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Does sex every day reduce sperm quality?

Does sex every day reduce sperm quality?

Nicole Knight, AHCJ | June 15, 2021 | sperm
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When you’re trying to get pregnant, it can be hard to sleuth out the difference between truth and fiction. Some faux facts center on the health of sperm, including whether daily sex reduces sperm quality, thereby worsening your chances of a big fat positive.

Here we unpack the latest science on sperm and sex, describing the effect of frequent (and infrequent) sex on sperm quality. We explain how too little sex may expose sperm to harmful free radicals and how more sex can help you avoid this. 

We’ll wrap by telling you the ideal amount of sex to boost sperm quality AND the likelihood of conception. Hint: It’s related to your fertile window!

Does sex reduce sperm quality? 

It used to be that fertility experts advised having sex every other day as the leading strategy to get pregnant quickly. These days, the benefits of more frequent sex on sperm quality are becoming apparent, possibly because sperm doesn’t have time to degrade when you’re having sex daily or even more often than that (1, 2). 

When a study team in China tracked two groups of men at an IVF clinic — those who abstained for several days and those who waited for just 1-3 hours — they discovered the sperm in the frequent-sex group moved faster and were healthier (1). 

The team found fertility-enhancing changes in proteins involved in sperm motility and metabolism, especially in proteins that deal with free radicals (unstable atoms that can cause cell damage). An excess of free radicals may damage sperm's genetic material. The frequent-sex group had less of the damaging free radicals — a good thing (1).

The authors theorize that just a few days of aging may make sperm more vulnerable to DNA damage from free radicals. This, in turn, could harm their ability to create a viable embryo (1). 

It’s worth noting here that prolonged exposure of sperm to free radicals has been cited as a significant cause of male-factor infertility (3).

A separate study found similar results among a small group of men who abstained from sex for 4-7 days, then ejaculated twice within a 2-hour span. The sperm after just 2 hours of abstinence had far better overall movement (velocity, progressiveness, and hyperactivation) than the batch from 4-7 days of abstinence (4).

Even though the second batch had lower semen volume, sperm concentration, and total sperm count, the authors still considered it superior because the swimmers were so active. They suggested that fertility clinics might consider pooling BOTH samples together to get the best of both worlds (4). 

Sperm quality, frequent sex, and pregnancy

Beyond improving sperm quality, frequent sex may lead to higher rates of implantation and significantly more pregnancies, per a 2019 paper. A research team discovered this happy outcome by comparing two groups of couples undergoing IVF (1). 

In the first group, the men ejaculated once and then again around 1-3 hours later. In the second, the men abstained for 3-7 days, then ejaculated. The sperm was then used to fertilize each couple’s eggs. The study team found that IVF success rates were about one-third higher in the couples from the frequent-ejaculation group compared to the group that had abstained several days (1).

Similarly, having less than 2 days between ejaculations also nearly doubled the pregnancy rate among couples undergoing a cycle of IUI — even when the frequent ejaculations resulted in a lower overall sperm count. Specifically, couples who abstained less than 2 days had a pregnancy rate of 11.27% in one IUI cycle, compared to 6% among couples who’d abstained 3-5 days (3).

Frequent sex and infertile men

We’ve been talking about frequent sex among men whose sperm are regarded as normal, but what about men who’ve been diagnosed as infertile?

Turns out, frequent ejaculation improved the sperm of men who had low sperm count and poor sperm motility, per a paper in Fertility and Sterility. Men who ejaculated once and then again 24 hours later had a higher total motile sperm count (motile means sperm that generally move forward) in the second go-around when compared to the first (4). 

As the authors noted, “most of these infertile men may significantly increase their fertility potential...by having intercourse every day or even twice a day, at the time of ovulation (3).” 

Likewise, ejaculates from men with low sperm count showed a significant improvement in sperm motility and morphology when a second ejaculate was produced within only 40 minutes of the first (5).

What’s the bottom line?

Now you know that sex doesn't hurt sperm quality — in fact, it's quite the opposite. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you may want to try having sex every day or every other day during your fertile window. 

Still, if sex once a day seems undoable, try not to worry that a short period of abstinence will dash your chances of pregnancy. Even though daily sex during the fertile window yields the highest pregnancy rates, sex every other day during your fertile time provides similar results, per research cited in a recent committee opinion of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (6).

If you’re seeking factual information on how to identify your fertile window, lots of evidence-based tools are available to help you. One place to start is this self-help guide, which walks you through tracking key fertility signs like basal body temperature, luteinizing hormone, and cervical mucus

How Not to Waste Another Month When Trying to Conceive
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