Precisely how long they can survive depends on the environment that they are released into and how quickly the fluid surrounding the sperm cells dries up.
Read on for the answers to some common questions about sperm and sperm survival.
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Sperm lifespan inside the female body
After ejaculation, sperm can live inside the female body for around 5 days. The fluid in a woman's reproductive tract has all of the nutrients that sperm need for their survival during that time.
Once inside the female reproductive tract, the sperm cells must swim through the cervix and into the uterus to reach the fallopian tubes and female egg. It is a very long journey for sperm cells to make and very few survive.
Does the withdrawal method work?
Once outside the body, sperm cells cannot survive for long.
The withdrawal method, or when the male "pulls out" of the female before ejaculation, is notoriously unreliable.
Before ejaculation occurs, a small amount of semen, also known as "pre-cum," leaves the penis.
There is some debate as to whether this fluid contains sperm cells. Until researchers are sure, it is best to assume that pregnancy is possible if this fluid comes into contact with a woman's vagina.
According to Planned Parenthood, if the withdrawal method is performed correctly 100 percent of the time, it is about 96 percent effective.
However, most people are not able to perform it correctly every time, making the actual effectiveness somewhere around 78 percent. This means that each year, 22 out of 100 women using this method will get pregnant, or around 1 in 5.
Withdrawal is more effective when combined with other methods of contraception, such as male or female condoms or spermicide.
When using this method, it is also essential to make sure that ejaculation occurs away from the vaginal opening. It is still possible for pregnancy to happen if the sperm spills onto the vagina or vulva.
How long do sperm live in a hot tub?
In the hot tub, sperm cells do not live for very long at all. The sperm cannot survive for longer than a few seconds after being exposed to the chemicals and hot water.
Pregnancy from someone ejaculating into a hot tub would be very rare and likely not even possible.
In a warm bath that was not too hot, sperm cells could likely survive for a few minutes. However, it is very unlikely that sperm would be able to find their way through the tub water and into the vagina of a female.
Pregnancy occurring in this manner would also be very difficult, if not impossible.
However, if a couple were having intercourse in the water, pregnancy would be just as likely because the sperm would enter directly into the female reproductive tract. The outside temperature and physical environment would not have any impact on sperm survival.
How long can sperm survive if frozen?
Freezing sperm is an option for men with medical conditions that may impact fertility.
Scientists believe that sperm cells can survive indefinitely once they are frozen, as long as the temperature remains stable.
At such a low temperature (-196°C), the sperm cells are in a type of suspended animation, which means that all of their essential functions have completely stopped.
Freezing sperm would allow a man to have children even if he lost his fertility due to cancer or cancer treatment.
How are sperm cells made?
Typically, millions of sperm cells are produced in the testicles every day. During this time, the cells that make up the sperm divide and change.
The sperm cells make their way into the epididymis where they finish developing, which can take several weeks.
The sperm eventually develops a head and tail, so that it cells start to resemble a tadpole. The head contains all of the DNA or genetic material, and the sperm uses the tail to help it move.
What factors impact on sperm health?
Many factors that can affect the sperm formation process. Some of the factors that can cause a decreased sperm count or poor sperm function include:
Health and lifestyle factors
- drug or alcohol use
- job or occupation
- tobacco use
- overheating the testicles
- exposure to industrial chemicals
- heavy metals
- radiation or X-rays
- infection of the testicles
- cancer of the testicles
- swelling of the veins that drain blood from the testicle
- hormone imbalances
- physical problems in the tubes that carry sperm through the reproductive system
- chromosomal or genetic disorders
- certain medications
- surgery involving the pelvis, abdomen, or reproductive organs
If a couple want to conceive and a man suspects that he has one or more of these risk factors, he may want to consider having a sperm count performed. A doctor may also recommend this procedure if pregnancy does not result after about 6 months.
If a man has any of these risk factors, he should try to change them at least 2-3 months before trying to conceive, since that is how long it takes for sperm to fully mature.
How to improve sperm health
Men may boost their fertility by taking vitamins before trying to conceive.
Reducing the above risk factors whenever possible helps to keep sperm cells healthy, especially before conception.
There are several things that a man can do to improve the health of his sperm:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can directly impact sperm production and the hormones needed to support the process.
- Quit smoking: Smoking cigarettes has been associated with a lower sperm count when compared with men who do not smoke.
- Cut back on alcohol use: Alcohol use can impact testosterone levels, which will, in turn, decrease sperm count
- Stop using drugs: Anabolic steroids, marijuana, and cocaine have all been linked with decreased sperm production.
- Take vitamins: Taking vitamins regularly can help to ensure that a man is getting all of the vital nutrients he needs. He should start taking vitamins at least 3 months before trying to conceive.
- Keep the testicles cool: Spending time in saunas or hot tubs, wearing tight underwear or pants, and placing a laptop computer directly on the lap may all increase the temperature of the scrotum and reduce sperm production.
Sperm live outside the body for different lengths of time, depending on the environment in which they were released.
Unless they are deposited into a female reproductive tract, sperm cells are easily damaged and can only survive a few seconds to a few minutes outside of the body.