It’s the kind of fertility myth that seems to make sense: if you hold back on sex, the quality of sperm will be better when you need it to count. But, in fact, the exact opposite is true!
It’s a common misconception that if you’re trying for a baby, you should abstain from sex for up to 10 days before your fertile window, so the male partner has as long as possible to produce lots of high-quality sperm.
There is some evidence that holding back positively affect the amount of semen a man produces.
A small study of 27 healthy men in 2004 found that they produced more semen following a period of abstinence, with four days of holding back generating the most significant increase in volume (the rate of increase declined after the initial four days). The study also found that the amount of semen produced was inversely related to the number of times the man had ejaculated prior to the period of abstinence.
But that study is all about quantity, and quality is what we’re really concerned with when we are trying to increase a couple’s chances of conceiving. So the important thing to understand is that not ejaculating regularly can reduce the quality and motility of a man’s sperm.
Carole Gilling-Smith, Consultant Gynaecologist and Medical Director at the Agora Gynaecology & Fertility Centre, explains why:
“Holding back leads to a build-up of immotile sperm (sperm that can’t swim) and sperm that have low motility (swim slowly). This means that they are less efficient at swimming up the uterus and down the fallopian tubes, so are less likely to reach the egg to fertilise it.”