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Infertility and treatment

Low sperm motility – what is it?

What is low sperm motility and how to try and prevent it

During the last couple of years, men’s sperm quality has been a regular topic of interest amongst fertility scientists. The low sperm quality among men contributes to the rise in couples needing fertility treatment in their pursuit of a child. Sperm quality is defined by a lot of factors, such as the size and shape of the sperm cell, how many active cells per million, and if they are motile. In this blog post, we examine what sperm motility is, the typical causes of low sperm motility, and how to improve it.

What is low sperm motility?

Sperm motility is an expression of semen quality and can be determined in a semen analysis. Sperm motility is the sperm’s ability to move forward efficiently. There is a higher chance of the sperm fertilizing the egg if the sperm move quickly and efficiently.

According to the 2021 WHO report, an ejaculation should contain at least 40% motile sperm cells and at least 30% progressive sperm cells. Progressive motility refers to the sperm’s ability to swim in a linear direction. If your motility is below 40%, you are considered to have low sperm motility. Low sperm motility may be the cause of not getting pregnant, but it may not be the only reason why. Sperm motility is only one factor in determining a man's sperm quality. Here below you can see the different motility levels, their descriptions, and how progressive they should be to be considered normal.

Motility levelDescriptionProgressive motility range
LowThe sperm cells' movement is limited, making it harder to conceive.0 - 30%
NormalThere is a sufficient number of sperm cells moving progressively, thus ensuring a normal fertility31 - 100%


How do you diagnose low sperm motility?

There are no physical signs of low sperm motility. As a result, you need to have your sperm tested to learn more about your motility level. Before the semen analysis, you must create a sperm sample for a laboratory technician to analyze. The laboratory technician will start by counting the number of moving sperm cells. From there, they focus on the moving sperm cells to establish how many of the sperm cells are moving progressively.

Low sperm motility can make it hard to conceive, if you want to read other reasons for you not getting pregnant, follow the link.

A reason for low sperm motility can be the sperm cells movement

An illustration of a normal sperm cell with progressive motility and a sperm cell with abnormal motility

Causes for low sperm motility

There can be different causes of low sperm motility – some are temporary and easy to change, while others are more long-lasting and perhaps even permanent. This means that a man’s sperm motility can vary a lot from week to week, which is essential to keep in mind. If you at some point experience low sperm motility, it does not mean that you cannot have children of your own someday. Some of the causes of low sperm motility are:

  • An unhealthy lifestyle is one of the most important reasons for low sperm motility. Factors such as smoking, an unhealthy diet and alcohol can influence negatively sperm quality in general.
  • Another important lifestyle trait that can lower sperm motility is exposure of the testicles to heat. Warm places like hot tubs, saunas, and solariums should be avoided. The same goes for tight underwear, which can negatively affect sperm motility because of the heat it generates. Low sperm motility can also be caused by a genital infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
  • For some men, low sperm motility is genetically determined and is not caused by any outside factors. This was the case for Enrico, who wanted to start a family with his wife Verena. The couple struggled with infertility and discovered that he had no active sperm cells. Fortunately, it is possible to have a child with help from a sperm donor.
    Read the story about the Italian couple using a sperm donor to get pregnant here.

In the video below, Allan Pacey, an expert in male infertility talks about the problem of low sperm motility and quality and how men experience this.

How to increase your sperm motility

Sperm motility can for most men be improved through a couple of lifestyle changes: e.g. maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly Just be aware that it takes about three months for the sperm quality, in general, to visibly improve, which means you should begin at least three months before you start trying for a baby.

Sperm motility is not the only factor affecting your chances of conceiving, sperm count is also an important part of sperm quality. If you want tips for getting pregnant with a low sperm count, then follow the link.

