Smoking and Sperm Count

Smoking is just bad for you. Period. But do you ever wonder what smoking could be doing to your sperm count?

A rugged Clint Eastwood puffs away in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly,  James Dean takes a slow draw in Rebel Without A Cause, Humphrey Bogart has the things dangling out of his mouth in practically every scene he’s ever been in. Cigarettes seem to represent the height of masculinity. We’re inundated with these images of our idols smoking, but one thing we don’t ask ourselves as we watch these macho guys light up another cigarette is what they’re doing to their bodies. Smoking leads to a whole host of medical problems, from the obvious ones like cancer, emphysema, and heart disease to the lesser-known conditions, like impotence, hormonal imbalances, and dramatically decreased sperm quality.

Smoking and Your Penis

Your smoking habit could be leading to an inability to rise to the occasion. That’s right-smoking can lead to erectile complications. When you smoke a cigarette, the primary ingredients, nicotine, carbon monoxide and other toxic substances, are absorbed from the lungs into the blood stream. These nasty toxins damage your blood vessels and cause them to constrict, raising your blood pressure. In addition to constricting your blood vessels, smoking raises your cholesterol, leading to fatty deposits lining the blood vessels and obstructing blood flow. The key to a strong, long-lasting erection is healthy blood flow to the penis, as well as the ability of the blood vessels of the penis to expand and contract. Smoking, especially heavy smoking, damages your body’s ability to do both of these things, potentially leading to impaired erectile performance, erectile dysfunction, and, in severe cases, impotence.

Smoking and Your Hormones

Some studies have found that nicotine exposure is linked to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone which in excess can break down testosterone molecules. Studies are fairly split about exactly what happens directly to your testosterone when you smoke, some have found that smoking causes a temporary increase in testosterone, others have found that testosterone levels decrease over time. While a slight increase in testosterone may not sound all that bad, the health problems associated with smoking far outweigh a small, temporary boost in testosterone.

Smoking and Your Sperm

Where smoking really impacts your fertility is your sperm quality. Smoking affects almost every aspect of your sperm: count, motility, morphology, and semen volume.

Sperm Count: The sperm counts of smokers are generally 13-17% lower than their non-smoking brethren. This could be due to the hormonal changes we’ve already discussed impacting sperm production, or due to the fact that smoking increase Reactive Oxygenated species (ROS). ROS is essentially waste leftover by sperm, and in high amounts it can kill sperm.

Motility: The motility (how well your sperm swim) of smokers had been found to be nearly 13% lower than non-smokers. This could be due to a number of factors, such as impaired morphology(which we’ll be getting into later), or even altered semen viscosity/liquefaction time.

Morphology: Smoking affects your morphology (the shape of your sperm) so drastically that there is even a type of defect associated with it: a curved tail. This is especially noticeable in heavy smokers (more than 20 cigarettes per day.

Semen Volume: Several studies have found an inverse relationship between smoking and semen volume (meaning that as smoking increased, semen volume decreased. This is caused largely by the hormonal effects of smoking, as well as the impact of smoking on the circulatory system.

Other Effects

Her: The thing with smoking is, you aren’t the only one being affected by it. Chances are, your partner is frequently exposed to your second-hand smoke, which can lead to a longer time to pregnancy, early menopause, and even higher miscarriage rates. Studies have shown that women who were exposed to secondhand smoke were 18% more likely to have these issues, even when the women had never smoked a cigarette herself.

Your Future Kids: The other person impacted by smoking? Your future kid. Smoking can lead to elevated levels of ROS, which can damage the DNA stored inside your sperm. If a sperm with damaged DNA manages to fertilize the egg, this could result in various birth defects. Additionally, this DNA damage could result in your son suffering from symptoms similar to the ones we discussed earlier in this article.

The Good News

The upside of all of this is that most of the effects of smoking on your fertility are reversible. While it will take around 72 days for you to see improvements in your semen parameters, your hormones will bounce back fairly quickly. The steps to getting healthy again are a simple as making the decision to quit. Here’s a great resource to help you quit smoking and get your health-and your fertility-back on track.

Alcohol and male fertility

Drinking gives you more than beer goggles. The link between alcohol and male fertility has been studied and the results are in: drinking harms your balls.

