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How long does sperm live? That depends on a lot of things––mainly where it goes after ejaculation. Environment factors like temperature, the volume of semen ejaculated, and a sperm’s initial sperm health can all impact its survival.
For example, sperm can survive for up to a week inside the female reproductive tract. Outside of the body—like on skin, bedsheets, or clothing—sperm die once semen has dried (Björndahl, 2022). For fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF), frozen sperm can be preserved for years.
Here’s everything science can tell you about sperm survival in and outside the body.
How long does sperm live outside the body?
The World Health Organization (WHO) published a 276-page manual on the proper laboratory collection and study of sperm.
According to that manual, sperm survival and viability depends on male fertility factors and the initial health of the sperm. It also depends on the volume of semen ejaculated, the temperature of the surrounding environment, and other variables (Björndahl, 2022).
While there isn’t a lot of research on that topic, sperm can survive outside his body for anywhere from seconds to hours (even days), depending on the conditions. Generally, sperm like a warm, wet environment close to body temperature. Sperm are pretty sensitive to any changes and cannot survive long once exposed to air or temperature fluctuations outside the body.
Can sperm survive in a hot tub?
Scientists are not doing experiments on sperm survival in hot tubs or other unusual environments, so it’s difficult to say how long they’d live in these environments after ejaculation.
Based on the WHO information on sperm collection and analysis, it seems likely that sperm ejaculated into water (for example, into a pool or hot tub) would die very quickly. This is due to disinfectant chemicals like chlorine, high or low temperatures, or other factors that make an inhospitable environment for sperm (Björndahl, 2022).
In other words: if a man were to ejaculate in a sanitized hot tub, it’s unlikely anyone would get pregnant.
What about on dry surfaces?
Again, sperm like a wet and warm environment. If semen lands on an absorbent surface—like bed sheets, clothing, or tissues—the sperm typically dies when it dries. Likewise, if sperm ends up on skin or another dry surface, it will only survive while semen is wet (Björndahl, 2022).
If a man’s sperm are healthy and conditions allow, semen that is mostly whole and in liquid form can keep sperm alive longer. In these scenarios, researchers have found that even after 24 hours, some sperm may still be moving (Valsa, 2016).
How long does sperm live? Does it die when it hits the air?
How long can sperm live in the body?
Sperm production happens in the testicles and is stored in the epididymis, a reproductive organ located inside the scrotum (Dcunha, 2022).
Research and sperm analysis has determined the average lifespan of sperm inside a man’s body is around 60 days, though it can range from 42–76 days. After that, old sperm are flushed out, and new swimmers replace them (Misell, 2006).
How long does sperm live in a woman?
Human reproduction depends on the ability of sperm to live in a woman’s body long enough to fertilize an egg.
During ovulation, eggs are produced in the ovaries and travel down the fallopian tube to await fertilization (a.k.a., the fertile window in the monthly menstrual cycle). You may assume fertilization happens quickly after sex, but it can take hours or days (Cao, 2018).
The female reproductive system is designed to keep sperm alive. For example, body temperature and cervical mucus change around ovulation to protect sperm and facilitate their arduous journey to reach the egg. Exactly how long sperm can survive depends on their health and other factors, but healthy sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to a week (Khan, 2021).
Everything you need to know about sperm
As you can see, sperm require certain conditions in order to survive outside of a man or woman’s body. As long as semen remains wet, there’s a good chance it still contains live sperm.
Survival in or outside a body is also dictated by how healthy sperm are. Male fertility, sperm count, physical health, age, and sperm motility (movement) are just a few of many factors that affect a sperm’s lifespan.
- Anamthathmakula, P. & Winuthayanon, W. (2020). Mechanism of semen liquefaction and its potential for a novel non-hormonal contraception†. Biology of Reproduction, 103(2), 411–426. doi:10.1093/biolre/ioaa075. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/biolreprod/article/103/2/411/5837012?login=true
- Björndahl, L., Kirkman Brown, J., & other Editorial Board Members of the WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination and Processing of Human Semen (2022). The sixth edition of the WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination and Processing of Human Semen: ensuring quality and standardization in basic examination of human ejaculates. Fertility and Sterility, 117(2), 246–251. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2021.12.012. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240030787
- Cao, X., Cui, Y., Zhang, X., et al. (2018). Proteomic profile of human spermatozoa in healthy and asthenozoospermic individuals. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 16(1), 16. doi:10.1186/s12958-018-0334-1. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/s12958-018-0334-1
- Dcunha, R., Hussein, R. S., Ananda, H., et al. (2022). Current Insights and Latest Updates in Sperm Motility and Associated Applications in Assisted Reproduction. Reproductive Sciences, 29(1), 7–25. doi:org/10.1007/s43032-020-00408-y. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s43032-020-00408-y
- Khan, Y. S. & Ackerman, K. M. (2021). Embryology, Week 1. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 11, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32119449/
- Misell, L. M., Holochwost, D., Boban, D., et al. (2006). A stable isotope-mass spectrometric method for measuring human spermatogenesis kinetics in vivo. The Journal of Urology, 175(1), 242–246. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(05)00053-4. Retrieved from https://www.auajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1016/S0022-5347%2805%2900053-4
- Sunder, M. & Leslie, S. W. (2021). Semen Analysis. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK564369/
- Valsa, J., Skandhan, K. P., Sumangala, B., & Jaya, V. (2016). Time bound changes (in 24 h) in human sperm motility and level of calcium and magnesium in seminal plasma. Alexandria Journal of Medicine, 52(3), 235-241. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2090506815000743#b0090
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.