Semen parameters in a fertile versus subfertile population: a need for change in the interpretation of semen testing

Hum Reprod. 1997 May;12(5):987-93. doi: 10.1093/humrep/12.5.987.


This prospectively designed study was conducted to compare a fertile and a subfertile population so as to define normal values for different semen parameters. Semen analyses were performed according to the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, except for sperm morphology (strict criteria). In the fertile population (n = 144), all patients had recently achieved pregnancy, within 12 months of unprotected coitus. As subfertile controls we examined semen samples from 143 consecutive men attending our infertility clinic during the same study period. Couples with tubal factor infertility and/or ovulatory disorders were excluded from our study. Using receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve analysis we determined the diagnostic potential and cut-off values for single and combined sperm parameters. Sperm morphology scored best, with a value of 78% (area under the ROC curve). Summary statistics showed a shift towards abnormality for most semen parameters in the subfertile population. Using the 10th percentile of the fertile population as the cut-off value, the following results were obtained: 14.3 x 10(6)/ml for sperm concentration, 28% for progressive motility and 5% for sperm morphology. Using ROC analysis, cut-off values were 34 x 10(6)/ml, 45% and 10% respectively. Cut-off values for normality were different from those described in the WHO guidelines. Routine bacterial and non-bacterial cultures turned out to be of little prognostic value.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • ROC Curve
  • Reference Values
  • Semen / cytology
  • Semen / microbiology
  • Semen / physiology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sperm Count
  • Sperm Motility / physiology
  • Spermatozoa / physiology*