Ask the Doc: Does stress affect male fertility?

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Can stress affect male fertility?


Yes, stress can affect male fertility. Stress has negative effects on fertility in males and females.

There are studies on medical students showing that sperm counts go down during exams, and studies on prisoners on death row showing that sperm production stops completely because of these stressful situations.

When we’re stressed, our body reacts with its fight-or-flight response to help us deal with the stressful situation. Some of the hormones involved in the fight-or-flight response inhibit the production of testosterone by the testes, which reduces sperm production.

Sperm counts aren’t perfect measures of fertility. What’s important is whether a male partner’s stress affects a couple’s chance of becoming pregnant and having children, and the evidence is not clear about this. For example, one study shows no effect of stress on pregnancy rates, but another shows that a common source of stress in males – unemployment – reduces pregnancy rates. There just hasn’t been enough research in humans to prove (or disprove) a link between male stress and low fertility.

We know that a father’s health and wellbeing affect his fertility, the pregnancies of his partner, and the health of his children before and after they are born. Regardless of whether you’re trying to have kids, if you’re stressed, ask someone for help.

A/Prof Tim Moss

Tim Moss

Biomedical research scientist

Associate Professor Tim Moss has PhD in physiology and more than 20 years’ experience as a biomedical research scientist. Tim stepped away from his successful academic career at the end of 2019, to apply his skills in turning complicated scientific and medical knowledge into information that all people can use to improve their health and wellbeing. Tim has written for and Scientific American’s Observations blog, which is far more interesting than his authorship of over 150 academic publications. He has studied science communication at the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science in New York, and at the Department of Biological Engineering Communication Lab at MIT in Boston.


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