You’ve probably heard that stress shows up in every part of your body. That’s true for your partner too—even if he’s a master at masking his mental tension: A man’s swimmers will likely take a hit when he’s stressed, according to a new study in the journal Male Fertility and Sterility.
The researchers measured the stress levels of 193 healthy men, assessing both life and work stress, and took two semen samples from each. Not surprisingly, their overall level of anxiety was associated with the quality of their sperm—specifically, stressed-out men tended to have lower concentrations of sperm, more abnormally shaped swimmers, and a smaller percentage of sperm that were motile (i.e. able to swim).
“Stress might influence the hormones needed to produce healthy sperm,” says study author Teresa Janevic, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health. “It may also damage the cells that produce sperm.” Another theory: Excessive anxiety may up the levels of “reactive oxygen species” in a man’s semen, leading to oxidative stress, which has been shown to affect semen quality and male fertility, the scientists say.
But before you demand that he quits his crazy-stressful job, consider this: Work stress was not linked to poorer quality sperm, likely because the men’s workplace tension wasn’t high enough to affect male fertility. But unemployment is a huge source of stress to men, says Janevic. That said, office anxiety isn’t without its downsides. Job strain was associated with lower levels of testosterone, which is an important component of male fertility health, notes Janevic.
The good news: You may be just the antidote your stressed-out partner needs. Daily romantic intimacy—holding hands, kissing, and having sex—is associated with a lower level of the stress hormone cortisol, according to past research in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. “Although we didn’t study whether stress reduction techniques can increase chances of conception, stress-reduction can contribute to health in various ways,” says Janevic.
So consider this your excuse to cozy up on the couch with your guy tonight. Even if he doesn’t want to verbally unload, the simple act of touching him may be all he needs to unwind.