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Can Chronic Masturbation Cause a Low Sperm Count?

Written by
Dr. R. Y. Langham

January 30, 2024

Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Dianne Steven

It is common for couples to decide it is time for them to have a “baby.” Some couples start trying immediately, while others wait a while before starting this new journey. Regardless of when a couple decides to start a family, roadblocks can appear…often seemingly out of nowhere. Sometimes, it is an issue with the woman, sometimes it is an issue with the man, and sometimes it is an issue with the woman and the man. It just depends.

The truth is there are many reasons why infertility can arise. However, one of the most common causes of male infertility is low sperm count. Like infertility, in general, low sperm count can have a variety of causes, but is chronic masturbation one of them? If you are a chronic masturbator, you may be wondering if it is hindering your chances to “have a family” with your partner.

Well, you have come to the right place, because in this article we will delve headfirst into whether or not chronic masturbation causes low sperm count, identify behaviors that could be affecting or triggering a low sperm count, and what you can do to boost your chances of having the family you and your partner have always wanted. Ready? Let’s go!

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What is a Low Sperm Count?

A common reason many couples experience primary or secondary infertility is low sperm count also medically known as oligospermia. Specifically, a low sperm count is defined as having fewer than 15 sperm per ml of ejaculate. When a man has a low sperm count, he is at risk of experiencing male infertility, which in turn, reduces his risk of getting a partner pregnant.

Approximately, 50% of couples struggle to get pregnant because of male infertility and specifically a low sperm count. According to researchers, a sperm count of 50+ million is considered viable and healthy. Keep in mind, however, that it is still possible to get your partner pregnant with a low sperm count – it just depends on the circumstances and the individual.

Conversely, some men who have more than 50 million sperm struggle to get their partners pregnant, primarily because other factors may be involved. Additionally, a man’s sperm must be a certain shape and move at the right pace and in the right direction to fertilize a woman’s egg.

What Causes a Low Sperm Count?

A man needs balanced hormones, genitals without any structural irregularities, and a healthy body and sperm to get a “normal” sperm count.

On the flip side, many things can lead to a low sperm count such as:

  • Reproductive injuries (i.e., trauma, surgeries, or infections) can cause a low sperm count. Reproductive injuries can cause damage or inflammation to a man’s reproductive system causing a decline in sperm and/or preventing the remaining sperm from reaching the penis.
  • Chronic health conditions (i.e., insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, stress, anxiety, and metabolic syndrome) can trigger a low sperm count. According to researchers, low sperm count is linked to chronic health conditions.
  • Chromosomal conditions (i.e., Klinefelter syndrome can cause a decline in sperm count. People with Klinefelter syndrome have an extra X chromosome which causes them a lower-than-average sperm count. Chromosome Y abnormalities can cause a decline in sperm count. 
  • Certain chemotherapy medications (i.e., Carboplatin, Chlorambucil, Cisplatin, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Procarbazine, and Vincristine) can cause a low sperm count by killing your sperm or permanently decreasing the amount of sperm your body produces. Fortunately, some people experience an improvement in sperm count once the medication is discontinued. Adding radiation to the mix can further increase your risk of low sperm count. 
  • Hormonal imbalances, especially those affecting your hypothalamus or pituitary gland (the areas where sperm are produced) can increase your risk of low sperm count. The most common conditions that affect hormones include pituitary gland tumors, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, Cushing’s syndrome, high levels of testosterone, high levels of estrogen, or chronic steroid use like prednisone. 
  • Lifestyle choices, like alcohol abuse, smoking (using nicotine or tobacco), vaping, drug use or abuse, and anabolic steroid use (to build muscle) can prevent you from producing healthy sperm, thereby negatively affecting your sperm count. 
  • Structural issues in the testes (i.e., epididymis, vas deferens, or ejaculatory ducts) or the pathway sperm travels can prevent sperm from being produced or reaching the penis for ejaculation. Conditions commonly linked to structural irregularities of the testes and low sperm count include varicocele (enlarged veins in the testes), testicular torsion (twisted testes), and undescended testicle (testes that failed to descend into the scrotum before birth).
  • A vasectomy blocks the ability of sperm to make it to the penis for ejaculation. It is a type of birth control designed to deliberately lower a man’s sperm count. Contrary to popular belief your body will continue to produce the same amount of sperm after the procedure – only the sperm will get reabsorbed into the body instead of traveling to the penis for ejaculation.
  • Testosterone-boosting medications can also lower your sperm count. Testosterone prevents the release of hormones needed to produce sperm. So, while testosterone can improve sexual function, high levels of this hormone can lead to low sperm counts and infertility. Refrain from using testosterone replacement therapy if you and your partner want to get pregnant in the next 6 months.