Alcohol

Drinking doesn’t just lead to ill-advised drunk Amazon purchases, bad tattoos,  and romantic pursuits that looked way better last night. The effects of alcohol on your fertility have been rigorously studied and the results are in: alcohol and male fertility are mortal enemies.

Alcohol and Your Penis

The association between drinking too much and not being able to..ahem..rise to the occasion isn’t exactly a surprise. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning that knocking back one too many can slow your body’s response system- while your brain may be firing all the signals to your penis that it’s time to get down, your below the belt buddy may be a little slow on the uptake.

If you’ve read our article on how erections work, you know that the key to a good erection lies in your circulation. During arousal, the more blood that can rush to your penis, the stronger it will be. But here’s the catch- when the blood gets to your penis, it has to stay there. Normally, this occurs when the veins that transport blood out of the penis are constricted, trapping the blood in the penis. When you’ve had a few too many, you blood vessels dilate, allowing for all of the blood that rushed into the penis when you were aroused to rush back out of the penis, leading to a weak, short-term erection or even no erection at all.

While drinking too much every so often can lead to dilation of the blood vessels, drinking too, much too often can lead to the opposite problem: high blood pressure. High blood pressure makes it difficult for the blood to even reach the penis in the first place, and no rush of blood to your penis=no erection.

Alcohol and Your Hormones

Drinking too much over a long period of time can also impact your testosterone production. When the key ingredient in alcohol, ethanol, is absorbed by your body, it lowers the amount of coenzyme NAD+, which is a crucial element in testosterone production. Alcohol also damages your testosterone producing Leydig cells. While your alcohol consumption causes your testosterone to decrease, it also causes your estrogen to increase. This one-two punch is due to heavy alcohol consumption increasing aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone into estrogen.  This decrease in testosterone and increase in estrogen can lead to erectile dysfunction and even testicular shrinkage.

Alcohol and Your Sperm

As we mentioned before, alcohol damages your testosterone production. Since testosterone is crucial to sperm production, this hormonal damage can lead to lowered sperm counts. While your body’s sperm production is declining, the sperm that you do have are also being damaged.

Alcohol is toxic- meaning it’s a very low dose of poison that causes cellular death. As we’ve mentioned before, sperm are very sensitive cells that can be easily affected by toxin exposure. So knocking back those drinks is sending toxic chemicals to attack your fragile cells.

How much is too much?

A beer after work every so often isn’t going to nuke your swim team. Now the question becomes, when does drinking start affecting your fertility? It depends on the type of drinking.

Defining a Drink

Not all alcohol is created equal.  You probably know that different drinks contain different levels of alcohol. Depending on your tolerance, 12 ounces of beer won’t do much, but 12 ounces of tequila could leave you clutching the toilet and praying to whatever god you believe in that you won’t remember much of this experience in the morning.  With all the different types of alcohol out there, it can be difficult to figure out what amount qualifies as one drink. Look at the red solo cup on the left for a guide to defining a drink.

Heavy Drinking

The Center for Disease control defines heavy drinking as having 15 drinks or more per week.  Heavy drinking is the most dangerous for your fertility because it doesn’t allow your body time to rest and recover from the damage you’ve done to it by drinking. While we’ve already discussed how alcohol affects your fertility, long-term heavy drinking takes it one step further. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to major liver damage, and since the liver is responsible for processing hormones, this can lead to increased estrogen and major hormonal imbalance. Chronic heavy drinking will also damages blood vessels and increases blood pressure, leading to more severe erectile dysfunction, and even impotence. Finally, continuing to drink heavily on a regular basis may permanently damage sperm production.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking (defined by the CDC as having 5 or more drinks within the span of two hours) is the more popular form of alcohol abuse in younger. While the results of occasional binge drinking are reversible, the immediate effects can damage your current fertility. Binge drinking spikes your cortisol for around 24 hours after you’ve partied. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can destroy your testosterone molecules if it’s levels are too high. This means that for roughly 24 hours after you binge drink, your testosterone molecules are being destroyed, tanking your testosterone levels. In addition to increased cortisol, your blood pressure temporarily increases during a binge, which can lead to impaired erectile function.

