Stress Affects Sperm, Semen Quality; Fertility Suffers

A new study suggests too much stress does a lot more damage than merely taking fun out of life. It can affect a man’s fertility by diminishing the quality of the sperm and semen he produces. When this happens, his fertility suffers. Furthermore, different kinds of stress produce different kinds of fertility issues, according to a recent study linking stress to male infertility.

When a couple is having difficulty conceiving a child, it’s a problem of male infertility about 40% of the time, according to data provided by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In these cases, male factors may be the sole reason for infertility or they contribute to it.

Man taking stress testUndescended testicles and problems ejaculating are two causes of male infertility but sperm abnormalities and semen quality can also be problematic. Overall health and lifestyle choices have an effect, too.

It is stress-provoking lifestyle issues that are the subject of the study conducted by a joint team of researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City and the School of Public Health at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in Piscataway. Rutgers assistant professor Dr. Teresa Janevic is the lead author of the study.

Janevic’s research team analyzed data collected between 2005 and 2008 for the Study of the Environment and Reproduction, conducted by the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Oakland, California. The 193 men in the study, all between 38 and 49 years of age, provided semen samples and completed a series of questionnaires that measure stress levels. Stress from three sources were defined for the study:

  • Workplace stress
  • Stressful life events
  • Overall perception of stress

The semen samples were tested for:

  • Sperm movement (motility)
  • Sperm shape (morphology)
  • Semen concentration

Men who reported two or more stressful life events occurring during the year prior to their enrollment in the study were more likely to have defects of the sperm that could affect fertility. Their sperm morphology was more likely to be abnormal and their low-level sperm motility was more likely to hinder fertilization compared to men who did not report two or more stressful events in the previous year.

Stress on the job did not affect sperm shape or movement but it did lower testosterone levels in the semen of the men who reported this source of stress. Low levels of testosterone in the semen can make conception difficult.

When stress was caused by unemployment, whether described as mild or extreme, semen quality was lowest of all compared to men who had jobs.

The Janevic study did not address what it is exactly about stress that produces these threats to male infertility but the findings of the study suggest further study is warranted.


Source: Janevic, Teresa, PhD, et al. “Effects of work and life stress on semen quality.” Fertility and Sterility. Elsevier Inc. May 22, 2014. Web. Jun 15, 2014.