Sperm Count & Motility

Definition of Low Sperm Count

  • Definition: Low sperm count is when the male has less than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
  • Diagnosis: A sperm analysis where the semen sample is collected and analyzed by your healthcare provider.
  • What are they looking for?
    • Amount of Sperm within semen.
    • Abnormalities in movement and shape of sperm.
  • Treatments:
    • Surgery
    • Diet and Lifestyle Changes.
    • Treatment of infections, if applicable.
    • Hormone treatments and medications.

Definition of Motility Issues

  • Definition: When a low percentage of sperm per milliliter of semen is moving in a forward direction (progressive direction). Less than 35% is considered low.
  • Diagnosis: You can find out if you have sperm motility issues by having a sperm analysis done by your Healthcare Provider. A sample of your semen will be examined and they will look at the motility as well as the count and shape (morphology) of the sperm.
  • What are they looking for?
    • Motility (movement of sperm)
    • Count and shape of sperm.
  • Treatments:
    • Clomid – (clomiphene) medication can be used.
    • Varicocele surgery- if the male has a Varicocele
    • Various combinations of vitamin and minerals

Potential Causes

  • Varicocele
  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Defects to Male Reproductive System (Blockages, tube damages, etc.)
  • Infections (including STD’s)
  • Nutrition and Lifestyle (Alcohol, Tobacco, Stress, Weight, Drug use, etc.)
  • Occupational and Environmental Hazards (chemicals, radiation, heat, etc.)


  • Diet and lifestyle changes
  • Surgery, if applicable
  • Treatment of infections, if applicable
  • Hormone treatments and medications
  • Assisted Reproductive Technologies

Top Male Fertility Questions


Dr. James M. Goldfarb, M.D. MBA

What defines low sperm count, and what are common motility issues?
The current thinking is that a fertile sperm count can be as low as 15-20 million sperm per cc. Motility issues can be of two types. One is a low percentage of motile sperm (generally considered to be less than 40%). The other issue with motility can be the quality of the motility. While the percentage of motile sperm is very important, just as important is the question of whether the sperm is moving in a progressive manner and not in a slow, sluggish manner.

How many days does it take for a lifestyle or diet change to affect his sperm?
Only extreme lifestyle issues or diet issues would have an effect on sperm. If there is such an effect, it generally takes at least 3 months for the change in diet or lifestyle to have an effect.

Should we abstain from intercourse a couple days right before I’m ovulating?
Some men’s sperm counts do decrease if there is ejaculation on a daily basis. Thus it is often recommended that couples have intercourse every other day around the time of ovulation rather than every day.

Testing for Male Factor Infertility

The most common, and probably the first test you will be required to have is the semen analysis. In order to have an analysis on your semen, you will be required to provide a semen sample to your Healthcare Provider.

What your HCP will learn from your semen analysis:

  • Sperm count (the total number of sperm in the sample)
  • Sperm motility (what percentage of your sperm is moving)
  • Sperm morphology (are there any sperm shape abnormalities, or are they the right shape?)
  • Semen volume (how much semen is in the sample)

Additional tests done during the semen analysis can include:

  • pH measure
  • Liquefaction
  • Fructose
  • Cultures (STD testing)


Speak with your Healthcare Provider on preparation expected. You might be asked to refrain from sexual intercourse for 2-3 days prior to the test. Be sure to speak to your HCP with any question on how the sample is obtained, and if you are uncomfortable with any of the process.

Normal semen volume: 2-5 mL per ejaculation

Normal sperm count: 15M+ per milliliter of semen

Normal sperm motility: Greater than 50%