Binge drinking can be hell on the liver, overworking it and interfering with what it does best: processes and breaks down hormones. When you binge drink, your liver is temporarily unavailable to break down estrogen, knocking your hormones out of balance.

Finally, an episode of binge drinking can exposure your sperm to large amount of toxic alcohol, tanking your sperm count. It takes around 72 days for new sperm to be fully developed, meaning that your fertility will take about three months to fully recover from an episode of binge drinking.

So now what?

We’re not going to tell you to just give up alcohol completely. We get it. It’s hard to avoid something that seems to be everywhere. However, if you’re trying to conceive, cutting back on alcohol can make it a little easier. Even if you aren’t trying to conceive, avoiding the booze can keep your testosterone high and your liver healthy, helping you feel stronger, younger, and healthier.

Your Semen Analysis: Sperm Vitality

In its simplest form, sperm vitality is basically the percentage of living, healthy sperm in your semen. It’s important to think of each sperm cell is a living thing, with an ability to move on its own and its own lifespan. In your testicles, these little guys have a lifespan of around 72 days. Once a sperm cell dies, it remains in the testicles for time and the body begins to break it down and reabsorb it.

Vitality. It sounds like something out of a denture commercial, something you see on vitamins and in health food aisles. A quick google will tell you that vitality is “1) the state of being strong and active; energy. 2) the power giving continuance of life, present in all living things.”  But sperm vitality is a whole different ball game (no pun intended). Also known as viability, sperm vitality is actually a crucial measurement of your fertility. So what is vitality, and why is it so important?

What is sperm vitality?

In its simplest form, sperm vitality is basically the percentage of living, healthy sperm in your semen. It’s important to think of each sperm cell is a living thing, with an ability to move on its own and its own lifespan. In your testicles, these little guys have a lifespan of around 72 days. Once a sperm cell dies, it remains in the testicles for time and the body begins to break it down and reabsorb it.

Here’s where people get confused: sperm vitality is not the same thing as motility. While sperm vitality definitely contributes to motility- if sperm are dead, they’re definitely not swimming- these two parameters measure very different things. Motility measures how many sperm are swimming and their swimming prowess, while vitality is a measurement of all living sperm-whether they’re moving or not.

What’s a normal sperm vitality level?

Since it takes time for dead sperm cells to be broken down and reabsorbed, there are bound to be a few dead sperm cells in your semen at any given time, which means that a sperm vitality percentage of 100% is incredibly rare. The WHO defines the average sperm vitality range as 58-91%.

What causes low sperm vitality?

Heat Exposure: Sperm require a very specific temperature (roughly 4 degrees cooler than boy temperature) to survive. This means that exposure to higher temperatures for prolonged periods of time cause your sperm to overheat and die, tanking your vitality percentage. For more information, check out our article on heat and male fertility.

Obesity: Obesity adds an extra layer of insulation to your body, exposing sperm cells to deadly high temperatures. Obesity also throws your hormones off-balance, impacting the production of new, healthy sperm. For more information, read our article on obesity’s impact on your fertility.

Toxin Exposure: First, let’s clarify what we mean by toxins. We define toxins as not just environmental factors, like exposure to pesticides, radiation, heavy metals (like the lead found in solder) or cleaning solvents. Toxins also include things like cigarette smoke, marijuana and alcohol. All of these factors effectively kill cells, particularly the sensitive sperm cells. Learn more about what a toxin is and what it does to your sperm.

Necrospermia

It’s a big word, we know. But it’s one with a pretty simple meaning. Necrospermia (also known as necrozoospermia) is a condition in which there are no living or motile sperm in your semen. While it can occasionally be caused by lifestyle factors, such as certain prescription drugs, necrospermia is most often caused by hormonal imbalances, plumbing problems, and autoimmune disorders.

How is it tested?

A vitality test is usually ordered after an initial semen analysis comes back with a motility percentage of under 25%. The real trick to testing for sperm vitality is to find out which sperm are just alive and not moving and which sperm are completely dead. This test is performed by using a special technique called eosin-nigrosin staining. It involves applying a dye to a sample and examining it under a microscope. The theory behind this is that live sperm have a barrier that prevents dye absorption, while dead sperm can’t resist the dye, so they get stained a light pink. The sperm are then counted and the percentage of live sperm is taken.

