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If you’re wondering if stepping into a sauna is bad for your sperm, the short answer is yes. While saunas can offer various health benefits and can be relaxing, the heat is not an ideal place for testicles or sperm, especially if you’re hoping to conceive in the near future.
Read on to learn about the links between sauna use, sperm health, and male fertility.
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Do saunas kill sperm?
A sauna visit will not immediately kill all of your sperm, but the heat that saunas generate can cause damage to sperm and sperm production, especially when you go to a sauna regularly.
Healthy sperm production requires a scrotal temperature 2–3 degrees lower than the body temperature. If the scrotum and testes are heated by a few degrees, it can impact sperm production and sperm health (Huhtaniemi, 2020).
This effect was seen in a small study that followed Finnish men in their 30s with normal sperm counts. Using the sauna for 15 minutes, twice a week, for three months led to lower sperm counts and sperm motility (movement) (Garolla, 2013).
But for most healthy men, while the heat of a sauna may lead to sperm impairment, sauna visits will not impede fertility in the long run (more on that below).
Can you reverse heat-related decline in sperm quality?
Fortunately, the effect of heat stress on sperm seems to be temporary. Once you reduce heat exposure, sperm production returns to normal—but not immediately.
In the Finnish sauna study, there was a significant decline in sperm counts after the three months of regular sauna use. Three months after sauna visits stopped, sperm counts were still below normal. However, six months after the study ended, they were back to normal (Huhtaniemi, 2020; Garolla, 2013).
Is occasional sauna use okay?
Some fertility experts might suggest avoiding even occasional sauna use if you’re actively trying to conceive now or in the near future.
Researchers found that one 20-minute sauna session at 185°F (86 °C) led to changes in sperm mitochondria—the powerhouse of the cell—and reduced sperm motility. Sperm count fell within one week of the exposure and returned to normal in five weeks (Huhtaniemi, 2020).
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Do hot tubs and hot baths affect male fertility?
Like saunas, the heat of hot tubs, and even hot baths, can damage sperm, which can affect fertility.
One study followed 20 men with normal sperm who took ten 30-minute baths in water that was about 109°F. One group bathed every day, while the other group bathed every three days (Rao, 2016).
Both groups experienced reduced sperm motility and some sperm cell death. More sperm damage was seen in men who bathed every day. However, it took longer for the sporadic bathers’ baseline sperm parameters to return to normal (16 weeks compared to 12 weeks) since they had extended their heat exposure (Rao, 2016).
Other things to avoid for male fertility
Male infertility is often a factor when a couple is having trouble conceiving. A semen analysis is used to check for conditions like low sperm motility. If there is an issue, seeing a fertility specialist sooner rather than later can be key, especially if age is a factor for either partner.
There are also other lifestyle choices aside from sauna exposure (and other things that can heat your testicles) that can impact the health of your sperm. Here’s what the evidence suggests you should avoid if you’re looking to boost your fertility (Leslie, 2022; Sharma, 2013):
- Too much alcohol
- Smoking and recreational drug use
- Anabolic steroids and testosterone products
- Psychological stress
Paired with trying to avoid the above, getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating a balanced diet can all help boost your fertility. Your healthcare provider may have advice about other things you can try, including how to navigate supplements and which medications and health conditions affect fertility.
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To summarize, if you’re focused on conceiving, it’s probably better to skip the sauna sessions or anything that can heat up your testicles for the time being. But, if you’re not looking to have a baby anytime soon, saunas do have a range of health benefits if you follow sauna safety guidelines, such as pain and stress relief, cardiovascular improvements, and potentially increased longevity (Laukkanen, 2019).
- Garolla, A., Torino, M., Sartini, B., et al. (2013). Seminal and molecular evidence that sauna exposure affects human spermatogenesis. Human Reproduction, 28(4), 877–885. doi:10.1093/humrep/det020. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23411620/
- Huhtaniemi, I. T. & Laukkanen, J. A. (2020). Endocrine effects of Sauna Bath. Current Opinion in Endocrine and Metabolic Research, 11, 15–20. doi:10.1016/j.coemr.2019.12.004. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2451965019301048#bib35
- Laukkanen, T., Laukkanen, J. A., & Kunutsor, S. K. (2018). Sauna bathing and risk of psychotic disorders: A prospective cohort study. Medical Principles and Practice, 27(6), 562–569. doi:10.1159/000493392. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6422146/
- Leslie, S. W. (2022). Male infertility. StatPearls. Retrieved April 29, 2022 from https://www.statpearls.com/articlelibrary/viewarticle/23503/
- Rao, M., Xia, W., Yang, J., et al. (2016). Transient scrotal hyperthermia affects human sperm DNA integrity, sperm apoptosis, and sperm protein expression. Andrology, 4(6), 1054–1063. doi:10.1111/andr.12228. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/andr.12228
- Sharma, R., Biedenharn, K. R., Fedor, J. M., et al. (2013). Lifestyle factors and Reproductive Health: Taking Control of Your Fertility. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 11(1). doi:10.1186/1477-7827-11-66. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3717046/