One of the most frequent doubts in assisted reproduction treatments is how sexual abstinence influences seminal quality. The widespread belief is that long periods of abstinence can improve sperm quality. However, this theory is far from reality.
Most specialists recommend a period of abstinence of about 2-5 days, although the World Health Organization establishes a slightly longer range of time, up to 7 days. In any case, the instructions of the specialists should be followed so that the semen quality is the best possible.
Provided below is an index with the 6 points we are going to expand on in this article.
Sexual abstinence and assisted reproduction
The World Health Organization (WHO) establishes a period of between 2 and 7 days of abstinence as optimal for achieving pregnancy. The more days of abstinence, the worse the sperm quality.
In assisted reproduction clinics, abstinence is usually recommended for 2 to 5 days before:
- Freezing semen samples.
- Perform a spermogram or seminogram.
- Undergo assisted reproduction treatments, both artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
If the abstinence period established by the specialist is complied with, both the quality and quantity of semen can be ideal for the procedure. Otherwise, if a period of abstinence of less than 2 days or more than 7 days is maintained, then the semen quality will not be good and the probability of success will decrease.
What changes occur in the spermogram?
In the case of prolonged ejaculation abstinence, a series of changes can be observed in the basic semenogram or spermogram.
Semen analysis is the test routinely used to analyze semen quality in males. Do you want to know how semen is analyzed? Find out here: What is a semen analysis?
Some of these modifications are as follows:
- Sperm count
- increases the amount of spermatozoa in the ejaculate.
- increases if you go more days without ejaculating.
- does not vary with abstinence.
- worsens with sexual abstinence.
- with prolonged abstinence, the percentage of live sperm decreases.
Although it may seem that an increase in sperm count is beneficial, an excess of sperm is detrimental to motility. To achieve pregnancy, a sperm must be able to reach the egg: even if there are many of them, if none manages to reach the female gamete, fertilization cannot occur.
Therefore, motility and the percentage of live spermatozoa are essential to achieving gestation and a decrease in these parameters can negatively affect fertility.
Days of abstinence and sperm fragmentation
Thanks to the development of more complex tests than the seminogram, it has been determined that sperm DNA fragmentation also increases the longer the time of sexual abstinence. This means that the genetic material of the sperm is broken down, which negatively affects fertilization and embryo development.
Assisted procreation, as any other medical treatment, requires that you rely on the professionalism of the doctors and staff of the clinic you choose. Obviously, each clinic is different. Get now your Fertility Report, which will select several clinics for you out of the pool of clinics that meet our strict quality criteria. Moreover, it will offer you a comparison between the fees and conditions each clinic offers in order for you to make a well informed choice.
Recent studies have shown that, if only one day of abstinence is taken, DNA fragmentation decreases significantly. For this reason, for some patients, it may be beneficial to decrease ejaculatory abstinence to one day.
Importance of abstinence
By maintaining adequate days of abstinence, the best possible semen quality is achieved in each patient. This may increase the likelihood that:
- Fertilization occurs
- Good embryonic development
- Pregnancy is achieved and is carried to term correctly
Therefore, we see that the days of abstinence are one of the factors that influence the successful achievement of pregnancy. While prolonged periods without sex can worsen seminal quality, frequent intercourse (every 1-3 days) helps to keep it stable and increases the likelihood of achieving gestation.
However, there is no need to become obsessed with these recommendations either. Both for the health of the relationship and for achieving pregnancy, it is more important to have sex when you feel like it than to follow a strict schedule.
For example, some studies have linked reaching orgasm with an increased chance of becoming pregnant. Therefore, pleasurable sexual intercourse may be more effective in achieving gestation.
Life habits and semen quality
One of the biggest concerns for men, when they want to become fathers, is how lifestyle habits can affect their fertility and how to improve it.
Sports is one of the most consulted aspects. Many men wonder whether frequently practicing sports can have a negative impact on the quality of their spermatozoa. This is not the case, since regular exercise, in general, is beneficial. However, in cases of high competition, it can be detrimental, as these are hard workouts and are usually associated with very restrictive diets.