How can you improve sperm vitality?

Improving your sperm vitality can be as easy as making a few simple lifestyle changes. In general, a healthier, vitamin rich diet, and a limit to heat and toxin exposure can help naturally improve your sperm vitality. You can also get specific tips for how to improve your sperm vitality by taking our Risk Assessment Quiz.

Am I Normal? Normal Semen Volume: The Low Down on Your Load

What’s the normal semen volume? How fast does semen travel during ejaculation? Find out what’s normal and where you measure up.

Life isn’t a porno. Busty cheerleaders rarely order a sausage pizza, and when they do, the night doesn’t end in a rampant orgy with the delivery guy. This also means that the average joe rarely releases the explosive, enormous amounts of semen that porn tends to portray. So what’s the normal semen volume?

The average amount of semen that a guy releases may surprise you. According to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, the average amount of semen that a guy produces per ejaculation is a paltry 2.5 ml (for you ‘Mericans out there, that’s around half a teaspoon).

The scale of what qualifies as a “normal” amount?  Between 1.5 ml (about 1/3 of a teaspoon) to 6.8 ml (roughly half a tablespoon). If you’re below 1.5 ml per ejaculation, there are several possible causes, including:

Frequent Sex: There’s only so much semen that your body can produce. If you’ve been ejaculating frequently (daily or more), chances are your natural stores are running pretty low, causing a lower volume.

Vitamin Deficiencies: How you fuel your body can affect performance on a lot of fronts, especially your reproductive system. If you’re not getting enough selenium (found mostly in nuts, seeds, beans, and fish) and zinc (found mostly in beef, poultry and lentils), your semen volume could be suffering. For foods that can boost your semen volume and quality, check out our list of the Top 12 Fertility Superfoods.

Obesity : Those extra pounds could be lowering your semen volume. Obesity (a BMI of 30.0 or above. Read our article on BMI and Male Fertility for more information.

Low T : Hormonal levels are what drives the majority of sexual function. Testosterone is the fuel that helps semen production. If T levels are too low, less semen is produced. Symptoms of low T include fatigue, weight gain, and a loss of sex drive.

Retrograde Ejaculation : Also known as a “dry orgasm”, retrograde ejaculation is a condition in which no semen is released during ejaculation. Instead of semen traveling out of the urethra upon orgasm, it’s shot back up the urethra and into the bladder.

Faster than the Speed of Spooge

The average speed of sperm leaving the body is roughly 28 mph (basically the speed limit in a residential district). As a guy ages, the force of an ejaculation (including the speed and distance of ejaculation, as well as semen volume) tends to decrease.  This is because during the aging process, your muscles, including your prostate, start to lose strength, and since your prostate and pelvic muscles largely control ejaculatory force, the result is a weaker ejaculation.

While everybody is different and ejaculatory force is really just a matter of preference, if you do want a stronger ejaculation, Kegels are the way to go. Basically, Kegels are an exercise that increases pelvic strength. It involves finding the pelvic floor muscles and contracting, then releasing them periodically. Click here for a step by step guide to Kegels.

The Basics of Semen pH

Is semen an acid or a base? Could your semen pH be impacting your fertility? Get the facts about semen pH and learn what you can do to improve it.

Semen isn’t just a vehicle to transport sperm. It’s basically like a giant bouncer/ personal assistant/nanny for sperm cells. When produced correctly, semen shields sperm from a sometimes hostile environment, makes its journey to the egg a little easier, and provides nutrition to the delicate cells for the incredibly difficult task ahead of them. Since it has to do so many different tasks, semen is comprised of several different fluids and factors that can help sperm do their jobs. One of these factors is semen pH (how acidic the semen is).

Understanding pH

To understand semen pH, we need to first understand the basics of pH (get it?). The abbreviation “pH” stands for power of Hydrogen. The “H” is always capitalized because it is an element symbol. pH is used as a scale to indicated how acidic or basic (alkaline) a solution is. It ranges from 0 to 14, meaning that anything with a pH of 7 is neutral, anything above 7 is basic and anything under 7 is acidic. So as the pH number goes down, acidity increases, and vice versa. Here’s a more detailed description of pH, as well as a scale for reference.

