Feature Archive

Boxers or Briefs: Myths and Facts about Men's Infertility

WebMD Feature

When a couple is diagnosed infertile, first thoughts often run to the woman. She's barren. She can't conceive. She's not a "complete" woman because she can't get pregnant. As nature would have it, problems with infertility are equally due to male and female conditions.

Infertility is the inability to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sexual intercourse. Statistics suggest that 35 to 40 percent of the problems are caused by male conditions, another 35 to 40 percent by female conditions, and the last 20 to 30 percent a combination of the two, plus a small percentage of unknown causes.

Men's part in fertilization is quite amazing. About 200 million sperm are mixed with semen to form ejaculate. In most men, 15 to 45 million of these sperm are healthy enough to fertilize an egg, although only 400 survive after a man ejaculates. Only 40 of those 400 reach the vicinity of the egg, surviving the toxic environment of the semen and the hostile environment of the vagina. After another process called capacitation (an explosion that allows the remaining sperm to drill a hole through the tough outer layer of the egg), only one lone sperm reaches the egg for fertilization and conception.


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