Can Sauna Affect Male Fertility?
In many cultures across the world, sauna is a way of life. In Finland, sauna’s origin place, humans have been sweating it out for over 2,000 years — so you could say that sauna is truly Finland’s gift to the globe. Its benefits are so far-reaching and deep that cultures everywhere have historically entwined it with the social fabric of their lives. From Korea to Germany, people all over the world routinely use it to boost their athletic performance and improve their health.
But with any good thing, there’s sometimes a downside, and we think it’s important to be transparent.
In recent years, there has been more and more conversation around the negative effects of sauna, especially when it comes to male fertility. If you’re a man who enjoys going to the sauna, you may have heard that this relaxing activity might not be the best idea for your sperm count and ultimately, your fertility.
Is there some truth to this? Does this mean you have to give up the stress-relieving benefits of a sauna session entirely? Let's take a closer look at the science behind this possible connection and find out.
Does sauna decrease sperm count?
The chief argument against sauna use is around the common knowledge that excess heat isn't exactly a great living environment for sperm. It is true: there is a lot of research out there that shows an associative and causal relationship between higher scrotal temperatures and male infertility. It’s why men are often told not to put their laptops on their laps, or to sit for too long in a hot tub or jacuzzi.
There is also evidence that sauna exposure, particularly, can have a ‘significant alteration of spermatogenesis,’ which is just a sciencey way of saying that the development of sperm cells is impacted heavily by sauna use. A study on 12 men found that exposure to a sauna for a mean total of two hours and twenty-four minutes every two weeks decreased sperm counts by a maximum of 50 percent.
This can be scary to hear, but here’s the thing about heat-related sperm effects: they’re temporary! According to Huberman, sperm counts rebound after cessation of sauna/hot bath use in around ~45-60 days. Another small study had eleven men between 31 and 44 years of age use hot tubs and take hot baths for at least thirty minutes per week. Three months after instructions to stop exposing themselves to these heat sources, five of the eleven patients had a mean increase in total motile sperm counts of 491 percent, way above baseline! The others were smokers — smoking harms reproductive health — which is probably why it didn’t work for them.
Does sauna decrease sperm count? The short answer is yes. It’s one of the negative effects of sauna. But by and large, we now know that the decrease is impermanent and reversible.
Can you just cool “the boys” after?
Human testicles hang outside the body to maintain them at a lower temperature. This is to protect the delicate sperm, which need a cool-ish environment to thrive, with emphasis on the “ish”.
Taking things to the extreme, there was a whole phase last year when it was trendy for men to ice their testicles as a way of helping increase testosterone levels and sperm quality, among other things. There are even special testicle fans and testicle coolers on the market to lower scrotal temperatures. But what’s the deal? Do we need to do all this to keep sperm alive and well?
Small studies done over the past 40 years have suggested that testicular cooling can in fact work for some men. But research also shows that cold stimulation actually has no effect on anything.
It might or might not work for you after a sauna, but either way, there have been no large clinical trials that could prove without a doubt that “cooling the boys” would be beneficial as far as sperm health is concerned.
And if we look at Huberman’s advice, he recommends applying a cool or cold pack while in the sauna—which may get you some glances, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do!
All in all, are saunas good for you?
The resounding answer is yes! Impact on sperm notwithstanding, sauna still has tremendous benefits you won’t want to miss out on. From alleviating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to fighting inflammation, its positive influence on physical and mental health is incontestable.
Sauna House wants you to fall in love with this centuries-old tradition and reap its many, many benefits. But we’re also here to expand the conversation around sauna and sauna culture, negative aspects included.
Like many wellness practices, the sauna is definitely not a one-size fits all. If you’re trying to expand your family soon and you don’t want to risk going into a sauna, that’s fine! Take a break from it, and you can always come back to regular sauna when you’re ready. If you need some help making a decision, talk to your doctor about it.
And a little fun fact to close: Finland’s population is, in fact, growing every year! So saunas may not be all that bad for fertility ;)
All in all, everyone’s health journey is different. Do what’s best for you.
Disclaimer: In regards to male fertility, there hasn’t been a ton of research done on this subject yet, so we’re learning alongside you! Hopefully, as we move forward and sauna grows in popularity, there’ll be significantly more research, and we’ll get a clearer understanding of its effects on men’s health.