The YO Home Sperm Test Kit is a modern answer to an age-old question: exactly how strong is your sperm?
There's a laundry list of potential causes for male infertility, from spinal cord injuries to prostate issues. But often, these issues go undiagnosed.
"Up to 50 percent of couples who walk into a fertility clinic are experiencing male-factor infertility," says Dr. Kenan Omurtag, a reproductive specialist at Washington University in St. Louis. "Male fertility needs to enter the spotlight."
It's often tough to talk about infertility, let alone get your sperm tested: frankly, it's pretty hard to not feel awkward when you're masturbating into a cup. But the YO Home Sperm Test Kit ($60), which employs Dr. Omurtag as a consultant, is trying to make things easier by bringing the fertility screening process directly to your doorstep. With a smartphone app, a plastic cartridge, and a microscope slide, you can check your sperm count from the comfort of your bedroom (instead of, say, in a disconcerting beige chamber in the back of a clinic.)
Omurtag tells me that while it's not a perfect replacement for an in-person clinical evaluation, it's a solid way to screen yourself on your own time — even if you're not planning on having a kid anytime soon. "At-home sperm tests help men screen for any fertility problems sooner rather than later, which is key for successful treatment," he says.
The company was kind enough to mail Men's Health a trial kit, so I decided to try it, because every man should know what's going on in their balls.
The nitty gritty of the app is about what you'd expect. Once you download the YO app, you'll be presented with a short list of instructions. First, you "produce" some semen into the aforementioned Dixie Cup. Then you mix in a tube of "liquifaction powder," which breaks down the sample into a pinkish, watery substance. After about 10 minutes, with the help of a tiny, packed-in turkey baster you transfer your newly disintegrated seed into a clear plastic microscope slide and plop it into a scanner that attaches neatly on top of your phone. Your phone's camera scans the slide to evaluate the density of your swimmers, and after a few more moments, the YO app will give you a reading of your sperm count — whether it's "normal" or "abnormal."
I realize this is going to sound weird, but the thing I enjoyed most about the process was the chance to see my sperm up close. While your phone is scanning the slide, you get a live, microscopic feed of exactly what's going on in that glop of ejaculate you've always taken for granted. It was genuinely fascinating. Like, I should know my sperm better than anyone else, right? It was cool to finally say hi to my guys.
It's a remarkably efficient process, and YO does a good job keeping things light. While you wait for the sperm to mesh with the chemicals, for instance, you can play a quick game of "semen trivia," a multiple choice quiz that assesses your knowledge of spunk knowledge. A doctor's office would never treat a fertility test with the same sense of levity, and I feel like YO understands exactly how awkward the experience was.
The first time I tried the kit, I got an error for an "unreadable" sample. But the second time, I was told that I had a normal (or moderate) count. Honestly, it was a bit of a relief. Without going into too much detail, I've had a weird left testicle for my entire life (it was undescended at birth, so it's a few degrees smaller than your standard ball size). While it's not something I panic about, as I enter adulthood and think about the future, my lopsided scrotum's fertility prospects have occasionally given me pause. It was nice to know that everything was fine down there.
The YO software breathlessly informed me that six million swimmers per milliliter is the "cut off" for the normal fertility range, and factors like smoking, obesity, and other medical traumas could deplete it in the future. I'll definitely keep that in mind for the future, but if you're like me, and you think a $60 home test might give you some peace of mind about your swimmers, I'd highly recommend using it.