Recent reports have indicated a decrease in semen quality of men in some countries, and suggested regional differences. A study was undertaken of semen samples from 1082 fertile men from four European cities (Copenhagen, Denmark; Paris, France; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Turku, Finland). Semen analysis was standardized, inter-laboratory differences in assessment of sperm concentration were evaluated, and morphology assessment centralized. Lowest sperm concentrations and total counts were detected for Danish men, followed by French and Scottish men. Finnish men had the highest sperm counts. Men from Edinburgh had the highest proportion of motile spermatozoa, followed by men from Turku, Copenhagen and Paris. Only the differences between Paris/Edinburgh and Paris/Turku were statistically significant (P < 0.003 and P < 0.002 respectively). No significant differences in morphology were detected. A general seasonal variation in sperm concentration (summer 70% of winter) and total sperm count (summer 72% of winter) was detected. Semen quality of a 'standardized' man (30 years old, fertile, ejaculation abstinence of 96 h) were estimated. Typically, sperm concentrations (x 10(6)/ml) for winter/summer were: Turku 132/93; Edinburgh 119/84; Paris 103/73; and Copenhagen 98/69. These differences in semen quality may indicate different environmental exposures or lifestyle changes in the four populations. However, it remains to be seen whether such changes can account for these differences. These data may also serve as a reference point for future studies on time trends in semen quality in Europe.