What Kills Sperm? These 7 Things Could Be Destroying Your Count
These seemingly innocent habits could be adding up to some serious below-the-belt trouble.

July 4, 2022

You probably spent years trying to avoid getting someone pregnant, so when it’s finally time to enter “dad mode”, you may be suprised to discover that conceiving a kid isn’t as easy as you thought. In fact, around 15% of couples struggle to have a baby.

And in one out of every three cases, the problem is on the guy’s end, according to the fertility organisation Resolve. “Normal sperm counts have declined in the last several decades,” says Dr. Ajay Nangia, a professor of urology at the University of Kansas Medical Center specialising in male infertility.

RELATED: The 4 Biggest Fertility Myths, Busted By Science

Part of that dip could be due to seemingly harmless things guys do on an everyday basis. Here are seven common habits that might be messing with your sperm:

1. Staying Up Too Late

Turn off Netflix and get to bed: guys who logged less than six hours of sleep per night were 31% less likely to get their partners pregnant than guys who slept for 7 to 8 hours per night, according to a preliminary study in the journal Fertility & Sterility.

Lack of sleep may lower your production of the hormone testosterone, which is essential for sperm production, researchers say.

But too much shuteye isn’t the answer, either: Men who snoozed for more than nine hours a night also demonstrated lower levels of fertility. So shoot for seven to eight hours a night—the sweet spot in the study.

2. Using the Wrong Lube

Popular commercial lubes can hamper your sperm’s motility, or their ability to efficiently swim towards the egg to fertilise it, a 2014 study in Fertility & Sterility found. Some lubes’ thick consistency might make it difficult for the sperm to move, says Nangia.

“They’re fine for intercourse [when you’re not trying to get pregnant], but they can act a bit like a spermicidal barrier,” he says. (Still, you should never use a lubricant as birth control.)

Plus, they also contain hydrochloric acid, a preservative that can kill sperm, he says. Instead, stick with a fertility-friendly lube like Conceive Plus Fertility Lubrication, which is less damaging to sperm, the study found.

RELATED: 7 Signs You Have Healthy Sperm

3. Skimping On Fish

Ordering your fair share of fish might save your swimmers. When Harvard researchers studied the diet and semen quality of 155 men, they found that guys who ate the most fish—particularly omega-3-rich fish like salmon or tuna—had higher sperm counts and higher levels of normal, healthy sperm than those who ate less.

On the flip side, men who ate the most processed meat, like bacon, hotdogs, and salami, had the lowest sperm counts and the highest levels of abnormally shaped sperm compared to men who ate the least.

Processed meats might decrease reproductive hormones like testosterone, while the omega-3 fatty acids in fish promote the formation of healthier sperm, researchers say.

4. Guzzling Cool Drinks

Guys who drink more than one sugary soda a day have lower sperm motility than those who rarely or never sip the sweet stuff, a study published in Human Reproduction found.

Eating or drinking too much sugar can lead to insulin resistance, a condition where your cells are unable to take glucose from your blood and use it for energy. This can lead to inflammation, which can hinder how your sperm moves, the researchers say.

Plus, if your soda habit is making you fat, that could pose its own problem. Too much fat prompts your body to pump out less testosterone and more oestrogen, which is bad for your fertility, Dr. Nangia says.

Extra fat tissue around your thighs and groin can also raise the temperature inside your scrotum. That could create a too-warm environment that’s also bad for your sperm, he says.

5. Stressing Out

Men with higher levels of perceived stress have worse sperm quality than men who report feeling less stressed, a study from Columbia University found. Too much stress might throw your reproductive hormones out of whack, or lead to the creation of inflammatory proteins that hurt sperm, Dr. Nangia says.

No matter what’s eating at you, find ways to keep your worries from getting out of control—like talking with your partner, making time to exercise, or looping in a pro if your stress remains sky-high, suggests Dr. Nangia.

RELATED: How Your Weight Could Be Messing with Your Sperm

6. Keeping Your Smartphone In Your Pants Pocket

Cell phone exposure may hurt the way your sperm move, and decrease the number that are swimming around, a British review of 10 studies concluded. The radiation emitted from phones could cause DNA damage to sperm. And the heat from a phone could raise the temperature inside your scrotum and hamper sperm production, researchers say.

Does that mean you need to ditch your device altogether? Probably not, Dr. Nangia says. But if you’re concerned, talk with your doctor. If you have your phone in your pocket all day, every day, it might be worth finding ways to reduce your exposure, like sticking your phone in your jacket pocket.

7. Drinking Too Much

Photo of friends cheering with a glass vegan beer in their hands

An occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner isn’t a big deal. But research has linked heavier drinking to lower testosterone levels, lower sperm counts, and smaller numbers of healthy sperm.

Drinking 25 or more drinks per week is linked to a significant decline in sperm quality, one Danish study found. And guys who downed 40 drinks per week had 33 percent lower sperm counts and 51 percent less healthy sperm than those who drank only one to five drinks a week.

“Alcohol is a toxin,” Dr. Nangia says. And your brain isn’t the only thing it hurts—alcohol can also lower your testosterone levels, which can hurt your sperm production.

If you think that your drinking might be affecting your fertility, talk with your doctor. Together, you can come up with a plan to cut back.

This article was originally published on menshealth.com