Understanding How Age Impacts Male Fertility
The phrase biological clock is usually mentioned about women and references how as a woman ages, egg quality can decrease. But women aren’t the only people with fertility that’s adversely impacted by age. Considering that male infertility accounts for a third of all infertility cases in the United States, the biological clock metaphor is just as real for men too.
Semen quality and age
Just like egg quality is an issue for women, semen quality is a concern for men. And even though an older man can still get a woman pregnant, evidence suggests that a man’s semen is in peak condition during a relatively small window in comparison to an individual’s full lifespan. According to a study conducted in Israel, a man’s sperm is in optimal conditions between the ages of 30-35. And in general, after age 55, sperm quality is found to be at the lowest quality.
Along with the need for quality sperm, the sperm must also have good motility if conception is to occur naturally. Just like with general quality, men have a finite window where motility is at optimal levels. And surprisingly, the ages for peak motility aren’t the same as general quality. Whereas sperm quality is at the best levels between ages 30-35, motility is best before age 25. And as with semen quality, motility declines dramatically after age 55.
Genetic conditions and age
Most people are aware of how women are warned to avoid having children beyond 40 because of an increased risk of genetic defects. But the risk is just as much of a concern for men too. One study found that sperm collected from older men had a higher risk for the following genetic sperm defects:
- Higher risk of miscarriage
- Decreased fertility
- Higher risk of birth defects
- Higher risk of stillbirth
Male age and fertility treatment success rates
Just as in women, age can directly impact the success rate of undergoing fertility treatments. Research has found that older men may experience lower success rates, just as is seen in women. However, with advanced paternal age as an issue, fertility specialists can leverage a technology called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) to minimize the negative impacts of using an aging sperm donation.
The bottom line, age matters for both members
Assuming that fertility is solely a woman’s problem completely ignores the reality that only one-third of all infertility cases are solely caused by issues related to a woman’s reproductive capabilities. While male fertility is more fluid and doesn’t have as limited a timeline as a woman’s, age does impact sperm quality. And as a direct result, can impact the pregnancy and the child after birth. Men who are concerned about sperm quality should speak with a fertility specialist to have sperm evaluated and determine a course of action.