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Does Masturbation Cause Low Sperm Count?

Experts explain what causes a reduction of swimmers and what promotes more of them.

Whether you’re trying to add first time dad to your résumé or—on the opposite end of the spectrum—play for team pull out and pray, it makes sense that you’d have questions about your sperm count. One of these questions may include, “does masturbation cause low sperm count?”  

Given having a healthy sperm count is such an important indicator of fertility (and environmental factors like microplastics are reducing sperm count and quality in men), it’s a question that everyone with a penis should know the answer to. Research also suggests sperm counts are on the decline globally—in the last 50 years, mens’ total sperm count decreased by about 62 percent (1).

Ahead, a team of urologists, hormone specialists, and certified sex educators everything you need to know about masturbation, swimmer quality and quantity, and more. 

About The Experts

Michael Ingber, M.D. is a board certified pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery provider with The Center for Specialized Women’s Health in New Jersey, as well as associate professor of urology with Rutgers University. 

Michelle Forcier M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., is a hormone specialist with FOLX, an online health provider.

Carol Queen, Ph.D., a sexologist and sociologist, is a sex educator with Good Vibes and co-author of The Sex & Pleasure Book: Good Vibrations Guide to Great Sex for Everyone.

Justin Houman, M.D. is a board-certified urologist who specializes in sexual health, infertility, and erectile dysfunction. He also works as the Senior Medical Advisor at Cake, a sexual wellness platform.

David Shusterman, M.D. is a board-certified urologist and Founder of New York Urology in New York. 

Does Masturbation Cause Low Sperm Count and Quality?

Despite what you may have heard about semen retention, masturbation does not have a significant negative impact on sperm count or quality, says board-certified urologist David Shusterman, M.D. On the contrary, masturbating and ejaculating may actually improve sperm count and quality, he says. 

While people assigned female at birth are born with the sum total of their developing eggs that they will have over the course of their lifetime, people assigned male at birth are able to constantly regenerate sperm. The sperm creation process, spermatogenesis, takes the body anywhere from 42 to 76 days (2). 

Once created, unreleased sperm can hang out in storage in the epididymis (a coiled tube that’s attached to each testicle) for up to a few weeks before being reabsorbed into the body (2).The thing is, sperm on the tail-end of their lifespan have greatly decreased motility and quality, compared to newer sperm, Shusterman explains.

One research review, published in a 2022 issue of the journal of Frontiers In Endocrinology, found that damage occurs to stored sperm in as little as seven days (3). Meanwhile, findings from a 2017 study suggests a link exists between sexual abstinence, or lack of ejaculation (you may know it as NoFap), and reduced sperm quality (4).  

“Ejaculating—whether through solo or partnered sex—helps clear older sperm out from the testicles and make room for the sperm that were recently produced,” Shusterman says. Given that baby sperm are high quality compared to elderly sperm, ejaculating frequently is essential for making way for newer sperm which generally have higher motility and are of a high quality, he says. 

This means that if you and your partner are hoping to conceive, masturbating won’t interfere with those chances. There are other factors such as medications, age, and stress that affect sperm quality and quantity much more significantly than masturbation can, Shusterman says. 

The Science On Sperm Production and Sperm Count

To really understand how and why masturbation doesn’t cause low sperm count, as well as what does impact sperm quality, you may benefit from a quick biology lesson. Here are some sexual health facts you need to understand to really wrap your (higher) head around this stuff. 

1. Sperm and seminal fluid are not the same 

Let the official record show that sperm and semen are not synonymous terms. Sperms are reproductive cells produced in the testes, in a system called seminiferous tubules, with the help of testosterone (5). After production, these tadpole-shaped cells move to the epididymis where they are stored until ejaculation. 

Semen, on the other hand, is the white fluid created through the work of the seminal vesicles and prostate gland (5). While one of its roles is to transport sperm up the vagina canal and to the egg, seminal fluid doesn’t necessarily contain sperm. (When someone does not have measurable sperm in their ejaculate, it is known as azoospermia, which we’ll get to below).  

Sperm doesn’t get added to the seminal fluid until you’re about to ejaculate (6). Leading up to that grand finale, muscle contractions move the sperm from the testes to a structure called the vas deferens, which is also known as the sperm duct (5). From there, the sperm continue forward toward the urethra, where on its way secretions from the seminal vesicles and then secretions from the prostate get added to the mix. 

Finally, this entire elixir gets expelled from the tip of the penis during ejaculation. 

