What to know about sperm production
Although the average time is 74 days, the actual time frame for an individual to make sperm can vary.
The body produces an average of around 20–300 million sperm cells per milliliter of semen.
In this article, we examine the sperm production process, the life cycle of a sperm cell, and the factors that can affect sperm levels.
We also take a look at the steps people can take to boost sperm health and improve the chances of conception.
How long does the sperm production process take?
From start to finish, it takes roughly 74 days for a male's body to produce sperm.
On average, it takes 50–60 days for sperm to develop in the testicles.
After this, the sperm move to the epididymis, which are the ducts behind the testicles that store and carry sperm.
It takes about 14 more days for the sperm to fully mature in the epididymis.
Spermatogenesis is the process by which the body makes sperm. The process begins when the hypothalamus in the brain releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone. This hormone stimulates the anterior pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These two hormones travel through the blood to the testes.
LH encourages the Leydig cells to make testosterone. FSH acts on seminiferous tubules, an area of the testes where the body makes sperm.
An issue with any of these hormones may affect a person's ability to make sperm and may slow the process.
On average, sperm production takes 74 days from start to finish, but the process may be shorter or longer in individual males.
How much sperm does the body produce in a day?
The average male produces millions of sperm each day.
Sperm quality and count tend to decline with age, however. This is because older males may have more mutations in their sperm, and because they may produce fewer sperm.
Other factors, such as health and lifestyle, may also affect both sperm production and health.
For example, a 2013 study of mice found that exposure to small particles of titanium dioxide lowered sperm counts in the first generation of mice born to mothers that the researchers exposed to the particles.
Also, mice whose fathers the scientists exposed to small particles of carbon black showed lower sperm production for two generations.
In some cases, a male produces normal, healthy sperm that do not travel to the ejaculate due to a blockage or other physical problem.
In other cases, a male produces few or no sperm. This will often be due to a problem with the testicles or endocrine system.
What is the life cycle of a sperm cell?
Once sperm have completed their development, they remain in the epididymis. When a male ejaculates, fluid from the seminal vesicles joins the sperm to make semen.
If a male does not ejaculate sperm, the body eventually breaks down and reabsorbs them.
Sperm can die within a few minutes outside a male's body. However, sperm can live for 3–5 days inside a female's body if they are producing cervical mucus. This mucus helps nurture and protect the sperm and makes it easier for the sperm to swim to the egg.
How does ejaculation affect sperm levels?
Studies have shown that males who ejaculate daily may see a slight decline in their sperm count.
A male does not ejaculate all of their sperm, and the body constantly produces more sperm. As a result, there will still be sperm in a male's semen even if they ejaculate several times per day.
When a male goes several days without ejaculating, their sperm count rises slightly.
More frequent ejaculation lowers sperm count but is unlikely to affect fertility in healthy males.
A 2016 study examined the sperm counts of three males who abstained from ejaculating for several days before ejaculating four times at 2-hour intervals.
The researchers found that their sperm counts dropped with frequent ejaculation but remained within World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for healthy sperm counts.
A 2015 study assessed the effects of frequent ejaculation on sperm quality and count.
Males who ejaculated daily saw declines in sperm count. Other measures of sperm quality — such as shape, ability to swim, and concentration — remained about the same, even with frequent ejaculation.
Together, these studies suggest that in males with reduced fertility, frequent ejaculation might lower the chances of conception by lowering sperm count slightly.
For most males, however, even very frequent ejaculation is unlikely to affect fertility.
How to boost sperm health
Sperm work best at cool temperatures. The testicles help keep sperm cool by descending from the body. Prolonged exposure to heat — such as from hot tubs, intense exercise, or workplace equipment — may damage sperm.
Males who want to improve fertility should wear loose fitting underwear. Snug underwear may trap heat and force the testicles against the body, increasing temperature further.
Anything that affects overall health may also affect sperm production, since sperm health depends on a complex interaction of several hormones and bodily systems. For example, excessive drinking, drugs, and smoking may affect fertility.
Exercise can improve blood flow and overall health, potentially improving sperm quality. Some studies suggest that getting regular exercise may improve sperm quality or count, though more research is needed to explain why.
It is also important to eat a healthful, balanced diet. Research has linked some foods with lower sperm health. These foods include processed meats, trans fats, soy products, and high fat dairy products.
However, most research has found only a correlation — not a causal relationship — between these foods and lower sperm counts.
Tips for increasing chances of conception
Couples can schedule sex to line up with when they are at their most fertile, as this may improve their chance of conception.
To improve the chances of conception, people can time when they have sexual intercourse to line up with when they are at their most fertile.
A 2015 study found that the first fraction of ejaculate contains the highest concentration sperm, and that these sperm move more effectively and are of a higher quality than those later in ejaculate.
So, it is important for a male to ejaculate directly into their partner to ensure that these early sperm have a chance to travel to the egg.
Using ovulation predictor tests, monitoring female signs of fertility such as cervical mucus, and having regular sexual intercourse may also increase the odds of conceiving.
Ovulation predictor kits are available for purchase in stores and online.
From start to finish, it takes the male body an average of 74 days to produce new sperm cells.
As the body is constantly producing sperm cells, a healthy male will usually always have some sperm cells in their semen.
Most couples should be able to conceive within 12 months of trying. Couples who have not conceived after a year or who have had several miscarriages should consult a doctor who specializes in infertility.
A wide range of lifestyle and medical interventions can improve fertility, but fertility declines with age and time. This means that the earlier a couple seeks help for infertility, the greater their chances are of having a child.
Can a male ever run out of sperm cells?
No. Because the male body is constantly making new sperm cells, they won't run out. Even if they ejaculate once or several times per day, the semen will usually always contain sperm cells. Depending on the individual's genetics and age, their sperm production cycle and sperm cell quality will vary. Some medications and lifestyle factors — such as diet, ejaculation frequency, smoking status — may impact the quantity of semen a male's body can produce.Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CST Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.