopically.  Note that it is important to abstain from ejaculating for at least 48 hours prior to providing the specimen in order for the volume of the reproductive juices to be optimized.

What information will be obtained from the semen analysis?

  1. Volume of semen (1.5 – 5 cc)
  2. Number of sperm (> 20 million/cc)
  3. Forward movement of sperm (> 50%)
  4. Appearance of sperm, a.k.a. morphology (> 30% normal forms)
  5. Clumping of sperm, a.k.a. agglutination (should be minimal)
  6. White blood cell presence in semen (should be minimal)
  7. Thickness of semen

Marathon metaphor

A marathon is a long-haul endurance race (26.2 miles) with many participants (sperm) and usually only a single winner who crosses the finish line (fertilizes the egg). A sufficient number of participants (sperm count) ensure a competitive race to the finish line with the more participants, the greatly likelihood of a quality finish.

There are about 30,000 runners in the Boston Marathon, but in the fertility marathon there are millions and millions of participants. A fertile male can easily have over 300 million sperm in his semen (that’s 10,000 times the number of participants in the Boston Marathon).  If only a minimal number of participants show up on race day (oligospermia), there may be no one capable of crossing the finish line or doing so on a timely enough basis.

The runners need to stay on course, pace themselves and run in a forward direction. If the participants have poor mobility and move erratically without attention to direction (asthenospermia), they doom themselves to losing the race.

A quality runner most commonly has the characteristic size and shape (morphology) of an endurance athlete, which for a long-distance runner is typically long and lean.  If one has a build that deviates (head and tail defects) from that of the elite runner, it is likely that they will not finish the race, or not finish on a timely basis.

Runners need to focus and make every effort to meet the challenge.  However, if they are not serious about racing and instead of doing business decide to hang out and socialize (clumping together—a.k.a., agglutination) instead of pursuing the task at hand, the outcome will not be favorable.

If marathon security lapses and uninvited stragglers (white blood cells in semen, a.k.a. pyospermia) cross the mechanical barriers and infiltrate the course, the dynamics of the race are altered and the uninvited guests can cause direct harm to the participants, interfering with their ability to complete the marathon.

The runners (sperm) can be affected by the environment (semen) in which they participate.  Although these endurance athletes can deal with a variety of weather conditions, if conditions are extreme enough, the pathway to the finish line will be impaired.  Severe humidity (semen too thick, a.k.a. hyperviscosity), can be a substantial impediment to a competitive race time. In a severely dry and arid environment (minimal semen volume, a.k.a. hypospermia), the sub-optimal race conditions can also impair the race to the finish line.  Similarly, in severe rainy weather (too much seminal volume, a.k.a. hyperspermia), the route can literally be flooded with the marathoners’ capacity for finishing the race compromised.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community.

Amazon author page with all books authored  including the following:

PROSTATE CANCER 20/20: A Practical Guide To Management Options For Patients And Their Families

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health 

PROMISCUOUS EATING: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

MPF cover 9.54.08 AM

These books are written for educated and discerning men and women who care about health, well-being, fitness and nutrition and enjoy feeling confident and strong.

Dr. Siegel is co-creator of the male pelvic floor exercise instructional DVD (female version is in the works): PelvicRx

New video on female pelvic floor exercises:  Learn about your pelvic floor


Snippety Snip: Should You Get a Vasectomy???

February 15, 2014

Blog # 141

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 4.30.30 PM

(Image designed by Jeff Siegel)

With February 14, 2014 having just passed—a day filled with roses and chocolates—it is interesting to note that there are those who believe that it is a vasectomy that makes the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift!  If you are comfortable with the size of your family, tired and unhappy with birth control, or you have determined that you do not want to have more children, than a vasectomy may be a consideration. Every year, half a million men in the USA decide to have a vasectomy as a means of permanent birth control.  Vasectomy is the most effective means of contraception, second only to abstinence. During a vasectomy, each vas deferens, aka, vas (the tube that transports sperm) is cut and sealed, preventing the sperm from being present in the semen. It is a simple, safe, and time-honored means of achieving permanent male fertility control.

The female version of a vasectomy is a tubal ligation  (blocking the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy). This is an effective technique as well; however, vasectomy is a skin-deep procedure versus a tubal ligation, a much more invasive procedure because it requires going into the abdomen. Additionally, a vasectomy can be performed under local anesthesia with or without intravenous sedation whereas tubal ligation requires general anesthesia, and there exists a simple test for the effectiveness of vasectomy, but no such tests for tubal ligations (aside from a costly and uncomfortable x-ray test).  Vasectomy is safer and cheaper than a tubal ligation. Something else to consider is that the one-time cost of a vasectomy may prove less expensive over time than the cost of other birth control methods including oral contraceptives and condoms.   In general, insurance companies are very willing to cover vasectomy for no reason other than they are less expensive to their bottom line than are more pregnancies.

Basic anatomy:  The testicles are responsible for sperm production.  After sperm cells are manufactured, they ascend into the epididymis, a comet-shaped structure located behind the testicles. From the epididymis arises the vas deferens that runs up the groin in the spermatic cord, then courses behind the bladder where its terminal end forms the ejaculatory duct. This duct empties into the urethra, the channel that conducts urine and semen through the penis.

