Effects of work and life stress on semen quality

A cross-sectional analysis of 193 men in California found an inverse association between perceived stress and sperm concentration, motility, and morphology. Associations for stressful life events were similar.

Teresa Janevic, Ph.D., Linda Kahn, M.A., M.P.H., Paul Landsbergis, Ph.D., Piera Cirillo, Ph.D., Barbara Cohn, Ph.D., Xinhua Liu, Ph.D., Pam Factor-Litvak, Ph.D.

Volume 102, Issue 2, Pages 530-538


To evaluate associations between work-related stress, stressful life events, and perceived stress and semen quality.

Cross-sectional analysis.

Northern California.

193 men from the Child Health and Development Studies evaluated between 2005–2008.


Main Outcome Measure(s):
Measures of stress including job strain, perceived stress, and stressful life events; outcome measures of sperm concentration, percentage of motile sperm, and percentage of morphologically normal sperm.

We found an inverse association between perceived stress score and sperm concentration (estimated coefficient b = −0.09 × 103/mL; 95% confidence interval [CI] = −0.18, −0.01), motility (b = −0.39; 95% CI = −0.79, 0.01), and morphology (b= −0.14; 95% CI, −0.25, −0.04) in covariate-adjusted linear regression analyses. Men who experienced two or more stressful life events in the past year compared with no stressful events had a lower percentage of motile sperm (b= −8.22; 95% CI, −14.31, −2.13) and a lower percentage of morphologically normal sperm (b = −1.66; 95% CI, −3.35, 0.03) but a similar sperm concentration. Job strain was not associated with semen parameters.

In this first study to examine all three domains of stress, perceived stress and stressful life events but not work-related stress were associated with semen quality.

  • The mind is a powerful thing. In this study, the authors find that life stressors have a negative impact sperm concentration, motility, and morphology, however work stressors do not have any relationship. Being unemployed, however, also had a negative impact on sperm quality.

    Stress is a very subjective feeling, and one person’s stress tolerance is different from another’s. How this impacts sperm production may reside in the hormonal milieu that results in one’s stress response. I am unsure, however, why different types of stressors would have different impact on sperm quality as found in this study.

    I see many men that develop erectile/sexual dysfunction as they go through the stress of fertility evaluation and subsequent treatment. This may also explain why I see men in my practice with worsening serial semen analyses as they proceed through the ART process with their partners and once they are finished or pregnancy is achieved, things seem to improve spontaneously without any treatment or medication.

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