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Collecting a Semen Sample
It’s okay to feel a bit uncomfortable about collecting a semen sample for sperm analysis. By and large, men describe the experience as awkward and embarrassing. The conditions can be less than ideal: you’re performing “on demand,” most likely in an anonymous, sterile environment, with the clinic staff “knowing” that you’re doing something that’s normally private, and you’re handing it over once you’re done.
But perhaps knowing what’s involved will reduce some of your reticence. Just keep in mind that it’s science. And it’s something that the nurses and staff at your clinic see every day, multiple times a day, 365 days a year.
How to Prepare
- As part of the fertility workup, you’ll make an appointment to either produce your sample in office or drop it off at the clinic or lab after you produce a sample at home. With sperm, timing is of the essence and you don’t have much “wiggle room” for time delays. Make sure you are on the same page with your clinic about the time of your appointment.
- You’ll need to refrain from any sexual activity for at least two days, but not more than 10 days before you collect your sample. This means no sex or no ejaculation of any kind, including masturbation.
- Longer or shorter periods of abstinence may result in a lower sperm count or decreased sperm motility. Samples produced after two days of abstinence will usually have the highest numbers of motile sperm with the greatest forward velocity, when compared to samples produced after shorter or longer abstinence.
- Some men think saving up all their sperm for the day of their test is what’s preferable, but waiting too long between ejaculates is a big mistake: Older sperm begin to die if ejaculations are infrequent and the percentage of live sperm decreases with increasing abstinence. That’s right, a long period of sexual inactivity can result in less active sperm.
- And you’ll want to clean up your act. No smoking, drinking or drugs during the 10 days preceding you sperm collection (of course, you may want to consider these lifestyle changes even further in advance). Specific things that could affect the quality of your sperm sample include:
- Medicines, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), male and female hormones (testosterone, estrogen), sulfasalazine, nitrofurantoin, and some chemotherapy medicines.
- Caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and tobacco.
- Herbal medicines, such as St. John's wort and high doses of echinacea.
Collecting the Sample
Masturbation is, most likely, the way you’ll collect your semen specimen. If you have severe male infertility, resulting in few or no sperm in the ejaculate, you may require a surgical procedure such as microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA) or testicular sperm aspiration (TESA). Most doctors recommend you ejaculate directly into a provided sample cup and not use a condom. If you must use a condom, your lab will provide a special semen collection condom.
There are a few rules: First, take a shower and start out clean. Then, right before you get down to business, double check to make sure your hands and penis are clean. Wash them with soap and then rinse them with a lot of water.
You need to be a purist. You shouldn’t use any lubricant, including saliva. And, as mentioned, don’t collect your specimen in a condom (the spermicidal agents will alter the results of the analysis).
You will need to ejaculate directly into a sterile container provided by your clinic or lab. Avoid touching the inside of the cup and try to get the first part of your ejaculation as it is thought to be the most sperm-rich. If any semen spills, do not attempt to transfer it to your cup. Sorry, start again.
As soon as you’ve collected your sample, put the lid on your container. Make sure your name and the time and date of your sample is clearly printed on the cup.
Transporting Your Semen
If you collected your sample in a place other than your clinic, you need to get it to the laboratory within one hour after ejaculation because sperm do not have a long life outside of the body and at different temperatures. Delays in delivering semen and exposure to various temperatures will results in lower overall motile sperm count and poor semen cryopreservation.
Your semen sample shouldn’t be exposed to any extreme temperatures and, in fact, should be kept as close to body temperature as possible. The sperm motility value will be inaccurately low if the semen sample gets cold and or if it gets too hot.
Keep your specimen container upright in a plastic bag, with the lid securely tightened. The specimen should not be placed in your partner’s purse, or in your pocket or briefcase. Keep it as close to your body as possible, perhaps by tucking it under your clothing on the way to the clinic.
Most likely you will be in a room at your clinic provided for sample collection. Here’s a head’s up: Most of these rooms (sometimes, it’s the clinic bathroom) are pretty, well . . . uninspiring. Just know this in advance. And you may want to bring your own porn or Victoria’s Secret catalog. By many accounts, the selection is often outdated.