How is Low Sperm Count Diagnosed?

Low sperm count is diagnosed with a semen analysis. This analysis involves masturbating and ejaculating into a container to provide a sperm sample. This sample is then examined under a microscope and checked for its volume, shape, and movement.

How is a Low Sperm Count Treated?

Low sperm counts can be treated in a myriad of ways, such as with surgery (possibly to reverse a vasectomy), antibiotics when an infection is impacting a man’s sperm count, counseling, and medication when the low sperm count or sexual dysfunction is causing self-esteem, stress, depression, and performance anxiety issues, hormone replacement treatments, or assisted reproductive technology (ART) which involves surgically removing sperm to implant into your partner.

What is Chronic Masturbation?

Masturbation is a natural and common sexual activity. Most of the time, it is a solo activity, but in some instances, partners can engage in masturbation on themselves (in the presence of the other partner) or on the other person. Masturbation involves caressing, licking, pinching, tickling, and touching your genitals and/or other sensitive areas of your body for sexual arousal, excitement, and satisfaction.

Although masturbation often gets a “bad rap” and is viewed as “taboo” in certain circles, it can be a safe and healthy way to explore your body, release pent-up stress and tension, and experience sexual pleasure – with or without a partner. People of all ages, genders, races, health statuses, sexual orientations, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational levels, and religions masturbate.

Researchers suggest that approximately 34% of older women and 53% of older men engage in chronic masturbation. While there are no physical side effects linked to masturbating, excessive, compulsive, or chronic masturbation can cause emotional side effects, such as feelings of shame and guilt. Chronic masturbation involves frequent masturbation. It often becomes a habit that can come and go or remain for an indefinite amount of time.

Chronic masturbation is more likely than occasional masturbation to cause emotional side effects, some of which could theoretically lead to infertility. Chronic masturbation linked to porn use or porn addiction can also cause emotional side effects such as embarrassment, avoidance behaviors, and low self-esteem that could lead to infertility.

Can Masturbating Lead to Low Sperm Counts and Male Infertility?

No, masturbating does not directly lead to a low sperm count and male infertility.

Now, chronically masturbating can cause emotional side effects (i.e., performance anxiety, depression, avoidance behavior, chronic stress, etc.) which can indirectly cause infertility. But masturbation, even chronic masturbation, in itself, does not directly affect fertility or sperm counts. Limited data indicate that the “best” semen quality occurs after going 2-3 days without ejaculating, suggesting that masturbating without ejaculating could improve your sperm counts.

Other data suggest that it makes no difference if a man masturbates or ejaculates because he can still have “normal” and “healthy” sperm counts with the right qualities, mobility, and concentrations even with daily masturbation and ejaculation. It is best to take these “findings” with a grain of salt as these studies are limited and largely conflicting. The consensus is the best way to get your partner pregnant is to have sexual intercourse at least 3 times a week because this will boost your chances of fertilization, regardless of whether you masturbate or not.

So, no, chronic masturbation will not directly prevent you from getting your partner pregnant. However, a porn addiction (obsession with porn that creates unrealistic expectations in the bedroom or causes a disconnect between you and your partner) or your feelings about masturbating could prevent you from trying to have a baby for fear of failing.

