What’s Male Infertility? Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments

4 minute read

If you’re trying to have a baby, or planning for the future, it’s important to know how fertile you are. Some men have infertility issues, meaning they have problems with their sperm health and delivery. Male infertility doesn’t necessarily mean it’s impossible to conceive, however. Learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatments for male infertility right here.

Can men be infertile?

A man can be infertile, meaning he is unable to produce normal, functioning sperm that can fertilize an egg so there can be a full-term pregnancy. Infertility can be due to a number of health, environmental, or lifestyle factors that can either affect the production of sperm or the ability to deliver sperm.

Signs of infertility in men

There are a few signs of infertility in men to look out for. Symptoms may include: 

  • Erectile dysfunction, or issues maintaining an erection 
  • Premature ejaculation 
  • Firm testicle, or pain or swelling in the testicles 
  • Sex drive fluctuations 
  • Hair growth changes
What makes a man sterile / Male infertility causes

There are a few things that can cause male infertility:  

  • Health issues. A variety of health issues ranging from diabetes to STIs or HIV to the mumps to cystic fibrosis can cause an abnormal production and function of sperm. Genetic abnormalities or undescended testicles can also be factors. 
  • Environment. If you’ve been exposed to things such as pesticides or radiation, the health of your sperm could be affected. 
  • Unhealthy lifestyle. Excessive drinking, smoking, and marijuana usage may cause infertility in men. 
  • Medications and chemotherapy. Medications taken to treat depression and high blood pressure could impact a man’s sterility. Chemotherapy to treat cancer can also make a man sterile. 
  • Sperm delivery failure. Pre-ejaculation, or blockage in the testicles can impede sperm’s ability to travel successfully.
What does it mean when a guy is sterile?

When a guy is sterile it means he is either unable to produce enough sperm, or his sperm is not functioning properly, meaning it can’t travel successfully to an egg. Abnormal sperm production or function could be due to a health issues, lifestyle, certain medications, or environmental factors.

Sterile vs Infertile

Though some people use the words sterile and infertile interchangeably, they are not the same thing. When someone is sterile, they are unable to conceive. That means either the sperm or egg (or both) have abnormal function and/or production. Infertility, on the other hand, is when a person is unable to have a full-term pregnancy.

Male infertility treatment options

There are a few treatment options for male infertility. These include: 

  • Medication. Hormone imbalances and erectile dysfunction (ED) may be causing fertility issues. These things can be remedied with certain medications. 
  • Surgery. These procedures can be invasive, but meant to fix any abnormalities in the reproductive organs that may hinder sperm health or delivery. Surgery can be used to repair tubes that transport sperm, or to fix the varicocele. 
  • Sperm delivery help. If a man cannot naturally deliver his sperm to a woman’s egg for fertilization, the sperm can be taken out to fertilize the egg in a lab for in vitro fertilization. A person may also use a sperm or egg donor to have a pregnancy.

Struggling with male infertility or sterility can be very difficult — especially if you are trying to have a baby, or want one in the future. Educating yourself on how and why you might be experiencing these issues is a good first step to getting the help you need. With the right treatment, you may be able to have children, but you could also consider alternative options, such as sperm donors or adoption.

Louise Bourchier, MPH

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Louise Bourchier is a sex educator and sex researcher with 8 years experience in the field. She teaches about sexual health, sexual pleasure, and communication in relationships through workshops, live-streams, and with written content. Using a sex-positive approach, a dash of humour, and bag full of fun props, Louise’s style of sex education for adults is not what you got in high school! Since 2011 she has taught over a hundred workshops to a wide range of audiences, from university students, to refugees, to medical professionals, to adult store clientele. She has a Masters of Public Health, and is currently a PhD candidate.

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