Eat food that helps increase your sperm motility

A focus on diet is an important factor in increasing sperm motility. A healthy and varied diet with fruit and vegetables contains a lot of antioxidants, which are linked with high sperm quality. In the list below, we have gathered some food that is said to have a positive impact on sperm motility including:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Whole cereals
  • Maca roots
  • Seafood
  • Shellfish


Raising your low sperm motility through exercise

Another way of improving the quality of your sperm could be through regular exercise. Studies have shown that men who exercise regularly have a higher level of sperm count. If you start to exercise to raise your sperm motility, it is important to do it regularly and not overdo it. Too much exercise can have the opposite effect and lower sperm motility.

If you want to read more about sperm count and how it can affect your chances of conceiving, then follow the link to our blog post on the subject.

Increase your sperm motility through a healthy and balanced diet

Can you get pregnant with low sperm motility?

If you have low sperm motility it is still possible to conceive naturally, as the motility can vary over time. A fertility doctor will often encourage you and your partner to try for a certain period. During this period, the doctor will most likely recommend that you have sex every 2-3 days to maximise your chances of obtaining a pregnancy.

It is important to maintain a healthy and balanced diet during this period, and you should also try to keep your consumption of alcohol and smoking to a minimum. A lot of couples get pregnant during this period, but if this is not the case for you, there are fertility treatments you can use to help you and your partner conceive.

How low sperm motility affects your fertility

Low sperm motility, also called asthenozoospermia, harms men's fertility and chances of conception. For a pregnancy to occur, a sperm cell must reach and fertilize the egg. If your ejaculate contains less progressive sperm cells than normal, your chances of conception decrease. Couples where the man is diagnosed with asthenozoospermia often require fertility treatment to fulfil their dream of a child.

Types of treatment for men with low sperm motility

If you have been trying to get pregnant for a year or longer without success, you are, according to WHO, experiencing infertility, and you might need help in your journey towards parenthood. In most countries there are fertility treatments available at hospitals or privately at fertility clinics, that can help you and your partner become parents. In the following, we introduce you to three different types of fertility treatment.

If you need to use a fertility clinic to fulfil your dream of becoming a parent, then it is important finding the right clinic for you. If you want tips on how to find the right fertility clinic, then follow the link to our blog post on the subject.

IUI treatment

IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) is a type of treatment where the doctor injects sperm directly into the woman’s uterus. If you have low sperm motility, using IUI treatment allows your sperm cells to start closer to the egg, which increases the chance of a sperm cell fertilizing the egg.

The procedure is very popular because it is both quick and nearly pain-free. If you wish to receive IUI treatment it will be performed at a fertility clinic.

IVF treatment

IVF treatment, also known as In Vitro Fertilization, is a method of assisted reproduction. The term in vitro means “in a glass” which the method is called because the egg is fertilized manually with the sperm in a petri dish. After fertilization, an embryo takes form, which the doctor then transfers from the Petri glass to the uterus where, hopefully, a successful pregnancy occurs.

ICSI treatment

ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) is a type of IVF technique where a single sperm cell is injected directly into the egg to fertilize it. Because the sperm cell is injected directly into the egg, fertility treatment is a good option when dealing with low sperm motility. The treatment can also be recommended if no or few eggs have been fertilized at previous attempts with IVF treatment.

ICSI treatment with donor sperm is an option if the man has no healthy sperm cells. Luckily, there are other options as well. Follow the link to read about treatment options for men with low sperm count or motility.

What are your options if you cannot achieve pregnancy using your own sperm?

If you do not achieve pregnancy after having fertility treatment, and infertility is caused by low sperm quality, using donor sperm for fertility treatment can be a good option to achieve your dream of a child. Many couples turn to this solution when facing infertility problems, and even though it might not be the way you initially imagined starting your family, the couples using donor sperm to conceive, become happy parents to healthy children. If you are experiencing male infertility problems and are curious about conceiving with help from a sperm donor, you can read more about the reasons for using donor sperm to get pregnant and see our selection of donors in our Sperm Donor Search.

If you want to read some personal stories on male infertility, also called childlessness, we can recommend our blog post about Johan and his role as a dad to a donor-conceived child.