Consultation:  Before considering a vasectomy, it is important to have an initial consultation with a urologist, the surgeon who performs this procedure. This includes a medical history and physical examination that is brief and painless, with ample time allotted for a detailed discussion about the vasectomy process and for answering any questions that you or your spouse might have.

Procedure: Vasectomy is considered to be a minor surgical procedure, which is typically performed in the office or ambulatory surgery setting. It usually takes 20 minutes or so to perform. It can be done under local anesthesia with or without intravenous sedation. It has been my experience that intravenous sedation makes the procedure much more comfortable for the patient and easier for the surgeon.  With sedation, you will be conscious yet calm and comfortable while monitored under the expert care of an anesthesiologist.

After sedation is established, the scrotum is shaved and cleansed.  The area is draped with sterile surgical towels so that only a small area of skin is exposed.  Local anesthesia is administered and via two tiny punctures in the scrotum, the vas is accessed.   There are many different ways to interrupt the sperm flow—I prefer removing a ½ inch segment of vas, doubly clipping each end, and using cautery to seal the edges. The small puncture in the skin may be closed with a suture that will dissolve, or alternatively, skin glue.  The vas specimens are sent out to a pathologist for standard review.

Recovery:   Restrictions of activities for the first 24 hours will reduce the chance of swelling, bruising, bleeding, and pain.  An application of an ice pack to the scrotum intermittently for the first 24 hours—20 minutes on and 20 minutes off—is effective to help reduce swelling. Mild discomfort is typical and is best treated with an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Wearing elastic, supportive jockey shorts is helpful to keep the scrotum immobilized. It is normal to experience swelling, minor pain, and spotting from the incision for several days. It is important to restrict heavy lifting and exercise for approximately 5-7 days, but the activities of daily living including walking, stair climbing, working and sex can be resumed as soon as you are feeling well enough.

Follow-Up: It is imperative to obtain a semen analysis to ensure absence of sperm in the semen. It can take weeks to months until all the sperm are cleared, but typically after 20 or so ejaculations most men will no longer have sperm in the semen.  It is very important to continue using contraception until the sperm count is determined to be zero.


  • Temporary bleeding, bruising, pain.
  • Ongoing pain due to congestive epididymitis—on occasion the epididymis can become painfully swollen with sperm congestion, which is usually easily treated with ibuprofen and rest
  • Infection—very rare because the scrotum has such a wonderful blood supply
  • Sperm granuloma—a small, hard lump that feels like a bead at the end of the divided vas; this forms when sperm leak from the severed vas and inflame the surrounding tissue. This is usually treated with rest and ibuprofen and, on rare occasions, surgery is required to remove it.
  •  Recanalization (leading to failure of the procedure)—this is when the cut ends of the vas deferens grow back together and you regain fertility, an extremely rare situation occurring in approximately 1/1000 patients.

Q & A (I have collated the ten most commonly asked questions by patients regarding their vasectomy.)

Q.  Will my testicles still make sperm after my vasectomy?

A.  Yes; but your body absorbs and disposes of them.


Q.  Will I notice a difference in my ejaculate volume?

A.  Since the sperm only contributes a small amount of the seminal volume, there should be no noticeable difference in the volume of the semen.


 Q. Does vasectomy protect me against sexually transmitted diseases?

 A. No, no, no…I repeat no!  Use protection!


 Q.  Is sex different after vasectomy?

 A.  Generally no, although some men say that without the worry of accidental pregnancy and the bother of other birth control methods, sex after vasectomy is more relaxed and enjoyable than ever before.


Q.  Does vasectomy affect my ability to get an erection or change the way I urinate?

A. No.


Q.  Does vasectomy affect my testosterone level?

A. No.


Q.  Is vasectomy reversible?

A.  It is reversible with the best results achieved in the initial 10 years following vasectomy. Vasectomy reversal is a complicated procedure requiring general anesthesia and microscopic reconnection of the blocked vas deferens. It typically takes several hours to perform.  It’s a big deal whereas a vasectomy is a little deal.


Q.  A few years ago I heard that vasectomy could cause prostate cancer–is that true?

A.  Vasectomy does not cause prostate cancer; however, men who undergo vasectomies have relationships with urologists, the specialists who are attuned to prostate issues, and therefore, men who undergo vasectomy are more likely to undergo prostate cancer screening and diagnosis than the average man who does not see a urologist.


 Q. Why should I bother with sedation? How about just local anesthesia?

 A.  I never met a patient who enjoyed having a needle placed into his scrotum and local anesthetic injected; with sedation, there will be no awareness of that happening.  Furthermore, with the inevitable anxiety that patients experience concerning surgery on their genitals, there is typically a reflex contraction of several muscles (cremaster and dartos muscles) that effectively lift the testicles high in the scrotum and sometimes into the groin, making the procedure technically more difficult. The sedation promotes emotional and physical relaxation and makes the procedure technically so much easier for the surgeon and so much more pleasant for the patient.=


Q. How does one do a semen analysis?

A.  It involves masturbating into a specimen cup.  Place the cup into a paper bag and bring it to the designated lab along with the prescription for the semen analysis. Try to get it to the lab as quickly as possible.  The specimen will be studied under the microscope for the presence of sperm. 


Andrew Siegel, M.D.

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