Why is Semen’s pH Important?

To look at why semen pH is important, we first have to look at the other half of the equation: the vagina. In an ideal world, vaginal pH maintains a balance of good and bad bacteria, which helps prevent infections. However, to protect from bad bacteria and maintain a healthy balance, the vaginal environment tends to be slightly acidic. Vaginal pH levels also change frequently, depending on the time in her cycle, sexual activity, even her diet and exercise.

So what do her pH levels have to do with your swimmers? Like we said, your semen exists largely to protect your sperm from the outside environment. This includes protection from a potentially damaging acidic environment. To maintain a balanced environment for the sensitive sperm cells, semen should be fairly basic so that it can counteract the generally acidic environment of the vagina.

Testing pH

You know those little strips that people use to determine the chlorine levels in their pool? That’s called pH paper and it can also be used to test the pH of semen. In a lab, the technician will let the semen sample sit for 30 to 60 minutes and then place a small amount on this paper. This color change in the paper is indicative of the pH level of the sample. Some labs will also use a pH meter-a device that provides a numerical value of pH.

What’s a Normal pH Level?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the average pH of semen should range between 7.2 and 8. This is just slightly basic, making it the perfect protective environment for sperm. If your semen has a pH below 7 (acidic), it is acidic. This could impair your chances at conception, and be a sign of a blockage of your seminal vesicles. If your semen has a pH above 8 (basic), this can impair you sperm motility and be a sign of an infection.

What to Do About It

It’s entirely possible to change the pH of your semen. Here are a few tips to get a healthier pH:
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Eat a balanced diet: We know the temptation to eat junk is out there, but it’s important to maintain a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins. Here’s a guide to eating a fertility friendly diet.
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Take supplements: It can be hard to get all of the nutrients you need for healthy sperm. That’s why there are now several fertility blend supplements designed specifically for men.
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Avoid toxins: Exposure to dangerous chemicals (including smoking and drinking) can cause highly acidic semen. Cut back on the smokes and keep an eye on the chemicals you’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Your Semen Analysis: Semen Liquefaction Time

Possibly the grossest thing you’ll come across on your semen analysis report, “semen liquefaction time” often leaves people with more questions than answers. What does it mean? Why does it happen? And why does liquefaction time matter?

Possibly the grossest thing you’ll come across on your semen analysis report, “semen liquefaction time” often leaves people with more questions than answers. What does it mean? Why does it happen? And why does liquefaction time matter?

What does “liquefaction” mean?

Liquefaction is a process that starts immediately after ejaculation. When your semen is first released, it should be fairly gelatinous, with a texture resembling egg whites (we’re so sorry for that analogy). Over time, the proteins that make your semen gelatinous are broken down by enzymes that were released from the prostate when you ejaculated. This typically takes around 20-30 minutes.

Why does semen liquefaction happen?

It’s not called the “miracle of life” for nothing. Your sperm have an insanely difficult journey ahead of them if they want to make it to the egg.Your body tries to give the little guys all the help they can get. When semen is first ejaculated, its gel-like form helps the sperm stay inside the vagina. In a throw-back to our evolutionary days, semen coagulation also prevents another guys swimmers from beating yours to the punch, with the thick, jelly-like substance forming a barrier against any other guy’s swimmers that might be coming down the pipeline. After a few minutes, the semen begins to liquefy to allow sperm an easier trip up the cervix- think of it as the difference between swimming in jello and swimming in water. It’s a lot easier to swim in a liquid than a gel.

How long should semen liquefaction take?

The short answer: semen liquefaction should take 20-30 minutes. With liquefaction time, it’s this window you should shoot for. A liquefaction time of less than 20 minutes won’t have a significant impact on your fertility. However, a longer liquefaction time of longer than 30 minutes starts to impair your sperms’ ability to reach the egg. If you have a liquefaction time of over 60 minutes, you run the danger of your sperm getting trapped in the semen, unable to make the jump to the cervix.

What causes a long liquefaction time?

