Male reproductive function seems to have deteriorated considerably during the past 4-5 decades. However, studies of the reproductive function in unselected populations have not previously been reported. As the large majority of young men in Denmark are subjected to a compulsory medical examination for military service, this provided a unique opportunity to study the reproductive function in an unbiased population. Altogether 891 young men delivered a blood sample in which reproductive hormones were measured. From 708 of these men data were also obtained on semen quality and testis size. The median sperm concentration was 41 x 10(6)/ml (mean 57.4 x 10(6)/ml). Men with ejaculation abstinence above 48 h had slightly higher sperm concentrations (median 45 x10(6)/ml, mean 63.2 x 10(6)/ml), but even in this subgroup, 21 and 43% respectively had sperm counts below 20 x 10(6)/ml and 40 x 10(6)/ml. Among men with no history of reproductive diseases and a period of abstinence above 48 h, as many as 18 and 40% respectively had concentrations below 20 and 40 x 10(6)/ml. Sperm counts were positively correlated with testis size, percentage normal spermatozoa and inhibin B, and negatively correlated with percentage immotile spermatozoa and follicle stimulating hormone. Possible causes for this high frequency of young men with suboptimal semen quality are obscure and need to be explored. Whether these findings apply for young male populations of comparable countries remains to be seen.