What causes watery semen, and does it affect fertility?
In this article, we explore some of the possible causes of watery or clear semen.
We also discuss whether watery semen can affect fertility, the meaning of discolored semen, when to see a doctor, and treatment.
Low sperm count
Having a low sperm count does not automatically mean that a person is infertile.
The World Health Organization (WHO) define low sperm count, or oligospermia, as producing fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
Having a low sperm count can make it more difficult for a person to conceive but does not necessarily mean that a person is infertile.
There is not always an obvious cause for having a low sperm count. However, some genetic conditions, such as Klinefelter syndrome, can affect a person's sperm count.
Other causes of low sperm count can include:
- hormone disorders, such as hyperthyroidism and hypogonadism
- exposure to radiation or toxins, such as industrial chemicals, herbicides, and lead
- drug use
- excessive alcohol intake
- tobacco use
- excess body weight
- certain medications
A varicocele is a swelling of the veins that run from the testicles to the scrotum. Varicoceles may not cause symptoms, but they can reduce sperm production and decrease semen quality in some people. Varicoceles can develop in one or both sides.
Varicoceles are very common. According to the Urology Care Foundation, varicoceles affect around 15% of males, and around 40% of males tested for fertility issues have this condition.
That said, around 80% of people with a varicocele do not have any fertility issues.
Frequent ejaculation may lead to watery semen. If a person masturbates or engages in sexual activity multiple times per day, their body may not have enough time to produce the same volume or quality of semen.
In a 2016 study, 20 males followed a daily ejaculation schedule for 14 days after 3–5 days of abstinence. The researchers collected and analyzed the participants' semen samples on days 1, 3, and 14 of the study.
They found that both the semen volume and the amount of available sperm decreased between days 1 and 3 and again between days 7 and 14.
During ejaculation, semen passes through the urethra and out of the penis. However, a dysfunctional bladder sphincter can cause semen to travel backward into the bladder, resulting in a condition called retrograde ejaculation.
People who experience retrograde ejaculation may produce less semen or semen that appears thin or watery.
Shellfish are a good source of zinc.
Zinc is an important nutrient that supports many essential bodily functions, such as DNA synthesis, fighting off infections, wound healing, and reproduction.
Zinc also plays a role in healthy sperm production. According to a 2018 review article in the Journal of Reproduction and Infertility, zinc deficiency may contribute to poor semen quality and infertility. However, the authors caution that too much zinc can also reduce sperm quality.
The body cannot produce or store zinc, which means that people can only get zinc from the foods they eat.
Some dietary sources of zinc include:
- red meat, poultry, and shellfish
- nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- yogurt and other dairy products
Can watery semen affect fertility?
Watery semen is often temporary and may resolve on its own. Persistent watery semen can sometimes indicate a low sperm count or another condition that may affect fertility.
Having a low sperm count does not necessarily mean that a person is infertile, but it can make it more difficult to conceive.
Watery semen can also be due to lifestyle factors, nutrient deficiencies, or an underlying medical condition.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, most male fertility problems occur due to issues affecting how the testicles work.
What does it mean to have discolored semen?
Discolored semen can sometimes indicate a health problem.
Pink, red, or brown semen may contain blood from an inflamed prostate or swollen seminal vesicles.
Other causes of blood in the semen include:
- high blood pressure
- sexually transmitted infections
- a prostate infection
- cancer of the prostate, testicles, or urethra
Yellow semen may contain urine or an excessive amount of white blood cells. The latter occurs in a condition called leukocytospermia.
Green semen can indicate an infection of the prostate or other reproductive organs.
When to see a doctor
People with persistent watery or discolored semen should speak with a doctor or urologist.
Also, a person should seek medical advice for watery or discolored semen that occurs with any of the following symptoms:
- unusual discharge
- difficult or painful urination
- pain or discomfort in the testicles or scrotum
- pain in the lower abdomen or lower back
People who wish to conceive may want to consider consulting a fertility specialist if they have not achieved pregnancy after 1 year of having regular unprotected intercourse.
To diagnose the cause of watery or discolored semen, a doctor will ask a person about their symptoms, medical history, and lifestyle habits. If necessary, they may also perform a physical examination.
The doctor may also request a semen sample, which they will analyze for:
- volume and consistency
- sperm count
- sperm motility, or how quickly the sperm move
- the size and shape of the sperm
Reducing alcohol intake may improve sperm quality.
Treatment options for watery or discolored semen will depend on the underlying cause.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if they determine the cause to be a bacterial infection. For people with hormonal imbalances, a doctor may recommend hormone therapy.
Options for treating varicoceles include:
- Laparoscopic surgery. During this procedure, a surgeon inserts a camera into a small incision in the abdomen. They will then locate and either repair, block, or remove the varicocele.
- Percutaneous embolization. This is a minimally invasive procedure in which a surgeon will insert a coil or balloon into the swollen vein. They then enlarge the coil or balloon to restore the blood flow from the testicle.
Lifestyle changes that can help improve semen quality can include:
- maintaining a healthy body weight
- reducing stress
- getting enough sleep
- quitting tobacco products
- reducing alcohol intake
Watery semen is often temporary, and it may resolve on its own.
Semen can become watery or thinner than usual if someone masturbates or engages in sexual activity multiple times each day. In this case, abstaining from sexual activity for a few days may help treat the issue.
Watery semen can sometimes indicate that a person has a low sperm count or reduced semen quality. These can result from certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors.
Having watery semen does not necessarily mean that a person is infertile. However, people with persistent watery semen may wish to consult a doctor.
Also, seek medical advice for discolored semen or semen that contains blood.