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How Long Does Sperm Live?


Welcome to the world of male fertility, where millions of sperm cells embark on a remarkable journey every day. Within the testicles, a complex network of tubes known as seminiferous tubules provides a haven for germ cells. Guided by hormones like testosterone, these cells transform into sperm, evolving until they take on the familiar “tadpole” shape—complete with head and tail, scientifically termed spermatozoa. Once the sperm cells acquire tails, they migrate to the epididymis, a tube adjacent to the testes. Over the course of about five weeks, they continue their maturation process within the epididymis. This journey culminates with their arrival in the vas deferens, the sperm duct. Upon arousal, approximately 200-400 million sperm mix with a white fluid produced by the prostate gland and seminal vesicles, creating seminal fluid. This amalgamation results in semen. During sexual intercourse, this semen is ejaculated through the urethra. Should ejaculation not occur, the body naturally breaks down and reabsorbs the surplus sperm cells. In this blog, we discuss what happens to the sperm cells after they’re ejaculated, and importantly, how long do sperm live for?


The Timing of Sperm Formation

Germ cells need around 2.5 months to mature into fully-fledged sperm cells capable of fertilization. Despite this duration, males produce millions of sperm daily. With an ongoing supply of sperm, a healthy male’s fertility remains constant, even with frequent ejaculations. This signifies that, within the fertile window of a woman’s menstrual cycle, conception can occur at any time.

However, as age advances, sperm count and quality tend to decline, accompanied by increased mutation potential. Lifestyle choices and health factors also contribute to potential declines in sperm attributes, impacting the chances of successful conception.


Exploring Sperm Longevity

The lifespan of sperm varies depending on environmental conditions. Sperm can succumb within minutes or endure for months. In this section, we delve into diverse scenarios that influence sperm longevity.


Life Outside the Body

Once outside the male body and out in the open air, sperm cells can survive for a matter of minutes, up to around 30 minutes. Vital to their existence are moisture and warmth; without these, exposure to air causes rapid desiccation and death. However, in a sterilised, air tight container, sperm cells can last for several hours. We often get asked this question at ExSeed because with our at home sperm test, you deliver your sample into the collection cup and we recommend leaving for 20 minutes to liquefy before transferring to the slide. Sometimes, with a particularly viscous sample, another 10-20 minutes might be needed for easier transferring. As the sperm sample is in a sealed cup, the sperms lifespan is elongated. However, at around the 60 minute mark, the sperm parameter motility (the movement of the sperm cells) will decline, so we recommend always completing your analysis ideally within about 45 minutes from collecting the sample for the most true-to-life motility measure.


Life Within the Female Body

When enveloped by sperm-friendly cervical mucus, sperm can thrive for up to five days. This mucus safeguards and nourishes the sperm, promoting their endurance and mobility. For conception to occur, intercourse must coincide with the fertile window—comprising the days leading up to and including ovulation.


Water and Sperm Survival

Sperm’s survival hinges on moisture and warmth, rendering conception through water implausible. Water disperses sperm, removing them from the protective environment of semen. Moreover, chemicals present in water, like chlorine, prove detrimental to sperm viability.


The Frozen Realm

Under regulated conditions, sperm can endure for decades when cryogenically frozen using liquid nitrogen. Storage in sperm banks safeguards their longevity. The UK, for instance, permits storage for up to 55 years in special circumstances. Such storage periods are determined by legal considerations, rather than any inherent expiration of frozen sperm.


Nurturing Sperm Health

In the journey to parenthood, healthy sperm play a pivotal role. While timing intercourse optimally remains crucial, enhancing sperm health through lifestyle changes is equally vital. Here are steps you can take:

  1. Maintain Optimal Temperature: Foster a slightly cooler environment for your testicles by opting for loose underwear or taking breaks in warmer settings.
  2. Quit Smoking: Abandoning smoking boosts male fertility, contributing to healthier sperm.
  3. Limit Alcohol Intake: Excessive alcohol adversely impacts sperm quality, making moderation essential.
  4. Avoid Recreational Drugs: Substances like cannabis, anabolic steroids, and cocaine impair sperm quality and fertility.
  5. Consult Medical Experts: Assess the impact of medications—prescription or over-the-counter—on fertility by consulting a healthcare professional.
  6. Embrace Healthy Choices: A balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight contribute to robust sperm health.
  7. Manage Stress: High stress levels can hinder sperm production. Prioritize relaxation to promote optimal fertility.


Given the 2.5-month sperm production cycle, expect gradual improvements in sperm health after adopting these measures. Your journey toward enhancing sperm health is an investment in the future—for you and your potential family.

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