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May 14, 2022

Does masturbation affect fertility?

Will ejaculating too often boost your fertility, or hinder it? Is there a certain number of times you should masturbate per day, week, or month to maintain optimum fertility? Does masturbation affect sperm count?

When it comes to masturbation, it's completely normal to wonder — what is normal? Let's break down the facts to understand whether masturbation affects fertility.

This is especially relevant if you are in the process of trying to get your partner pregnant (known as trying to conceive or TTC).

Key takeaways

  • Sperm is being produced by the testicles constantly, and as it waits in storage, quality declines. There's no evidence that "semen retention" or avoiding ejaculation is beneficial for fertility.
  • If you're trying to conceive, you may want to avoid masturbation during the fertile window, when you're having sex every 1–2 days — or for 2–5 days before a semen analysis, sperm freezing, or IVF procedure. Otherwise, there's no reason to avoid masturbation.
  • Masturbation has many mental and physical health benefits, and is overall part of a healthy sex life.

Understanding sperm production

To understand how frequent ejaculation affects fertility, we need to get back to basics and talk a little about how you make sperm. Sperm production (spermatogenesis) begins during puberty and continues throughout your life. 

The testes produce around 50–100 million viable sperm every single day. At first, the sperm cells are immature, and unable to swim. They go through a series of divisions as they mature — which create genetic variation — and they eventually become able to move on their own. It takes approximately 74 days for a newly formed sperm to become fully mature. 

The body stores mature sperm in the “cauda epididymis,” a structure in the epididymis — a tube at the back of the testicles. When you ejaculate, sperm moves via muscle contractions to the vas deferens. The vas deferens connect to the seminal vesicles, which produce seminal fluid (semen). The sperm mixes into the semen, and then moves to the urethra for ejaculation. When you orgasm, this leads to ejaculation, releasing the sperm and seminal fluid.

If you don’t ejaculate, what happens to your sperm? It sits in “storage” for a while — more on that below — and then is eventually reabsorbed by the testes.

Now we know that sperm takes nearly three months to mature once produced, let’s discuss: Does masturbation affect male fertility?

Is semen retention good for fertility?

If you are looking to improve fertility or increase low testosterone, you may have come across information about “semen retention” (intentionally avoiding ejaculation). Some people claim that avoiding ejaculation and “retaining semen” improves energy levels, fertility, sexual pleasure, and emotional health.

This concept has been around for a long time. But, there’s no scientific evidence to back up the claims — and in fact, abstaining from ejaculation for more than a few days is actually detrimental to your sperm quality.

Semen volume (how much semen you ejaculate) and sperm concentration (how many sperm are in your semen) do increase after 1–2 days of abstinence.

However, on the flip side, sperm quality, or the health of your sperm, has been shown to decrease after two days of abstinence, and worsen over a more extended period. And the genetic health of sperm suffers from longer abstinence windows.

We talked above about how sperm waits in “storage” until you ejaculate. While it sits, the motility of your sperm — meaning how many of them are swimming — drops, and sperm DNA fragmentation — the degree of damage to the DNA carried by your sperm — increases.

With this in mind, we recommend that you abstain from ejaculation and sex for 2–5 days before collection for in vitro fertilization (IVF), semen analysis (testing), or sperm freezing.

Is it okay to masturbate while I’m trying to conceive? 

It really is a personal choice how often you choose to masturbate when you are TTC.

How often should you have sex if you’re trying to conceive? It’s less about how much, and more about when. You need to be pinpointing your partner’s fertile window, the 3–5 day period before ovulation, when pregnancy is most likely. Experts recommend having sex every 1–2 days during this window, especially on the day just before ovulation.

Taking into consideration the information above, it doesn’t make sense to “save up” semen for long periods of time before trying for pregnancy. So, masturbation before or after the fertile window shouldn’t affect your chances.

Ejaculating multiple times per day may reduce sperm count. So during the fertile window, when you’re having sex frequently, you might want to temporarily avoid masturbation.

Learn more in the Men's Guide to Trying to Conceive.

Does masturbation cause infertility in men?

No, masturbation does not cause infertility in men (or anyone).

Your sperm count may be slightly lower if you’re ejaculating more than once every 1–2 days. So if you are TTC, doing IVF, doing a semen analysis, freezing your sperm, you should abstain from masturbating for 2–5 days prior. Between fertility treatments and during times when you are not TTC, masturbation will not do any harm, and can have several overall health benefits.

The benefits of masturbation and ejaculation

If you have a healthy relationship with masturbation (i.e., not an addiction), it does have its benefits. For instance, masturbation may:

  • Improve your mental health by reducing stress. Masturbation and sex both stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain, improving your mood. Sex also reduces levels of the hormone cortisol, which is associated with stress.
  • Help you sleep better. Ejaculation stimulates the release of chemicals such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and prolactin. These induce relaxing feelings and help you sleep. 
  • Give your immune system a boost. Some studies suggest that masturbation and orgasm may improve your immune system.
  • Make sex better. Masturbation increases the blood flow to the genitals. This keeps your sexual organs functioning properly. It also helps you get used to the sensations of sex and become more comfortable with your own body. This can help if you are experiencing concerns with body image, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or other anxieties around sex.
  • Lower the risk of prostate cancer. In 2016, the European Urology journal published a study that showed men were 20% less likely to develop prostate cancer if they ejaculated more than 20 times per month (21 times was the magic number).
  • Lower the risk of heart disease. The American Journal of Cardiology discusses that a lack of sex (once a month or less) can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Bottom line: Apart from a short-term impact on sperm counts, masturbation won’t affect your fertility — and there’s no evidence that avoiding ejaculation has any medical benefits. Have fun!

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