2. Sperm count has some impact on fertility

Sperm count is the amount of sperm found in a semen analysis or seminogram, which is a fertility test performed under doctor surveillance, that involves ejaculating via masturbation, explains hormone specialist, Michelle Forcier M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P. At-home fertility tests are also available (these are the best at-home sperm tests).

“Measured as the number of swimmers per milliliter of semen, a sperm count of 15 million sperm or more per milliliter semen is considered normal,” she says (7). 

While it isn’t the only measure of your fertility, “it is a general measure of how likely it is that you might get someone pregnant,” says board-certified urologist, Michael Ingber, M.D. If your sperm count is lower than normal, it may be challenging to conceive, says Shusterman. 

Because testosterone supports sperm production (5), “low sperm count may also indicate an underlying hormonal imbalance,” he adds. 

As such, semen analysis is often performed on individuals who are part of couples actively trying to become pregnant, as well as those who are over 45 years old (8).

3. Sperm quality may trump sperm quantity 

While a low sperm count might reduce the chances of conception, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is infertile, Shusterman says. 

“Sperm count does play a role in determining one’s fertility potential, but it is just one piece of the puzzle,” he says. Other factors like sperm motility (movement) and morphology (shape), as well as the partner’s reproductive health, all influence fertility and your likelihood of becoming pregnant,” he says.

Justin Houman M.D., a board-certified urologist who specializes in sexual health.  Concurs, adding that, “Fertility is multifaceted, involving both the quantity and quality of sperm.” 

During a semen analysis, he says that healthcare providers will also check for the following (9): 

All together, these measures paint a more accurate picture around fertility. “The info can help diagnose potential fertility issues or guide appropriate treatment options if necessary,” Shusterman says. 


What Causes Low Sperm Count?

Masturbating doesn’t cause low sperm count, but there are a number of other factors that do. Including lifestyle choices, age, current health, health history, medications, and environmental factors. 

“Lifestyle choices play a significant role in sperm count,” Shusterman says. “Smoking cigarettes, excessive alcohol consumption, drug use, and being overweight have all been shown to decrease both the quality and quantity of sperm.” (10

Chronic stress can also impact fertility, he says. Whether it’s caused by a mean boss, relationship woes, or familial drama, high stress leads to higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which impacts the production of testosterone (11). T plays an essential role in sperm production, so when T-levels dip so does the number of sperm being produced, he explains (5).

Certain medical conditions like varicoceles (enlarged veins in the testicles), genital infections, hormonal imbalances, and genetic disorders can negatively affect sperm health, says Shusterman. 

“Medications including some antibiotics and those used for chemotherapy may also impact sperm quality temporarily,” he adds. Anabolic steroids, hormone replacement therapy, medications used to treat male pattern baldness, opioids, and certain antidepressants and SSRIs have also been linked to decreased sperm count (12, 13). 

“Age is another crucial factor as sperm count naturally declines with age,” he says. Exposure to environmental toxins such as pesticides, air pollution, radiation, and certain chemicals found in household products can also lower sperm count. (14, 15, 16)

Making positive lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive heat to the testicles (though no need to dip them in an ice bath, either), reducing stress levels, and wearing loose-fitting underwear may help improve both quantity and quality of sperm, Shusterman says. 

What is Azoospermia?

Remember how semen doesn’t always contain sperm? Well, azoospermia is the official medical term for folks who have no observable sperm in their semen after a semen analysis, explains Forcier. 

Thought to affect about one percent of the overall male population, azoospermia is one common cause of male infertility (17). In fact, most people only test for this condition if they and their partner are having a hard time becoming pregnant. 

If you have azoospermia, doctors will have to do additional medical tests to determine the underlying cause, Houman says. “The condition can have either obstructive (blockage in the ducts) or non-obstructive (issues with sperm production) causes,” he says. The diagnosis may include a scrotal ultrasound, blood test, MRI, or CT scan (18). 

Even people with azoospermia may experience occasional instances where some small amounts of residual sperm are present in their ejaculate, he says. In other words, if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, you should not consider an azoospermia diagnosis as birth control. 


Does Masturbating Lower Testosterone?

The idea that masturbation lowers testosterone levels or negatively impacts testes size is as hogwash as the claim that solo sex kills your gym gains.

Testosterone is primarily regulated by the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland in the brain that’s part of the endocrine system, explains Shusterman. Body weight, diet, stress levels, sleep quality and quantity, and drug and alcohol use can impact exactly how much testosterone this gland pumps out (19). But, “overall testosterone levels are not affected by the temporary fluctuation caused right after ejaculation,” he says. 

