How long does it take a man to collect his semen specimen in a busy infertility clinic?

That’s the question asked by this paper, How long does it take a man to collect his semen specimen in a busy infertility clinic? They have a clear motive, to figure out what factors might be reducing the throughput at these clinics. Guys, you’re taking up essential space and monopolizing the porn magazines! Ejaculate quickly and get out!

So they timed the men (the pressure!), and to answer the question: the median time was about 12 minutes, with a range of 3 minutes to almost 40 minutes. They only looked at two variables that might affect that time. One was whether the purpose of the visit was cryopreservation or not. The most common reason for giving a semen sample was to evaluate it for fertility issues; some people are there because they’re about to get a vasectomy or undergo chemotherapy, so they want to preserve a sample. Men ejaculating to preserve a sample take about two minutes longer, but I wouldn’t attach much significance to that, given the huge amount of variability and the small sample size.

The second variable was whether the men were attended by their female partner; if they were, it took about 4 minutes longer. Again, it’s impossible to read anything into that number. They aren’t examining the patients with so much as a questionnaire to figure out what’s going on. Go ahead, let your imagination run wild, but there’s no data here.

I am, however, deeply offended by how they plotted the data. This is a terrible chart.

Unforgivable. You’re supposed to compare the collection times between unattended men (orange) and men with their partners (blue), but it’s plotted by raw numbers of men — so all you’re really seeing is the difference in sample size. You have to imagine the blue bars stretched on the vertical axis to do any comparison — it should have been plotted by percentiles — and then the differences are small, and you can see that both groups have a substantial range. It’s very misleading. Bad graphing, bad.

I’m not impressed with their conclusion, either.

The only variable with a negative impact on the collection time was the presence of a female partner in the collection room. Our findings can aid in optimizing the scheduling of patients requiring semen collection in a clinical setting.

You know, you’ve got patients who are concerned about infertility, or are going to be treated for cancer, and there’s also some embarrassment about the situation. I think that how much time it takes them to spurt out a sample ought to be a low priority here, and it’s rather insensitive to be thinking that kicking partners out is to be considered as a way to “optimize the scheduling”, and given the degree of variability here I don’t think you can arrange matters to favor Mr Jackrabbit over Mr Slowhand, nor should you.

As we all know, if you really want to speed things up, the only solution is a rectal probe to deliver electroshock to the prostate.


  1. Jazzlet says

    There are so many more factors that could have affected the speed of production, not just preservtion versus fertility asessment, but if the collection is for IVF etc is the main fertility problem with the man, the woman or do both have problems? What kind of beliefs do the men have regarding masturbation, fertility etc? Really as with many human study I’ll take a bet the answer is likely ‘it’s complicated’.

    But yes don’t hassle men to be faster when they are already stressed by a distressing situation.

  2. haemolytica says

    First time posting in a long time. I’m a parent of IVF twins. I was the one with fertility issues. This was determined after my second sample. I’m reluctant to share this, but the quality of porn (during my first two samples) was dismal. Pretty much a Victoria’s secret magazine. They offered me a video, but it was just late night showmax. The nurse said she bought fresh magazines that morning, but “the other magazines were gross.” The pressure to give a sample was substantial. The nurse said “take your time” which was the worse thing to say. The clock was ticking and I struggled. Probably 20 minutes. The whole time I imagined the nurses thinking, “why is this guy taking so long?” When the day finally came to give my semen for IVF they pressured me to have my wife join me in the room. That made it much worse. Not only was the nurse waiting for me, now I also had the enormous pressure of performing for my wife. We couldn’t have sex. Hand stimulation only. It took me almost twice as long as before. Part of me felt that my wife should be present, since this sample might give us kids. But on the other hand, the time pressure of two people made it worse.

  3. twarren1111 says

    This reminds of Al Franken’s favorite statistic, which he published in one of his books. Question: what is the average time that movies are watched in hotel rooms? Answer: 12 minutes.

  4. jrkrideau says

    This reminds me of a blog posting at how not to do science.

    [No the animals are not being sexually abused.}

    Some well-meaning people went to a lot of time but forgot the control group. According to the blog author the issue is important but, of course, with no control group any results are unintepretable.

    Actually doing research can be difficult.

  5. coragyps says

    Obligatory story:

    A very old gentleman went into a sperm bank and asked to deposit a sample for cryogenic preservation. The attendant had a good poker face: she took his payment, gave him a little jar for the sample, and pointed him to a little room. He was back there for a long time – she was starting to worry if he had had a stroke or something. But then he called out, “ Miss! Can I get some help back here? I’ve tried it right handed. I’ve tried it left handed. I’ve held it between my knees and used both hands! But I still can’t get the lid loose on this damn jar!”

  6. Chris Capoccia says

    if they’re wanting production, there are lessons to learn from livestock :D on the other hand ;) most people aren’t that concerned about a slightly slower process for this kind of thing

  7. mountainbob says

    Here in Albuquerque, the elephant managers at the Bio Park Zoo have been collecting semen from the bulls for years (and delivering it to the cows as necessary). They’ve developed procedures to freeze ellie semen for transport (an amazing achievement). Collection time is an issue at the zoo as the keepers have other responsibilities. One male is rarely used because he seems to enjoy the process way too much and takes half the day… The other produces the ejaculate in about 20 minutes. The keeper has to wear shoulder-length rubber gloves. She inserts a vibrator into the bull via the anus and stimulates the prostate until success is achieved. Delivering the semen also requires the shoulder-length gloves and it’s a very long reach to properly place the semen at the cervix. Note, please: it only took two weeks to train an elephant to accept an intimate eye examination, but nearly two years to get her to accept artificial insemination.

  8. nomadiq says

    TBH – the embarrassment of the situation can speed things up. I know from personal experience – I just wanted to get it done. The whole experience was very clinical, I had a job to do while my wife was having egg retrieval done. I found the availability of porn a distraction and not needed. Although I did peak afterwards out of interest. Old, obviously used, magazines are not a turn on. So, basically anyone male over the age of say 14 knows what to do. How long it takes probably has more to do with how much you want to enjoy the experience. Or knowing full well that edging for half an hour will result in a more impressive volume (but not quality). The clinics central problem of speeding things up can only be addressed by explaining that is what they need – but demands would probably lead to counter-results.

  9. llyris says

    I believe my husband took less than 5 minutes. He was back before I had finished filling out the paperwork for egg retrieval.
    He said: what do you expect when I haven’t been allowed to orgasm for 3 days?? (While I’m on hormones that apparently make me smell amazing)
    the porn is terrible, it only slowed me down.

    the nurse walking down the corridor talking about wanting a cup of tea was disconcerting – he realised the rooms aren’t sound proof.
    It would actually be interesting to know what factors slowed things down or sped them up. But I don’t think this study is telling us that.