This can, in turn, cause stress, feelings of shame and guilt, and performance anxiety indirectly leading to infertility. But in these cases, the cause of infertility is mental/emotional and not physical. It also has nothing to do with your internal body functions like sperm production and release.

What Are The Benefits of Masturbation?

There are numerous benefits of masturbation

Listed below are just some of the benefits of masturbating: 

  • Lower stress and tension
  • Better sleep
  • Improved focus and concentration
  • Happier and more balanced moods
  • Fewer aches and pains
  • Enhance sex
  • Reduced risk of anxiety and depression

According to a 2016 study, people who are assigned “male” at birth, and who engage in chronic ejaculation, may have a lower risk of acquiring prostate cancer. Researchers also found that women also experience benefits from masturbation, such as more orgasms, higher relationships, and life satisfaction, an increased sex drive, reduced back pain during pregnancy, less stress and tension, reduced vaginal dryness, pain, and menstrual cramps, and feelings of empowerment. 

How is Chronic Masturbation Treated?

Chronic masturbation is treated through a variety of methods, such as semen retention, NoFapping, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medications like SSRI antidepressants when anxiety or depression is also present, natural remedies like mindfulness meditation, a healthy diet, regular sleep and exercise, semen retention Reddit forums, porn addiction support groups, porn addiction hotlines and treatment programs like Stop Together, etc.

Other ways chronic masturbation can be managed are to avoid porn triggers, engage in new hobbies, socialize more, develop healthier coping strategies, and talk to someone you trust. If porn is involved, you may also want to move your electronics to an open space in your home like your living room, install porn blockers on your electronics, and shut down your electronics at a certain time of the day.

Getting control of your masturbation habits may help improve your self-esteem, relationships, and health (in general) through more exercise and sleep, which in turn could indirectly help improve your sperm count and fertility.

References 

  1. Fischer, N., Graham, C. A., Træen, B., & Hald, G. M. (2022). Prevalence of Masturbation and Associated Factors Among Older Adults in Four European Countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 51(3), 1385-1396. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-02071-z
  2. Guzick, D. S., Overstreet, J. W., Factor-Litvak, P., Brazil, C. K., Nakajima, S. T., Coutifaris, C., Carson, S. A., Cisneros, P., Steinkampf, M. P., Hill, J. A., Xu, D., Vogel, D. L., & National Cooperative Reproductive Medicine Network (2001). Sperm morphology, motility, and concentration in fertile and infertile men. The New England journal of medicine, 345(19), 1388–1393. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa003005
  3. Ferlin, A., Garolla, A., Ghezzi, M., Selice, R., Palego, P., Caretta, N., Di Mambro, A., Valente, U., De Rocco Ponce, M., Dipresa, S., Sartori, L., Plebani, M., & Foresta, C. (2021). Sperm Count and Hypogonadism as Markers of General Male Health. European urology focus, 7(1), 205–213. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.euf.2019.08.001
  4. Guo, D., Li, S., Behr, B., & Eisenberg, M. L. (2017). Hypertension and Male Fertility. The world journal of men’s health, 35(2), 59–64. https://doi.org/10.5534/wjmh.2017.35.2.59
  5. Hawksworth, D. J., Szafran, A. A., Jordan, P. W., Dobs, A. S., & Herati, A. S. (2018). Infertility in Patients With Klinefelter Syndrome: Optimal Timing for Sperm and Testicular Tissue Cryopreservation. Reviews in Urology, 20(2), 56-62. https://doi.org/10.3909/riu0790
  6. Leslie SW, Soon-Sutton TL, Khan MAB. Male Infertility. [Updated 2023 Mar 3]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562258/
  7. Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up. European Urology, 70(6), 974. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027
  8. Cervilla, O., & Sierra, J. C. (2022). Masturbation parameters related to orgasm satisfaction in sexual relationships: Differences between men and women. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.903361

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