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More Evidence that Male Abstinence Before IVF Is Unnecessary — and May Be Counterproductive

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Sep 28, 2018

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No one likes to talk about it, but the IUI and IVF processes involve male masturbation. It’s awkward, but that’s how fertility specialists typically get a sperm sample from men, with which they fertilize a woman’s egg. Traditionally, specialists have advised male abstinence — from both sex and masturbation — before an IVF cycle, but a growing body of evidence is disputing that recommendation. And a new study has found that the sperm of men who did not abstain from ejaculating in the days before an IVF cycle increased live births among couples by one-third.

In fact, men who ejaculated mere hours prior to giving a semen sample may be more likely to successfully conceive and have a baby, suggest the findings by Dr. Da Li and Dr. XiuXia Wang, clinician-researchers at the Center for Reproductive Medicine of Shengjing Hospital in Shenyang, China.

“For years, men have usually been advised to limit sexual activity to increase the chances of pregnancy,” said Li. “However, it’s time to change our minds.”

Earlier research has found that semen produced within three or so hours of a man’s last ejaculation contains faster and more motile sperm. By comparing the sperm of men who had abstained from sex and masturbation for several days before providing a semen sample for IVF, and men who had ejaculated only hours previously, Li and Wang identified differences in proteins involved in cell adhesion — a function critical to enabling sperm to fuse with an egg. They also found that the longer sperm cells exist, the more vulnerable they are to DNA damage, making a viable pregnancy more difficult.

Li and Wang then studied 500 couples undergoing IVF to see if these facts about sperm actually had an effect on how viable a pregnancy is. Men in the control group abstained from sex or masturbation for several days before giving an IVF sample, while men in the experimental group abstained for less than three hours before providing a semen sample. Fertility specialists then proceeded with the IVF process of fertilization and transplantation to the men’s female partners.

“A typical live birth rate in a cohort of this size is about 30%,” said Li. Among the group in which men abstained only for hours, the live birth rate was higher by one-third, Li and Wang reported in the journal Molecular and Cellular Proteomics.

“Our data indicate that couples with relatively normal semen parameters should have frequent sex around the ovulation period,” said Li. “This could make all the difference to their efforts to start a family.”

So, good news, fellas (and couples). Several days of male abstinence before IVF is probably not necessary, and in fact more sex or masturbation could be beneficial to the chances of conceiving. Get to it.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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