How Long Does Sperm Live

When sperm are inside women’s body, they can live for up to 5 days. If you’re a man and you have sex even a few days before your partner ovulates, there’s chance they may get pregnant.

How Long Can Sperm Survive After Ejaculation?

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Outside of the body, sperm may die quickly when they’re exposed to the air. The length of time they stay alive has a lot to do with environmental factors and how fast they dry up.

If you’re having a procedure such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF), keep in mind that washed sperm can last in an incubator for up to 72 hours. Frozen sperm may last for years, provided it’s left in a properly controlled environment.

Sperm that’s been ejaculated into a woman can live inside the uterus for 5 days. That’s why it’s possible to get pregnant if you have unprotected sex while menstruating. If you ovulate shortly after you finish your period, the sperm may still be alive and can fertilize the egg.

Keep reading to learn more about the lifespan of sperm as well as sperm motility. Also find out which urban legends about sperm and pregnancy are true and which are false.

Yes, you can get pregnant if sperm is near the vagina and it hasn’t dried. You may have heard that oxygen kills sperm. This isn’t true. Sperm can move until dried.

For example, you may think you’re not at risk for pregnancy if you have unprotected anal sex. However, fresh sperm might leak and stay near the vaginal opening. If it stays moist, it could make its way up the vagina and through the cervix into the uterus to fertilize the egg.

While this scenario is possible, it isn’t likely to happen.

It’s highly unlikely that pregnancy would occur if sperm had to travel through water into a woman’s body.

In the hot tub scenario, the temperature of the water or chemicals would kill the sperm in seconds.

In a bathtub filled with plain warm water, the sperm may live up to a few minutes. Still, it would need to quickly enter the vagina after traveling through all that water. Then it would need to go through the cervix and then on into the uterus.

Getting pregnant in this case is highly unlikely to impossible.

Spermicides are a type of birth control you can use with or without condoms. They come in many different forms, including:

Spermicides don’t kill sperm. Instead, they stop the semen from moving, which decreases sperm motility. The woman applies it near her cervix so the sperm can’t enter into the uterus.

When you use spermicide correctly and consistently along with male condoms, it’s 98 percent effective. With typical use, it’s 85 percent effective. Female condoms with spermicides are 70 to 90 percent effective.

Without condoms, spermicide isn’t considered an effective form of birth control since it typically fails about 28 percent of the time to prevent pregnancy. Even when used correctly and consistently, spermicide alone is only 82 percent effective.

Shop: Purchase creams, gels, and foams. Also shop for condoms.

Once ejaculation occurs during intercourse, the sperm travels from the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus. From there, contractions of your uterus help pull the sperm toward your fallopian tubes.

The first of the sperm may enter your tubes in just minutes. The closer you are to ovulation, the easier the journey becomes for the sperm.

In order for pregnancy to occur, your cervical mucus must be favorable. Mucus that’s egg-white in consistency is best. If your cervical mucus is thick or dry, the journey is much more difficult.

Many couples worry about sperm count when trying to conceive, but that’s only part of the male fertility equation.

The term “sperm motility” refers to the ability of the sperm to swim the right way. Motility may matter as much as sperm count when it comes to getting pregnant. If the sperm can’t make the journey to the egg, pregnancy won’t occur.

Several things may impact a man’s sperm motility, including:

  • stress levels
  • excessive heat
  • certain medications
  • poor diet

If motility is a factor in infertility, there are several options couples may explore. IUI directly places sperm inside the woman’s uterus so it doesn’t need to swim from the vagina through the cervix.

With IVF, sperm is introduced to the egg for fertilization in a lab before being placed back inside the woman’s uterus.

Sometimes doctors do what’s called an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where the sperm is injected into the egg as part of the IVF procedure.

You may use fresh or frozen sperm with both IUI and IVF. You may choose to use frozen sperm for these procedures for a number of reasons, including using donor sperm and preserving fertility for a male who has cancer.

According to the Sperm Bank of California, thawing sperm is as easy as waiting 30 minutes for it to reach room temperature. From there, the sperm should be warmed to body temperature either in your hand or under your arm. Once sperm is thawed, it can’t be refrozen.

