Mail-in sperm samples? At-home fertility testing just as reliable as in-person exams

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — As if mail-in ballots didn’t cause enough commotion in 2020, a new study about male fertility may raise some eyebrows as well. The study contends that men may no longer need to visit a clinic in-person to give sperm samples. Researchers from the University of Southern California say that a mail-in fertility kit can successfully test sperm up to 52 hours after men provide a sample.

Infertility is a common bump in the road that many couples hoping to start a family encounter. Health officials estimate that around 15 percent of couples will deal with some form of infertility on their journey to parenthood. In the event of such a scenario, it’s usually a good idea for both prospective parents to visit a clinic and undergo a fertility assessment.

Won’t the samples quickly go bad?

The findings are especially groundbreaking because sperm usually starts to break down after just one hour. That one-hour sperm-death timeline is the reason men have had to visit fertility clinics and leave a sample for analysis on-site for so long. Up until now, doctors didn’t think there was any other way to get a viable sample.

“This is a game changer for men because it means they no longer have to come into a lab or clinic to provide a sample, an experience some find unnerving and challenging,” says lead investigator Mary Samplaski, MD, in a university release. “This allows men to secure highly accurate male fertility results while providing the specimen from the comfort of their own home.”

This breakthrough feels particularly useful considering the implications of COVID-19 as well.

“Some labs have closed, and people may be hesitant to visit a clinic right now,” the male infertility specialist with Keck Medicine of USC adds.

Researchers tested the accuracy of a recent at-home, mail-in semen analysis system developed in 2019 and compared it to traditional in-office, one-hour sperm tests. This newly developed mail-test features a “unique solution” that gauges samples for days, even after sperm has started to break down.

One-hour sperm test proves accurate

The team collected multiple semen samples from 164 men and analyzed them using the one-hour tests. The exams looked at all of the usual parameters including sperm count, motility, and shape.

Then, study authors added in the mail-in kit preservation solution to those samples, re-testing the sperm four different times over the course of 52 hours. The study even included temperature changes to simulate what it could be like for the samples moving through the postal system.

Ultimately, this process revealed that the mail-in test produced just as accurate readings as the in-person tests.

“Essentially, there was no difference in the results,” Dr. Samplaski notes. “While this study was limited in scope, the findings make the mail-in system a reliable option to consider for routine clinical use in evaluating sperm.”

“The more options a couple has in their fertility care, the better,” she concludes. “Making evaluative tests easier keeps couples moving forward and ultimately improves their chances of conception.”

The study is published in Fertility & Sterility.