Infection is the most common cause of a long liquefaction time. This is because of a few factors. First, whenever there is an infection in your body, there is a high amount of white blood cells present in the area to fight off the infection. The extra cells present can cause the natural break-down of proteins to slow even further as more cells have to be broken down. Check out this article for more info on the role of white blood cells in your fertility.
Second, this could indicate that your body is producing the correct amount of ingredients for healthy semen. Semen isn’t just comprised of sperm-in fact, sperm only make up roughly 5% of your semen. The rest is a mixture of nutrients for the sperm cells, acids, lipids, and the enzymes that will eventually cause liquefaction.  These enzymes are produced by the prostate, so a long liquefaction time could also indicate an infection or dysfunction of your prostate. A visit to your doctor should be able to tell you if you have an infection. If one is found, antibiotic treatments will likely clear the infection, as well as the long liquefaction time associated with it.

Another cause of a long liquefaction time could be dehydration. It makes logical sense: semen is one of the bodily fluids that suffers when it can’t be replenished by water. If you’ve noticed that your semen has been thicker recently, try increasing your water consumption. To figure out how much water you should be drinking, take your weight in pounds and divide it by two: that’s how many ounces of water you should drink each day.

Your Semen Analysis: White Blood Cell Concentration

What is a white blood cell and why does your semen analysis measure white blood cell concentration? If sperm cells are the quarterbacks of baby-making, white blood cells are like your offensive linemen.

What is a white blood cell and why does your semen analysis measure white blood cell concentration? If sperm cells are the quarterbacks of baby-making, white blood cells are like your offensive linemen. White blood cells (known in the medical industry as leukocytes or pus cells) are produced in your bone marrow. When there’s an infection, your brain signals yours white blood cells to go the site of infection and destroy the bacteria and prevent it from spreading through the rest of your body. This means that in areas where an infection may be present, there is a higher amount of white blood cells.

Counting Cells

In a typical semen analysis, a trained technician will take a sample of semen, place it on a slide and analyze the amount of cells and their quality. This can be tricky with white blood cells because of their shape. In a typical semen sample, there are some sperm cells that aren’t fully formed or that have been damaged, leaving only the rounded head of the sperm. In that same sample, there will probably be a few white blood cells, which are also round. The similarities between these cells means that the typical semen analysis technique won’t work for counting your white blood cells. To analyze the amount of white blood cells in a sample, a trained technician will typically use a staining technique, meaning that  a dye is applied to the sample, staining the white blood cells, making it easier for the technician to differentiate between the sperm cells and white blood cells.

Leukocytospermia

Leukocytospermia, also known as Pyospermia, is a condition in which your semen has an abnormally high amount of white blood cells. According to the World Health Organization,  an abnormally high amount of white blood cells is defined as 1 million cells per milliliter or higher. Roughly 5% of men with a fertility problem have leukocytospermia. Several things can cause leukocytospermia, including:

Infrequent ejaculation: White blood cells naturally accumulate over time, so the amount of white blood cells that your sample contains increases as time between ejaculations increases, which could lead to an abnormally high amount of blood cells in your semen

Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases occur when the body thinks that healthy cells are actually foreign, causing white blood cells to begin attacking these cells, including sperm cells.

A cold: If you’ve been sick in the past three months, your body’s production of white blood cells has increased, causing a higher amount to be present in your semen. .

An infection: If you’ve got an STI (sexually transmitted infection), your body sends white blood cells to the area of infection (your genitals) to fight it off the bacteria, leading to a spike of white blood cells.

How does Leukocytospermia affect your fertility?

Just like sperm cells, white blood cells produce a waste call reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS destroys cells, both the bad cells (like bacteria) and the good cells (like sperm cells). Excessively high amounts of white blood cells in your semen are also indicative of an STI, which can cause blockage in the epididymis, preventing sperm from being released during ejaculation.

What’s Normal?

When it comes to white blood cells in your semen, the fewer the better. That being said, it’s okay to have some white blood cells in your semen. The WHO defines the normal white blood cell concentration is anything less than 1 million per cc. If your semen analysis shows a WBC of 1 million/cc or higher, your doctor will probably request more tests to investigate the cause of the white blood cells. The upside to having a high amount of leukocytes is that it’s very treatable once the cause has been identified.