While frozen sperm can last a very long time, some believe its integrity may be compromised after thawing. Studies show, though, that frozen sperm may be just as effective as fresh sperm at achieving pregnancy, at least when using IVF and ICSI.

How long sperm lives depends on the conditions it’s exposed to. Many of the myths you’ve heard about getting pregnant in hot tubs or from surfaces don’t hold up.

That said, sperm does live longer when it’s kept moist. It’s possible, but unlikely, to get pregnant even if sperm is ejaculated near the vaginal opening. If it’s ejaculated inside the vagina, it may only take a few minutes to travel to the egg.

Last medically reviewed on May 1, 2017

Sperm FAQ

You may know it takes one sperm and one egg to make a baby, but if you’re like most folks, you might not remember much else about sperm from biology class. If infertility is an issue for you and your partner, it helps to understand the basics.

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How long do sperm live?

The answer depends on a number of things, but the most important is where the sperm are located.

On a dry surface, such as clothing or bedding, sperm are dead by the time the semen has dried. In water, such as a warm bath or hot tub, they’ll likely live longer because they thrive in warm, wet places. But the odds that sperm in a tub of water will find their way inside a woman’s body and cause them to get pregnant are extremely low.

When sperm are inside women’s body, they can live for up to 5 days. If you’re a man and you have sex even a few days before your partner ovulates, there’s chance they may get pregnant.

How many sperm do you need to get pregnant?

It takes just one sperm to fertilize a woman’s egg. Keep in mind, though, for each sperm that reaches the egg, there are millions that don’t.

On average, each time men ejaculate they release nearly 100 million sperm. Why are so many sperm released if it takes only one to make a baby? To meet the waiting egg, semen must travel from the vagina to the fallopian tubes, a tough journey that few sperm survive. Experts believe this process may be nature’s way of allowing only the healthiest sperm to fertilize the egg, to provide the best chances of having a healthy baby.

For those sperm that complete the trip, getting into the egg, which is covered by a thick layer, is far from a sure thing.

Is there anything you can do to improve the health of your sperm?

Many of the things you do to keep yourself healthy can also do the same for sperm. Try some of these tips:

  • Don’t smoke or use illicit drugs, especially anabolic steroids.
  • Avoid contact with toxins such as pesticides and heavy metals.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Eat a healthy diet and keep your weight under control.
  • Keep your scrotum cool, because heat slows down the making of sperm. To do this, avoid hot baths, wear boxers instead of briefs, and try not to wear tight pants.

What does a semen analysis tell?

It’s a test that can help your doctor figure out why you and your partner are having trouble having a baby.

Some things you can learn from the analysis:

Amount and thickness of semen. On average, each time men ejaculate they release 2-6 milliliters (mL) of semen, or around a 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon.

Less than that amount may not contain enough sperm for a woman to get pregnant. On the other hand, more than that could dilute the concentration of sperm.

Semen should be thick to start with and become thinner 10 to 15 minutes after ejaculation. Semen that stays thick may make it difficult for sperm to move.

Sperm concentration. Also called sperm density, this is the number of sperm in millions per milliliter of semen. Fifteen million or more sperm per mL is considered normal.

Sperm motility. This is the percentage of sperm in a sample that are moving, as well as an assessment of how they move. One hour after ejaculation, at least 32% of sperm should be moving forward in a straight line.

Morphology. This is an analysis of the size, shape, and appearance of sperm.

Do men stop making sperm when they’re older?

Men can continue to be fertile throughout life. The amount of sperm you make goes down as you get older, but even elderly men have fathered children.

Show Sources

University of California, Santa Barbara, SexInfo Online: “How Long Can Sperm Live in Air? In a Bath?” “Semen;” and “Making Strong Sperm.” “Trying to Conceive.”

Oakland University: “Dr. Lindemann’s Sperm Facts.”

University of Michigan Health System: “Male Infertility.”

Lab Tests Online: “Semen Analysis.” “Aging changes in the male reproductive system.” “New World Health Semen Analysis Parameters.”

