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What is Sperm Motility and Why is It Important?
Updated on May 24, 2023
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What is Sperm Motility and Why is It Important?

Many couples struggle to get pregnant, which can occur because of various circumstances and reasons.

Some of them have to do with a man’s sperm, its physical characteristics, and its motility. In fact, 40-50% of infertility cases worldwide are due to male infertility, which sometimes affects sperm health.1

“Infertility is the inability to conceive after a year of unprotected sex,” clarifies our in-house medical expert, Dr. Rizza Mira.

A healthy sperm, an adequate sperm count, and progressive motility will increase the chances of a successful pregnancy. Suboptimal sperm can heavily impact fertility and the likelihood of conceiving successfully.

Luckily, you can make several lifestyle changes to improve sperm motility and your chances of conceiving naturally. The choices you make, whether it’s exercise or diet, affect sperm motility heavily.

What is Sperm Motility?

Sperm motility is the ability of the sperm to move or propel itself efficiently. 

When an organism is “motile,” it makes itself move. This is particularly important for sperm, as they need to navigate the cervical canal post-ejaculation, find, and fertilize an egg in the fallopian tube.

Healthy sperm are very motile and can easily make the journey from the cervical canal to the fallopian tube. However, poor sperm motility can cause the sperm to swim poorly and fail to reach the egg, fail to penetrate the egg, or even fail to pass through cervical mucus.

If your doctor determines that sperm motility is the problem, they may do further tests and measure the following:2

  • Percentage motile - The percentage of sperm that are moving in one sample
  • Percentage motile concentration - A percentage denoting how many millions of cells there are per mL of semen
  • Total motile sperm count (TMSC) - The number of swimming sperm in one ejaculate sample
  • Average path velocity (VAP) - The speed the sperm are moving

Poor sperm motility is characterized by:

  • Fewer than 20 million motile sperm per ejaculate
  • Motility is so slow (sperm progress slower than 25 micrometers per second)
  • There is no mobility whatsoever

Your sperm quality is important and has to be at its best to capitalize on your chances of conceiving.

Progressive Motility, Non-Progressive Motility, and Immotile Sperm

When doing semen analyses, your doctor won’t just check if your sperm move.

While sperm that’s moving and swimming is considered “motile,” the movement isn’t always a good sign. Sperm that wriggles in place is still considered motile, but if it can’t swim straight and towards the egg, it won’t increase your chances of getting pregnant.

Sperm motility is classified into three categories:3

  • Progressive - Sperm that swim in a straight line and can make large circles
  • Non-progressive - Sperm that do not travel in straight lines and make tight circles
  • Immotile - No movement whatsoever

Progressive motility is achieved when your sperm can travel at 25 micrometers per second. This is why only efficient movement is considered when testing sperm motility. While other sperm may be motile, they’re not always productive. 

“Sperm motility isn’t the only factor that guarantees fertilization. It is important to also check the physical characteristics of the sperm. We often check the sperm’s color, odor, pH, viscosity, etc.,” reminds Dr. Mira.

What is Normal Sperm Motility?

What’s considered normal sperm motility is when the sperm can swim forward progressively at 25 micrometers per second. Failing to clear this means that the sperm may be sluggish and suboptimal.

Motile sperm can swim at this speed and easily make the journey from the cervical canal to the egg. 

If less than 32% of sperm move forward progressively at this speed, it’s considered poor or low motility.

“The sperm travels from the cervical canal to the uterus then to the fallopian tubes, where it meets the egg. This process occurs in about 72 hours,” explains Dr. Mira.

Causes of Poor Sperm Motility

There’s no single cause for poor sperm motility. 

Many factors can affect sperm motility, such as:

  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Exercise 
  • Excessive heat
  • Medication
  • Vices (like smoking or drinking)
  • Repeated trauma
  • Infections

The health and quality of your sperm rely heavily on the lifestyle choices you make. With a poor diet, little to no exercise, and some vices, your sperm may suffer in terms of motility. 

Excessively warm temperatures also affect motility and sperm count. With higher temperatures, motility is impaired and decreases the number of healthy sperm.

How is Poor Sperm Motility Diagnosed?

Your doctor may ask you for a semen analysis, which will show you an assessment of the following:

  • Sperm count
  • Sperm shape
  • Sperm motility
  • Sperm concentration
  • Semen volume
  • Vitality

When it comes to sperm motility tests, they will test how much efficient, progressive movement your sperm makes by observing the sperm in your sample. By taking note of the number of sperm moving progressively compared to how much are in the sample, they can determine the percentage of your sperm that’s motile and efficient.

Why Test for Sperm Motility?

Testing for sperm motility helps you better understand any difficulties you may be experiencing when it comes to having a baby.

Knowing that your sperm may have poor motility can help you identify the changes you need to make to be in a better condition to conceive.

When you’re aware of what you need to improve and adjust, you eliminate other possibilities of infertility and can focus on rectifying that area.

How Can You Improve Sperm Motility?

You can improve sperm motility by adjusting your lifestyle choices, avoiding foods that contribute negatively to your diet, and ensuring you aren’t in excessively warm temperatures when attempting to conceive. 

Your sperm motility directly results from how you take care of yourself. So a lifestyle full of junk food and little to no exercise can negatively affect sperm motility. An unhealthy body creates unhealthy sperm.

You should also get checked by a healthcare professional if you want to be sure.

“Doctors also check for infections or varicoceles that may be present that can also impact sperm motility,” says Dr. Mira.

Can You Still Have Kids with Poor Sperm Motility?

While you may be worried that poor sperm motility will forever impact your chances of having kids, don’t panic. 

It can be something that you can work on so, yes, you can still have kids.

If sperm motility doesn’t improve drastically even with major lifestyle changes over several months, you can still opt for the following:

  • In vitro fertilization - Where an egg is removed from the woman and is fertilized in a laboratory before being inserted back into the woman’s uterus to develop.
  • Intrauterine insemination - When concentrated amounts of sperm are inserted directly into the uterus to anticipate a waiting egg.

Conceiving naturally isn’t your only option. Even with poor sperm motility, there are still ways to have a baby.

Updated on May 24, 2023
Dr. Rizza Mira
Dr. Rizza Mira
Medical Reviewer
Dr. Rizza Mira is a medical doctor and a general practitioner who specializes in pediatrics, nutrition, dietetics, and public health.

As a pediatrician, she is dedicated to the general health and well-being of children and expecting parents. She believes that good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle, and prevention of illness are key to ensuring the health of children and their families.

When she’s not in the hospital, Rizza advocates and mobilizes causes like breastfeeding, vaccination drives, and initiatives to prevent illness in the community.
Angela Natividad
Angela Natividad
Content Contributor
Angela Natividad is the content manager and editor for KnowYourDNA. She loves learning about the latest in DNA.
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