Am I Normal? The Guy’s Guide to Normal Semen Quality

What does normal semen look like? Is it better to have thick or thin semen? We’ve got the answers to your questions and what it could mean for your health.

Sailors
It’s a bunch of seamen. Get it?

It can be really embarrassing to talk about bodily fluids, especially semen. It’s hard to know what normal semen is supposed to look like, mostly because no one is actually talking about it. We want to change that. It’s time to get impolite. Let’s talk about what’s normal semen and what your semen quality could be telling you about your health.

The Basics

A pretty common question that we get on this site is “What’s semen made out of?”. So before we get into the thick of things, here are some basics about semen:

Semen is composed of several different fluids. Roughly 70% of your semen is fluid from the seminal vesicles, roughly 20% is fluid from the prostate and 5% is fluid from the testicle and epididymis, where the actual sperm are, and roughly 1% is bulbourethral fluid. The seminal and prostatic fluid function as a sort of food and force field for sperm. They both contain salts and sugars to nourish the sperm, as well as amino acids and zinc to protect the sperm from the harsh outside environment. Meanwhile the bulbourethral fluid makes the semen jelly-like and therefore easier for sperm to swim in.

Color

Normal, healthy semen is a cloudy grayish-white to slightly yellow color. Any other colors mean you should probably have a chat with your doctor. Semen that’s a deep yellow or green could be indicative of an infection, or urine in your semen. Semen that’s a pink color to a reddish brown is the result of blood in your semen, and could be a sign of prostate problems.

 Smell

Normally, semen should smell a little bit like chlorine or bleach. If you’ve noticed your semen has begun to smell a little…pungent, this could be a sign of infection and you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Texture

When first ejaculated, semen should be fairly viscous, similar to (we’re so sorry to ruin this for you) egg-whites, this is due largely to the bulbourethal fluid that it contains. After roughly 30 minutes, semen starts to lose its viscosity, becoming thinner and runnier. This is due to prostate specific antigen (PSA), an enzyme found in prostatic fluid whose main purpose is to assist in the keeping sperm higher in the woman’s vagina after ejaculation. Semen that doesn’t liquefy after this time period could be as a sign of a prostate problem and reduce your sperm motility.
Semen’s viscosity (thickness) is a bit of a balancing act. While many men associate thick semen with masculinity, semen that is too thick means the sperm can’t escape the fluid and start the long, hard trek to the egg. Thick ejaculate could be a sign of low testosterone or an STI. If semen is too thin or “watery” immediately after ejaculation, this could be a sign of retrograde ejaculation or an ejaculatory duct obstruction.
Much like sperm count, semen viscosity can vary greatly from day to day. Several different factors affect it, including hydration (dehydration tends to make semen thicker), frequency of ejaculation (the more you ejaculate, the thinner your semen becomes. There’s only so much in the tank!) and infection (your semen will be thicker of clumpier if you’ve recently had a cold, or if you have an untreated STI).

Am I Normal? Guide to Normal Sperm Count

What’s a normal sperm count? Find out where you stand and what it means for your fertility.

It’s hard to define “normal”, especially when it comes to your body. But after getting a semen analysis,the question of what’s normal can seem like a constant companion. So where do your results fall? Do you have a normal sperm count?

“Average” vs “Normal”

Doctors try to avoid the phrase “normal” when they can. That’s because there’s really no such thing as a normal body. Average is frequently used instead, especially in academic studies. With your sperm count, things are further complicated by the sheer range of what average is, and how normal is defined.

Do you consider normal to be the mathematical average of a large group of men? Or do you consider normal to be the number at which successful pregnancies start becoming likely?

The Low End

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines “the lower range of normal” as 10-15 million per milliliter. While it only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, a higher amount of sperm in an ejaculate, the higher the odds that one of your swimmers will go for the gold and actually fertilize an egg. The range of 10-15 million/ml, while not technically subfertile, is the lowest end of normal.

So why is your count low? Check out our detailed article on low sperm count for more detailed information about causes, treatment options and things you can do to improve.

