What exactly is poor quality semen?

According to the NHS, poor semen quality is the number one cause of male infertility. But what exactly does this mean? Poor quality semen can mean any of the following things:

Poor sperm motility

Poor sperm motility

This means how able sperm are able to move around, or how well they ‘swim’. As long as at least 40% of the sperm in a sample are moving, this is considered normal sperm motility.


Poor sperm morphology

Poor sperm morphology

Sperm morphology — the size and shape of sperm— is one factor that's examined as part of a semen analysis to evaluate male infertility.  You need at least 4% of sperm to have a normal shape to avoid fertility issues.

Poor sperm concentration

Poor sperm concentration

Normal sperm densities range from 15 million to greater than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen. You are considered to have a low sperm count if you have fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter or less than 39 million sperm total per ejaculate.

What causes poor sperm motility?
How do I improve my sperm motility?

How can I find out about my sperm motility, concentration and quality?

The best way to test your sperm count and quality is to book an appointment with your GP. Home testing kits are available, but the NHS advises that these kits only test for concentration, not for motility and quality. While these tests might sometimes give a useful indication of your sperm count, they may also give you false reassurance or may suggest your sperm count is low when it is actually normal.

If you're concerned about your fertility, it is better to see your GP for a proper semen analysis at an accredited laboratory.

What causes poor sperm quality, and what can I do about it?

There are many causes of poor sperm quality – some of them surprising. Why not test your knowledge of the key factors by taking our quiz?

Take the fertility quiz

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