Semen quality in the 21st century

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Abstract

| Although semen quality is an important determinant of fertility, defining clear thresholds for normal ranges has proven difficult. According to ‘time to pregnancy’ studies, fecundity starts to decline when sperm concentrations fall below 30-55 × 106/ml, whereas the WHO criterion for normal values is currently 15 × 106/ml. Multiple studies over the past 15 years have reported median sperm concentrations of 41-55 × 106/ml in young men (mean age 18-21 years) from the general population, suggesting that many of them have suboptimal semen quality. Sperm numbers remain fairly constant between 19 and 29 years of age, which points to the importance of developmental effects. Discussion on whether population semen quality has declined has continued for decades, as regional differences in trends have been noted. The reasons for poor semen quality and adverse trends are not well established, but some associations suggest a causal relationship, for example, with maternal smoking during pregnancy. The role of chemical exposures leading to endocrine disruption and detrimental reproductive effects has been in the focus of research during the past 20 years. Identification of exposures that affect fertility could provide opportunities for effective prevention of reproductive health problems.

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