12 Widely Believed Sperm Facts That Are Actually False

How Long Does Sperm Live

In one sentence, the biology of sex may seem even simpler than using the “birds and bees” metaphor. Sperm gets ejected from the penis, enters the vagina, and swims up the reproductive tract until they reach the egg to fertilize it.

But it isn’t quite that simple.

Barely 300 years ago, it was considered a major scientific breakthrough when scientists came up with the idea that a fully formed, tiny human inhabited the head of each sperm — totally debunked and untrue.

Fortunately, as the human body has evolved over thousands of years to maximize fertility potential, so has our scientific understanding about sperm. But many of us still believe some pretty unscientific, long-standing sperm myths. Here are twelve of the most common ones.

The common tale is that millions — anywhere from 20 to 300 million, to be precise — of heroic sperm swim in competition with each other to be the lucky little swimmer that penetrates the egg.

First, sperm don’t really swim straight — for the most part. Often sperm movement ability, known as motility, is classified into one of three groups:

  • progressive motility: actively moving in straight line or large circles
  • non-progressive motility: any other pattern except forward
  • immotile: not moving

In an essay for Aeon, Robert D. Martin described the route as “more like a challenging military obstacle course” and less of a standard race. And even then, sperm require more than a little boost from the female productive system to make sure they get to the finish line.

In fact, most of the motility work is done by the uterus muscles. It coaxes the sperm along to the fallopian tubes, towards the egg.

Thicker semen doesn’t necessarily mean thicker sperm. Usually it means there’s a high concentration of sperm or a high number of irregularly shaped sperm. They still need help from the female reproductive system to stay safe.

When sperm enter the vagina, they come into contact with cervical mucus. The cervical mucus does two things: protects and rejects. It protects sperm from the vagina’s acidity as well as rejects sperm whose shape and motility would otherwise keep them from reaching the egg.

How the female reproductive system helps sperm:

  1. The cervix — the tissue between the vagina and uterus — walls widen.
  2. Crypts, or cervix glands, grow in number and increase in size to store more sperm.
  3. The cervix’s mucus barrier thins out so it’s easier for sperm to pass through.

Not always! Lifespan depends on where sperm land after ejaculation.

Sperm that make it into the vagina after ejaculation can live up to five days. This is due to the protective effects of cervical mucus and cervical crypts.

But if sperm have a chance to dry out, they basically die. Ejaculated sperm that land on cold, dry objects may die after a few minutes — although very rarely they may last a whole 30 minutes. They may die even faster in a hot bath or a hot tub due to the heat or chemicals in the water.

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It’s a pretty long journey to the egg. During intercourse, when sperm leave the penis, they don’t head straight to the uterus.

In this course, some sperm attach to oviduct epithelial cells in the fallopian tubes or get stored in tiny chambers called crypts until fertilization primetime: ovulation.

The path to fertilization: where sperm need to pass before reaching the egg

  • vagina: the first and outermost portion, on average three to six inches
  • cervix: a small, cylindrical canal that connects the vagina to the uterus
  • uterus (or womb): where a fetus grows during pregnancy
  • fallopian tubes: two tubes that connect the uterus to the ovaries, allowing sperm to move toward egg cells and fertilized eggs to move into the uterus
  • ovaries: two organs that produce egg cells that can be fertilized to become fetuses

One of the oldest persisting myths is that while there are a limited number of eggs (which is true), sperm is available in a lifetime supply.

Sperm production, or spermatogenesis, does take place indefinitely, but the quality and motility of sperm declines with age.

Older men are also more likely to pass genetic mutations onto their children, about four times faster than a woman would , according to an Icelandic study.

A 2017 study of 1.4 million people in Sweden found a consistent linear relationship between a man’s age and the likelihood that his children would be born with a genetic mutation that neither parent has.

Supposedly, tight undies decrease sperm count, while loose boxers keep everything at just the right temperature for sperm production.

But underwear has (almost) no effect on your sperm.

A 2016 study found little difference in sperm count based on underwear choice. But a 2018 study made scientific waves when it found that men who wore boxers had 17 percent more sperm than men in briefs.

