Sperm on the underground - why storing it up is no good for your fertility

by dee armstrong

Couples often ask me how often they should have sex and whether they should abstain from sex before the fertile time of the month to save up his little swimmers - no! When I was doing my fertility training I was told a story with great imagery that neatly illustrates why storing up sperm is a bad idea and I now tell it to all my clients.  

underground rush hour.jpg

Imagine a London underground train racing along the Picadilly Line in rush-hour. Imagine that all the passengers are sperm and that ejaculation is represented by the train stopping at a station and people getting off the train.  If you don't ejaculate regularly you're not letting people off the train.  But your testicles keep on manufacturing new sperm all the time. So it's like every time the train gets to a station no-one gets off ... but more passengers get on. And on to the next stop and the same thing happens again and the train gets more and more full and soon all the seats fill up. And it gets really hot and stuffy and before you know it there's standing room only and everyone's tired, feeling ill and jammed right up into the armpit of their neighbour.  Next thing it gets so crowded people are puking and fainting and generally having hysterics and then people start to die!  When the train gets to the end of the line certainly no-one is in a fit state to climb the stairs and get out through the ticket barriers and go home. It's exactly the same for your sperm - if you store it up, it's in no fit state to rush up the stairs at the end of the line and fertilise the egg!  Men who haven't ejaculated in a while produce sperm that is generally of a lower quality. It's very common amongst couples who are trying to conceive to bonk like mad in the middle of the cycle and then collapse in a heap during the two week wait.  Then her period comes and that's another week - if you're not careful 3 weeks have gone by before the next fertile phase comes around and if you haven't ejaculated in that space of time those swimmers are going to be good for nothing much.   

So, let passengers off the train regularly, boys!  It's a good idea to ejaculate (which doesn't necessarily mean having sex - just a thought...) at least every 3 days and according to leading UK andrologist, Dr Allan Pacey, more often that that is fine too. Don't listen when your partner tells you not to masturbate because she read something on the internet saying it's not good for getting pregnant - the reverse is true.  For once a fertility top tip that isn't a chore.  

Myths, internet forums and bossy doctors

by dee armstrong

I found myself well and truly irritated when I read this piece, Don't Believe Myths About Infertility, in The Irish Independent last week.  In it a nameless journalist interviews Declan Keane, an embryologist who has recently opened up a new fertility clinic in Dublin.  Splice together some of Keane's remarks with a quick rundown of the most common "myths" out there on the internet, which must have taken all of half an hour to "research", and hey presto you have a nice, bossy little piece on infertilty to jazz up a slow news day.  

The fact is that there is evidence to show that tight underwear and lots of cycling can adversely affect sperm quality, there is evidence to show that caffeine can have an impact on the fertility of both men and women and  I would suggest that if couples are not "having intercourse when ovulating" they're going to wait rather a long time to see those two little blue lines.  Of course research studies can vary and sometimes be downright contradictory.   If your semen analysis shows there's room for improvement it would be wise to avoid tight pants and cycling for two hours a day; if not you probably don't need to worry quite so much.  The point is that trying to be too black and white about it does no good - things will vary from couple to couple.  There is so much that we don't yet know about infertility - an honest "I don't know" and an explanation of all the possibilities still being researched would go a long way in the consulting room. 

The article finishes up with: 

Dr Keane added: "Dr Google and chat rooms are the main source of these myths and should be avoided. People these days are too quick to self-diagnose, which can prolong the process if they are not seeking the right advice."

The fact of the matter is, however much some doctors don't like it, that Dr Google is here to stay.  Finding out more about their infertility online helps women to feel empowered and more in control of a situation in which they otherwise feel utterly helpless.  Internet chat rooms where they can talk to other women in the same situation provide invaluable support when talking openly about infertility is still taboo for many people.  More time to talk about their individual circumstances and have all their many questions answered in a warm and friendly way is what couples need, not lazily researched articles in the paper and patronising put-downs from doctors who wish it was still the 1950s.