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Everything You Need to Know About Sperm

Surprisingly, in an era where so much information is at our fingertips, there are still some subjects where we’re a little murky on the facts. Sperm being one of them.

That first eruption of semen at the moment of ejaculation has the highest sperm count and the little guys are moving pretty darn fast. While it takes just one sperm to fertilize an egg, the average ejaculation contains about 100 million sperm. If a man’s sperm count is below 20 million he can be at risk for infertility.

Why so many sperm if it only takes one?

Everything You Need to Know About Sperm

The journey up through a woman’s vagina all the way to the egg waiting in the fallopian tubes is a long journey. A thick layer of protective cells called the zona pellucida, which makes penetration by the sperm difficult, surrounds the egg.

There are different theories as to why fertilization is such a difficult process, but it’s easy to see that only the very strongest, healthiest sperm would be able to make the journey and overcome the barriers.

On dry surfaces like sheets, the sperm will be dead by the time the sheets are dry, but inside the human body they can live anywhere from 48 hours up to five days, if conditions are right. This means that if you have unprotected sex even a few days before you ovulate, there is a possibility of becoming pregnant.

Sperm cells cannot divide. They contain 23 chromosomes and must join with the 23 chromosomes of the ovum to form what is called diploid cell. At this point a new organism begins developing, the totipotent zygote. Totipotent refers to the ability of the new cell to divide and produce all the differentiated cells in an organism. With those 46 chromosomes working together, a human being begins to form. Also, sperm can have either the X or Y chromosome and they have an equal chance of fertilizing the ovum.

If you and your partner are thinking about starting a family, there are a few things he can do to improve the health of his sperm:

  • Do not smoke or take illicit drugs, particularly anabolic steroids
  • Eat healthy food and maintain a healthy body mass index
  • Minimize alcohol intake
  • Avoid environmental toxins like pesticides and fertilizer
  • Keep the scrotum cool. That means avoid hot baths, hot tubs, and wear loose-fitting underwear, like boxer shorts, and pants that aren’t too tight.

Frequent sex or masturbation will not harm his sperm count, but there are some seasonal differences. There are some studies that show sperm count is slightly lower in the summer and higher in the winter. This is probably directly related to exposure to heat.

A typical ejaculation contains about ½ to 1 teaspoon of semen. The amount of sperm in the ejaculate is called the sperm concentration. Another important measurement of the health of your partner’s sperm is motility. This refers to how many sperm, one hour after ejaculation, are moving forward in a straight line.

Unlike women, who are no longer fertile after menopause, a man can continue to produce sperm throughout his adult life. The count will decrease with age, but even elderly men have fathered children.

Learn more about sperm: