Accidents are just that: Not always foreseeable nor preventable, despite taking the best of precautions.
When it comes to male fertility, obvious accidental dangers involve direct trauma to the testes. Care should be taken to protect this area, not only to avoid an extremely painful injury, but because the fragile ducts that carry sperm and protect them from the body’s immune system can be ruptured as the result of an accident.
Should these ducts become damaged and the sperm exposed, this will spur the creation of anti-sperm antibodies which will hinder the sperm’s ability to swim to the egg for fertilization.
“That’s why wearing a cup for playing sports is so important,” John Amory, a specialist in male reproductive medicine at the University of Washington, told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s not just to prevent pain.”
But try telling that to younger men, and they may shrug off injuries to the groin because they believe that they are indestructible. Forever.
In fact, says Ajay K. Nangia MD, Associate Professor of Urology at University of Kansas Medical Center, many young men are much more concerned about contracting a sexually transmitted infection than they are about the possibility of some rough contact to the genital area.
Not a good mindset, says Nangia: “In these situations, an injury earlier in life can be tragic to the hopes of a couple that is trying to conceive. This can cause serious distress in a relationship and change hopes for the future.”
Nangia adds that, because this is the case, preventing these kinds of injuries can be best achieved through education. And not just on the dangers of sports-related injuries, but also on how to give testicular self-exams to detect a cancer that could be cured in virtually every case – if it is spotted early enough.
Not only are younger males who play sports in their prime fertile years, says Nangia, but several studies have shown that men of this age are seriously under-informed regarding the impact of damage to the male genitals, particularly with how this can correspond to conceiving a child as the man matures.
Younger women, on the other hand, generally receive information about reproductive health from the time they start their “period”. The only equivalent opportunity for young men to receive similar education about their reproductive health occurs at the time of a sports physical.
All well and good for those who are athletically inclined and willing to pay attention when that time comes. But what about other injuries that can pose a threat to reproductive health?
Nanjia stresses that sports-related injuries to other parts of the body, such as the neck, spinal cord, and head, occur with greater frequency than might be thought. At the extreme end of the spectrum, injuries to vulnerable parts of the body other than the groin area can result in paraplegia or quadriplegia.
“All these issues can affect fertility, ejaculation and erections,” says Nanjia.
And the risks to fertility posed by engaging in physical activities aren’t limited to contact sports. Regular participation in intense exercise regimens – even those where the chances of accidental injury seem slim to none – can compromise a man’s ability to conceive.
A recent study review published in the American Journal of Men’s Health indicated that, while the answers to questions concerning physical activity and men’s reproductive health were not decidedly clear-cut, current research suggests that “intense physical activity may affect the semen concentration, as well as the number of motile and morphologically normal spermatozoa.”
Or, in layman’s terms, serious exercise could have an impact on sperm counts as well as the shape of sperm and their ability to swim. The review further mentioned that “testicular heat stress”, which could arise from intense exercise, was one factor in altering the swimming ability of sperm.
The authors noted, “Differences in the impacts of tight- versus loose-fitting underwear should be addressed, as higher scrotal temperatures have been reported in men wearing tight clothing.”
Even though the research might not be conclusive when it comes to the direct effects of exercise on men’s reproductive health, Dr. Nanjia points out another area of caution: Regular and prolonged exercise, such as bike riding or spinning, could result in a “loss of sensation” in the groin area, making it more difficult for a man “to get and maintain an erection.”
The healthiest choice for Legacy clients, in all of these and related cases, is to continue to reap the benefits of exercise and participation sports while protecting their assets before theories about damage become irreversible realities.