But the 2018 study authors warned that their results didn’t account for other factors that affect sperm production, such as type of pants or what fabric undies are made of.

And get this: The body may compensate for extra testicle heat by releasing a little extra sperm-producing follicle-stimulating hormone.

So, boxers are only a little bit more sperm-friendly. Wear what makes you comfortable.

Most sperm never make it to the egg for a number of reasons. To be considered fertile, not even 100 percent of sperm need to be moving — as long as 40 percent are motile, you’re fertile!

And of that 40 percent, not all make it to the egg.

The shape has a lot of say in success. Having multiple heads, weirdly shaped tails, or missing parts can make sperm simply unfit for the journey through the female reproductive tract.

And even healthy sperm don’t always make it through the competition. Sperm can pass right through the oviduct and end up in a woman’s interstitial fluid surrounding the internal organs. That’s right, sperm may literally float around in the body, never to fertilize.

False! Mostly. Biologically speaking, pre-cum shouldn’t contain sperm — but sperm left over in the urethra, the tube through which both urine and semen are ejected, can get mixed in.

Sure, there aren’t as many as in new semen, but a 2011 study showed that nearly 37 percent of pre-cum samples collected from the study’s 27 subjects’ contained a significant amount of healthy, motile sperm.

And a 2016 study of 42 men found that at least 17 percent of pre-cum samples were full of active, mobile sperm.

So even if you’re using the pull-out method, there’s a small chance that some sperm can get loose and cause a pregnancy.

Quite the opposite.

Having a high semen volume, which counts sperm in a single ejaculation, is good but there’s a point where the returns start diminishing. The higher the sperm concentration, the more likely that multiple sperm may fertilize the egg.

Normally, only a single one-celled sperm cell is allowed to fertilize one egg cell, resulting in the development of an embryo. After the first sperm breaks through a layer of proteins around the egg, this layer blocks more sperm from getting through.

But if too many sperm reach the egg, two — or more, in rare cases — sperm can break through this layer and end up fertilizing the egg. This is called polyspermy.

By delivering extra genetic material to the egg, this increases the risk for DNA mutations, brain conditions such as Down syndrome, or potentially fatal defects in the heart, spine, and skull.

Keep this in mind if you and your partner decide to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant. Because IVF bypasses many reproductive functions that limit how many sperm get to the egg, your semen doesn’t need to have millions of sperm to be fertile.

This is a popular myth that’s probably been joked about constantly. But you’d have to ingest more than 100 ejaculates to see any nutritional benefit from it.

While it’s true that semen is composed of ingredients like vitamin C, zinc, protein compounds, cholesterol and sodium, claiming sperm contributes to your daily nutritional value is false advertising.

Plus, some people actually have allergic reactions to semen, so ingesting it isn’t always recommended.

It’s not just pineapples that people say are supposedly good for semen flavor, but none of the tales are based in science.

The first thing to learn here is that semen scent and taste, like that of many of your bodily fluids, are influenced by overall genetics, diet, and lifestyle. Just like everyone’s breath smells different, everyone’s cum has its own unique aroma.

The second thing is that, while no foods or liquids may noticeably alter semen scent, following a diet rich in nutrients like vitamin C and B-12 can have positive effects on sperm count, morphology, and motility.

Some of these myths go way back to (false) notions of sperm exceptionalism, but many of them also obscure the fact that conception, like sex, is much more of an active partnership.

Believing these myths can also lead to many inaccurate or toxic presumptions. For example:

  • false portrayals of women as being passive receptacles of sperm rather than equal collaborators in sexual intercourse
  • feelings of inadequacy for having a low sperm count
  • blaming one partner or the other for not “pulling their weight” when trying to have a baby when so many other factors must be considered

Sex and conception aren’t a competition or a feat of strength: They’re a team activity in which all genders have equal footing, whether you produce sperm or eggs. It’s a two-way street, but no one should feel like they have to walk it alone.

Tim Jewell is a writer, editor, and linguist based in Chino Hills, CA. His work has appeared in publications by many leading health and media companies, including Healthline and The Walt Disney Company.

Last medically reviewed on September 18, 2018

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population []; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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