By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 04/08/2016

The pace of life of today’s society can be described as fast and busy. We do not like waiting for things to come but have a preference for an accelerated rate of life. This causes stress, which at the same time compromises the normal functioning of the body.

There are increasing studies showing that stress may be linked to infertility and sterility problems, though the cause behind them remains still unknown. According to several studies, high levels of stress may have a negative impact on male fertility.

The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.

Stress and male infertility

Psychological stress is linked to alterations in semen parameters, since it may reduce sperm concentration in the ejaculate, in addition to compromising sperm morphology, sperm motility, and fertilization potential.

This was the conclusion reached by a team of researchers from the United States after analyzing a series of seminal samples from 193 men aged 35-40. They revealed having been in several stressful situations during their lives in both the workplace and on a personal level.

Among the stressful situations analyzed in this study, we can find a number of traumatic life experiences such as loss of employment, divorce, moving home, financial problems, death of a loved one, etc.

Researchers also found out that men which had experienced two or more traumatic experiences in a 12-month period of time showed a decreased percentage of motile sperm as well as morphological problems if compared to men who had never coped with stressful life situations.

Likewise, it was found that everyday stress—whether it is manageable or mild—does not appear to affect male fertility to a great extent.

As for work-related stress, a common phenomenon in today’s society, this study states that it does not have a direct impact on sperm quality, though men whom suffered from working pressure showed lower testosterone levels than normal, something that might hamper their fertilization potential.

The reason behind the latter data can be associated with a low level of work stress, which is to say, the number of high-pressure situations that occur at work is not so much as to have an influence on sperm quality. This is the opposite of what happens in the case of traumatic experiences such as the death of a loved one, divorce or unemployment.

What this study made clear is that the semen quality of unemployed men was poorer than that of employed males.

Effects on sperm quality

There is no scientific proof that stress is the immediate cause of poorer sperm quality. We can, however, establish a link between seminal parameters and certain stressful situations.

The following are some of the possible reasons why these two factors are associated to one another, i.e. stress and sperm quality:

  • Raised cortisol levels: cortisol can be defined as the “stress hormone” and may diminish testosterone levels, thereby compromising sperm production.
  • Increased free radical production of non-neutralized free radicals, which are linked to poorer sperm quality and infertility.

On the other hand, stress can have a direct impact on fertility, since it may lead to a loss of libido or become the cause of erectile dysfunction. Besides, men under stress tend to exhibit unhealthy habits such as smoking, alcohol or drug intake, and eating foods that contain saturated fats. This may compromise their reproductive health and lead to trouble conceiving.

Infertility generates stress

Even though stress does not cause infertility directly, infertility does lead to stress, which in turn may complicate things while on fertility treatment.

Being obsessed and anxious to become pregnant might have an indirect effect on achieving it both for men and women, since coping with infertility and assuming that you are in need of fertility treatment translates usually into a significant emotional burden which could even affect the normal functioning of your organism.

These are the reasons why seeking psychological support before and after undergoing a fertility treatment is crucial in order to be successful.

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Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information
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2 comments

  1. Featured
    isolatedgirl22

    Hello doctor, my hubby works as an Editor-In-Chief for an international firm and he spends just 2 o 3 days at home, mainly on weekends. We’re trying to have a baby and I know it’ll take us more time than it usually takes because we don’t have much time to have sex. We’ve been trying for 5 months now but I haven’t tested positive yet. He shows clear signs of stress (for example, he doesn’t eat well). Do you think this is the reason why I’m still not pregnant? Pls, help me!

    • Sandra FernándezBA, MA

      Hello,

      it may be the reason or it may not be,. As explained here, it’s been shown that stress may have an influence according to a study conducted in the USA, but it hasn’t been totally proven yet.

      If you don’t have much time for having intercourse throughout the week, it is normal that it takes a little bit more than the average couples to get pregnant. Usually, infertility is diagnosed after a whole year trying to conceive with no luck, but in your case I’d wait a little bit more.

      If he spends too much time away from home, maybe a good option could be freezing his sperm and turning to IVF when you wish, but this is a very personal decision.

      I hope I have been able to help,

      Regards