There is also no evidence to support the notion that masturbation affects the size, growth, or shrinkage of testes, explains Shusterman. “The size of testicles primarily depends on genetics, hormone levels during puberty, and overall health,” he says. 

The Benefits of Masturbation and Ejaculation

Don’t read it wrong: Masturbation may not be responsible for unfavorable outcomes but it’s not  a net neutral act. On the contrary, masturbating and ejaculating are all good for you. 

Solo sex can provide pain relief, improve circulatory function, boost mood, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve sleep, says Carol Queen, Ph.D., a sexologist and sociologist and sex educator. 

Masturbating to the point of ejaculation has the added benefit of supporting prostate health. Research published in the journal of European Urology, showed that men who ejaculated 21+ times per month had reduced prostate cancer risk compared to those who ejaculated 7 or less, which led researchers to conclude that people with penises should ejaculate at least 21 times per month (20). 

Regular masturbation can also help you maintain erectile function, Forcier notes. The penis adheres to the ‘use it or lose it’ principle, she explains. 

“Too little and you are out of practice and things do not work as well. Too much and you might be too tired, overextended, or get too accustomed and bored,” she says.

Masturabation also works pelvic floor muscles which are essential for strong erections (21).

There are also mental health benefits of jacking off, Queen adds. “Masturbation and the feel-good chemicals released during orgasm can help improve mood and reduce stress,” she says (22). 


Frequently Asked Questions

Ready for the quick and dirty answers to your pressing questions about sperm count, masturbating, and fertility? Continue on. 

Does masturbation affect sperm count?

No, masturbation does not negatively affect sperm quality or quantity in any significant way. “Frequent ejaculation can temporarily reduce sperm count, but it also leads to fresher sperm with better motility,” says Houman. Remember: People assigned male at birth are constantly regenerating sperm, so when some sperm are ejaculated, other sperm gets made.

Is it okay to masturbate while I am trying to conceive?

Generally speaking, yes it is okay to cuff the carrot when you’re trying to conceive. After all, masturbation does not negatively affect sperm quantity, and may actually boost sperm quality. That said, Houman says abstaining from masturbation for a day or two before ovulation—that’s the time of the month when an egg is available for fertilization—can optimize sperm count for conception (23).

  1. Human Reproduction Update. (2023) Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of samples collected globally in the 20th and 21st centuries.
  2. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology. (2016) Spermatogenesis in humans and its affecting factors.
  3. Frontiers in Endocrinology. (2022) Associations of Sperm mtDNA Copy Number, DNA Fragmentation Index, and Reactive Oxygen Species With Clinical Outcomes in ART Treatments.
  4. JBRA Assisted Reproduction. (2017) Influence of the abstinence period on human sperm quality: analysis of 2,458 semen samples.
  5. Medline Plus. (n.d.) Sperm release pathway.
  6. KidsHealth. (n.d.) Male Reproductive System.
  7. University of Miami Health System. (n.d.) Low Sperm Count and Poor Sperm Health.
  8. Reviews in Urology. (n.d.) Fertility and the Aging Male.
  9. Medline Plus. (n.d.) Semen Analysis
  10. Arab Journal of Urology. (2018) Lifestyle causes of male infertility.
  11. Psychiatry Investigation. (2016) Salivary Testosterone Levels Under Psychological Stress and Its Relationship with Rumination and Five Personality Traits in Medical Students.
  12. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI). (2016) Anabolic steroids abuse and male infertility.
  13. University of Washington Medical Center. (n.d.) Medicines That Affect Male Fertility.
  14. Environmental Health Perspectives. (2003) Semen quality in relation to biomarkers of pesticide exposure.
  15. National Institute of Cancer. (n.d.) Fertility Issues in Boys and Men with Cancer.
  16. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. (2019) Bisphenol a: an emerging threat to male fertility.
  17. John Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.) Azoospermia.
  18. Stanford Medicine. (n.d.) Azoospermia Diagnosis.
  19. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. (2020) Various Factors May Modulate the Effect of Exercise on Testosterone Levels in Men.
  20. European Urology. (2012) Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up.
  21. Andrologia. (2019) The efficacy of regular penis-root masturbation, versus Kegel exercise in the treatment of primary premature ejaculation: A quasi-randomised controlled trial.
  22. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. (2021) Oxytocin, Erectile Function and Sexual Behavior: Last Discoveries and Possible Advances.
  23. American Pregnancy Association. (n.d.) What is Ovulation?