Sperm Samples at Home
At Pacific Fertility Center (PFC), where I practice, sperm samples can be produced at home and brought into our office provided that you follow some simple guidelines. Most importantly, the instructions for producing a sample must be followed as if you were producing a sample in one of the two dedicated rooms in our office. You should shower in the morning and wash the genital area with soap and then rinse with plenty of water. Most of the samples we receive are produced by masturbation and you should be careful to wash your hands immediately before and after the collection. If you need lubrication and/or a condom to produce the sample, these must be supplied by PFC. Most condoms and commercially available lubricants are toxic to sperm in some way, but we can supply you with materials that we have tested and that we know do not kill sperm. You can take them home if that’s where you’ll produce your sample. Similarly, we must provide the container into which you will collect; again to ensure that it is sperm friendly.
The most important part of producing the sample at home is getting it to our office within 60-90 minutes of collection. Your semen sample contains sperm but also many enzymes that are important in the natural process of reproduction. One part of your reproductive tract, the seminal vesicles, produces enzymes that coagulate the semen immediately upon emission. This allows the viscous sample to remain within the vagina, a process that might be an evolutionary vestige of the copulation plugs that are seen in other mammals and that prevent the female from mating with a second male. Within 5-20 minutes however, other enzymes in the semen (this time from the prostate gland) liquefy the clotted semen, liberating the trapped sperm so that they can enter the cervix. Sperm in the first fraction of the semen are bathed in prostatic secretions and have better motility and survival than sperm in latter fractions which are bathed in vesicular fluid, since the seminal vesicles emissions are last in the ejaculatory sequence. This is why we always ask if any part of the ejaculate was lost during collection. If the first few drops of semen don’t get into the collection cup, we may have lost the best sperm and we may underestimate the quality of your sample.
All of these enzymes in the semen make it a hostile environment. Sperm trapped or left in semen will die relatively quickly, but sperm washed out of this enzyme bath can survive easily for 4 or 5 days in the laboratory. Semen can also cause uterine contractions, which is why we have to process sperm samples and remove it before performing your intra uterine insemination. Getting your semen sample to the laboratory within 60-90 minutes of collection allows us to assess your sperm before the enzymes can do any damage.
It is important that you have an abstinence period of at least 48 hours but not more than 7 days before giving us a sample. Samples produced after 2 days abstinence will usually have the highest numbers of motile sperm with the greatest forward velocity, when compared to samples produced after shorter or longer abstinence. Waiting too long between ejaculates is the biggest mistake we see, possibly because some men think that they can save all their sperm for the day of their big test. However, older sperm begin to die if ejaculations are infrequent and we see the percentage of live sperm decrease with increasing abstinence. Also, please remember that abstinence means no ejaculation, not just no intercourse!
Once your sample has been collected, it is important to avoid exposing it to extremes of heat or cold before bringing it to us in the laboratory. Don’t put it in the refrigerator while you take a shower. Don’t leave it on your dashboard in the sun while you pick up your dry cleaning. And don’t leave it in the glove compartment, forget about it for a week, and then deliver it to the lab. The sample will be fine at room temperature, and you don’t have to break the speed limit in trying to get it to us.
You will need to have made an appointment with us so that we know you will be bringing in a sample, and when you arrive in our office, a member of our staff will check your specimen in. We need to be sure that it is labeled properly and we will get some details from you regarding your abstinence period and how and when you produced the sample. And we will check your identification (usually your driver’s license). This last step is important in establishing the identity of the sample and is part of a “chain of custody” procedure that we use with all samples passing through our facility. We will examine and if appropriate, process the sample within 30 minutes of receiving it, or immediately if the sample is already 1 hour old. Hopefully we won’t be calling you to say that we need to repeat the test!