Quick question. Which matters more: How you collect your semen sample or who analyzes it? Correct, it’s who you give it to that matters more. Barring major interruptions or large faults in technique, collecting semen is basically triggering a spinal reflex that’s pretty consistent in humans, kind of like a light switch. But to properly analyze that lump of fluid takes some serious expertise and know-how. Termed “andrology,” the field even has its own bible, and it’s 270 pages long!
Of course, when generating a specimen, you should follow some guidelines: 2-4 days of sexual abstinence beforehand, avoid lubricants (especially saliva and lotions), and try to hand it off within 1 hour of procurement. The rest is up to the laboratory. The most complete semen analyses examine several “liquid” issues (volume, liquefaction, viscosity and agglutination) in addition to sperm factors (sperm concentration, motility, forward progression and sperm morphology or shape). Other cells that may be present such as white or red blood cells or immature sperm cells, are also evaluated. Add in pH and color, and there’s at least a dozen obscure but measurable features in every semen sample.
How many ways are there to get your semen quality checked? There are at least three and here’s my take on them.
Along with finishing your high school or college education nowadays, you can also get your sperm checked in the comfy confines of your casa. Some are dipstick tests and others require you to be a junior scientist to get answers. I have to admit, though, that the next-gen smart phone-based semen evaluations are pretty cool and edgy. For the most part, however, at-home testing only checks the basics like sperm count and motility and do not evaluate other semen variables.
The science of sperm transport has now advanced to the point that you can simply collect your sample at home and literally mail it overnight to an official laboratory and get an accurate assessment of your soldiers. The granddad of these companies is Reprosource in Boston, but Legacy and Fellow offer similar high-quality semen analyses performed in certified laboratories. A very comprehensive semen analysis is now only a postage stamp away. Perfect for the stay-at-home, COVID-era, father-to-be.
Many hospital or fertility centers also routinely perform semen analyses, but they require a doctor’s order, make you produce the sample within an hour and generally do it on-site. Although fertility centers typically have private rooms and neat visual aids to accommodate your procurement needs, hospitals generally have public restrooms at your disposal. Your choice. And, fertility clinics on the whole do a better job at evaluating semen samples because it’s what they do all day, whereas hospitals have a lots of other things going on, often with multitasking technicians at the helm.
Bottom line is that performing a semen analysis is both a practiced art and an exacting science. Consistency, quality and attention to detail matter enormously. And for a surgeon who decides whether to operate or not on men based on semen findings, I absolutely rely on a high-quality semen evaluation. I guess I’ve always had respect for small things in large numbers.