On the other hand, clothing that is too tight can affect sperm production because it brings the testicle closer to the body and this increases the temperature which, under normal conditions, should be lower than that of the rest of the body.
The same is true for the common practice of resting the laptop on the genital area: the increased temperature can affect sperm quality.
Another habit that can decrease male fertility is the consumption of intoxicants, such as tobacco and alcohol. In addition, the administration of some types of medications and anabolic agents can also have a negative effect.
Finally, the Mediterranean diet and, in particular, the consumption of citrus fruits may have a positive influence due to their known antioxidant function, as well as the intake of foods rich in components with this function. Therefore, feeding is another relevant factor for seminal quality.
If you need more information about male nutrition, I recommend you to visit the following article: What foods can improve male fertility.
FAQs from users
Does the time of sexual abstinence influence the success of reproductive treatment?
Sexual abstinence is not the time without sexual intercourse but the time without ejaculation. Sexual abstinence in assisted reproduction treatments is important at two levels.
Are there any benefits to sexual abstinence?
Abstinence for 3-5 days prior to performing a semen analysis serves to homogenize the results according to normal characteristics.
Long-term sexual abstinence does not benefit the sperm.
Are the same days of sexual abstinence recommended for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments as for artificial insemination?
Yes, since in both treatments the spermatozoa need to be of the best possible quality. In addition, it is not known exactly how many days are ideal in each case or for each patient, since they may vary slightly from one to another.
For example, in patients with few spermatozoa in the ejaculate (oligozoospermia), in order to increase the concentration of spermatozoa, it may be beneficial to have one or two more days of abstinence compared to normozoospermic patients (without any seminal alteration), who only need one day without sexual intercourse.
Why is sexual abstinence necessary for a spermogram if the samples will not be used for any treatment?
Maintaining adequate days of abstinence before performing the semen analysis allows the test results to be reliable. For example, if a man ejaculates two hours before obtaining the sample for testing, both the sperm volume and sperm concentration will be lower than they would be if a longer period of abstinence was maintained.
Therefore, if the days of abstinence are too many or insufficient before performing the spermiogram, a seminal alteration may be erroneously diagnosed and an inadequate assisted reproduction treatment may be indicated.
Is sexual abstinence good or bad in assisted reproduction?
For any assisted reproductive technique to be successful, it is necessary for the male to maintain sexual abstinence for at least 3-5 days.
If the period of abstinence is less than that indicated, the results of the semen analysis will be altered and the success rate of both artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) will decrease. Likewise, a period of abstinence longer than 5 days is not recommended because there would be a large amount of dead sperm in the semen sample.
As we have seen, seminal quality is one of the factors that can influence pregnancy. To find out more about how it is tested or what can negatively affect it, we recommend you visit the following link: Seminal quality.
One of the most frequently asked questions by men undergoing assisted reproduction treatments is how they can increase seminal quality. In the following article, we give you some recommendations to improve it: How can I increase my sperm quality?
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H Alipour, R K Duus, R Wimmer, F Dardmeh, S S Du Plessis, N Jørgensen, O B Christiansen, C Hnida, H I Nielsen, G Van Der Horst. Seminal plasma metabolomics profiles following long (4-7 days) and short (2 h) sexual abstinence periods. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2021 Sep;264:178-183. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2021.07.024. (see)
Sandro C Esteves, Armand Zini, Robert Matthew Coward, Donald P Evenson, Jaime Gosálvez, Sheena E M Lewis, Rakesh Sharma, Peter Humaidan. Sperm DNA fragmentation testing: Summary evidence and clinical practice recommendations. Andrologia. 2021 Mar;53(2):e13874. doi: 10.1111/and.13874. Epub 2020 Oct 27. (see)
FAQs from users: 'Does the time of sexual abstinence influence the success of reproductive treatment?', 'Are there any benefits to sexual abstinence?', 'Are the same days of sexual abstinence recommended for in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments as for artificial insemination?', 'Why is sexual abstinence necessary for a spermogram if the samples will not be used for any treatment?' and 'Is sexual abstinence good or bad in assisted reproduction?'.
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