Semen analysis: Are they good swimmers?


Semen is the male ejaculate. Semen analysis involves looking at how many sperm is in the ejaculate, the shape of the sperm and their ability to move. Semen analysis is useful in working out male fertility problems. In this post, Pink Families explains the basics of semen analysis and some of the factors to consider.

When might semen analysis help?

Semen analysis helps examine male fertility. For example, analysis might be used by two men who are hoping to conceive through surrogacy. It might be used when a trans family is having difficulty conceiving. Examining the semen from a sperm donor might also help lesbian or bisexual women who are trying to have a baby.

What happens in semen analysis?

A limited number of sperm are treated as representative of the entire sample during analysis. It is assessed in relation to how many sperm are in the ejaculate (count), how mobile the sperm are (motility) and their shape (morphology).

For an analysis to be done, the ejaculate is usually deposited into a small, sterile jar and then given to a clinic to assess. The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that all aspects of semen collection and analysis must be completed properly to ensure reliable results.

Sperm count, mobility and morphology

Sperm count: Number in the hood

Sperm count measures the concentration of sperm in the ejaculate.

Total sperm count is the sperm count multiplied by volume. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that more than 15 million sperm per milliliter is considered normal.

Sperm motility: Let’s get going

The second important dimension to assess is motility, which is concerned with the mobility of the sperm.

Sperm usually move rapidly. They move through a frantic shaking motion.

The important feature here is the total number of sperm in the ejaculate that move normally. This is because motility is significantly related to fertilization rates both outside the body (in vitro) and within the body (in vivo).

Motility has also been linked with how long conception takes to occur.

Sperm motility is calculated by multiplying the total number of sperm in the ejaculate by the percentage of progressively motile cells.

The WHO recommend that motility be rated as progressively motile, non-progressively motile and immotile.

  • Progressive motility is used to describe sperm that actively move, either in a straight line or in a large circle, regardless of speed.
  • Non-progressive motility is used to describe sperm that move without moving forward. For example, this might include sperm that swim in small circles.
  • Sperm are described as immotile when they don’t move.

Sperm morphology: Good form

The third element to assess is morphology, which concerns the shape of sperm.

Shape is linked with fertility. Abnormally shaped sperm generally have lower potential for fertilization.

Sperm are made up of a head, neck, tail and end piece. The tail is usually made up of the middle or mid piece and principal piece.

As it’s difficult to see the end piece of sperm with a microscope, an examination of sperm morphology mostly involves looking at the shape of the head, but also the tail of the sperm.

For sperm to be assessed as normal, both the head and tail must not be abnormal in shape.

Other examinations

A number of additional tests can be completed if needed. Although, these sorts of tests aren’t as routine. For example, the antibodies of sperm can be examined.

Finishing up

Although semen analysis may, on paper, seem like a relatively simple procedure to undertake, it’s important to realize that the process may provoke a range of different feelings. Feelings of inadequacy may be evoked if the findings aren’t what you hope for or need. In contrast, feelings of pride and masculinity might be enhanced when the analysis provides encouraging results. Plus, feelings of uncertainty might be evoked while waiting for the results. It’s important to ensure adequate support throughout the whole process of tests and procedures.


WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination and Processing of Human Semen. WHO. 2010. (5th edition) WHO Press, World Health Organization: Switzerland.

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