Maybe Baby

A sperm count ranging between 15 million and 60 million is the low-average range of sperm count, meaning that while your count isn’t necessarily “low”, it is still slightly below average. In general, if sperm count is in this range, but all other semen parameters are average or above (if the sperm that you do have are generally healthy), this count shouldn’t cause problems with conceiving although several studies have shown that monthly chances of conception increase with sperm count up to around 40-50 million. If you are in the below average range, you may want to explore some of our tips for boosting sperm count. Chances are cutting back on alcohol, eating a little better or dropping a few pounds could do wonders for your swim team.

Average Joe

A count ranging between 60-80 million is considered to be the average range for men aged 18-35. In a study of 4867 Danish men aged 20-45, the average sperm count was 60 million/ml. This study has been pretty groundbreaking in its findings, and the results from it have been used to define the new “normal” for men. The WHO conducted a different study of around 2,000 recent fathers which defines the 50 percentile (basically the exact middle of the range) as 73 million/ml.

Top of the Class

The top 25% of the male population had a sperm count between 80 million/ml and 200 million/ml. Congratulations, you just made the sperm count honor roll.

Super Swimmers

A count above 200 million indicates an above average count. This is awesome news for your fertility, since higher sperm counts have been linked with more successful conception.

Other Factors

Regardless of your number, your sperm isn’t the only factor in your fertility. A low sperm count could have very little impact if the overall sperm quality is exceptional, and a high count could mean very little without motility and morphology to help it along.

What Now?

Do you have a low sperm count? We’ve got good news. Sperm counts change from day to day and there are lifestyle factors that can help boost you count. For more info, check out our tips on increasing your sperm count.

Am I Normal? The Definitive Guide to Normal Balls

Balls are weird. But some are weirder than others. Learn about normal balls, including shapes, sizes, and what it could mean for your overall health.

Big balls. A real set of low-hangers. Brass balls. With so many phrases like that out there, it seems like our society is obsessed with ball size and shape. There’s even an AC/DC song about it. But for all the idioms out there, we keep pretty quiet about what normal balls actually look like. What’s the average testicle size? Does size really matter? What about lumps and bumps? It’s time to grow a pair and talk about what’s normal for your balls.

What’s the average testicle size?

First off, to determine average size, there needs to be a standard way of measuring testicles. Since testicles aren’t exactly a shape that lends itself to easy measuring, doctors have created a way to measure testicular volume (basically the total size of the testicle) using a simple tool. Urologist use an orchidometer, basically a series of differently sized beads/balls that are compared to the size of the testicle. The bead that most closely matches the size of the testicles is used to determine total testicular volume.

The normal range of testicular volume is 12-30 ml, with the average size being 18 ml. It’s not outside of the ordinary for one ball to hang slightly lower than the other, or to be slightly bigger (roughly half a teaspoon bigger) than the other. However, if the size difference is any larger than that or accompanied by pain of any kind, we recommend you see a doctor, this could be swelling due to any number of conditions.

Does Testicle Size Matter?

Doc’s are pretty split on this issue, but in general, bigger does not necessarily mean better. With testicles, you want to fall within the average range. Abnormally small testicles (adult testicles with a volume of 12 ml or below), also known as microorchidism, are associated with a number of conditions, including Prader-Wili Syndrome, and Klinefelter Syndrome. On the other side of the spectrum, abnormally large testicles (adult testicles with a volume over 30ml), also known as macroorchidism, is associated with Fragile X Syndrome, a thyroid deficiency, or numerous other hormonal disorders.

Recently, studies have been released attributing different traits to different testicular sizes. For example, this study done by Emory University that found that men with smaller testicles make better fathers. Or this study from Italy that showed a correlation between large testicles and heart disease. However, at this time, more research is necessary to determine the relationship between testicular size and overall health.

If you’ve notice a marked change in testicular size, it’s important that you check in with a doctor. This could be due to a number of health complications, including hormonal changes brought on by thyroid issues, or excessive swelling.

Lumps, Bumps and Veins: Oh My!

You’re testicles are a pretty bizarre shape, but in general, they should be oval and fairly smooth. If you notice a change in texture (lump, bumps, enlarged/varicose veins), see your doctor as soon as possible. While there’s no reason to panic (testicular cancer accounts for about 1% of male-related cancers, so the chances of the lumps being cancerous are fairly low), the lump won’t just go away on it’s own and the longer you choose to ignore it, the more the symptoms will persist.