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Apr 22, 2022
5 min read

How long does sperm live? Does it die when it hits the air?

 

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Ultimately, how long sperm lives depends on where it goes. Sperm that reach the uterus can live for approximately three to five days. However, once outside of the body, most sperm typically die within about thirty minutes of hitting the air or landing on skin or dry surfaces.  

This article will walk you through the sperm life cycle and how long it lives in various conditions, such as when sperm is frozen.

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Overview of the sperm lifecycle 

First, let’s review how sperm gets its start. 

Sperm cells are produced in the testicles, and it takes around three months for sperm to develop. Every day, the production of millions of new sperm cells starts in the walls of small, coiled tubes in the testicles called the seminiferous tubules. The cells continue to develop until they become mature sperm cells, at which point they look like tadpoles (O’Donnell, 2017). 

Then, the sperm cells, also known as spermatozoa, travel into the epididymis. This is a tube located behind the testes. In the epididymis, the sperm gain the ability to move and the ability to fertilize an egg. Once they mature, the sperm travel into two identical tubes called the vas deferens (O’Donnell, 2017). 

The vas deferens fuse with the seminal vesicles (glands that release seminal fluid) to form the ejaculatory ducts, which deliver sperm to the urethra for ejaculation. When a man gets sexually aroused, millions of sperm mix with seminal fluid to create semen. When ejaculation occurs, these sperm get released. 

Most sperm die within 24 hours if ejaculated into a woman due to natural barriers in the female body, such as abrupt constrictions at the cervix. Only 1% of the sperm make it to the uterus, a journey that can take 30 minutes to six days (Khan, 2021).

How long does sperm live outside the body?

How long sperm lives outside of the body depends on where it goes: 

  • If sperm is exposed to air, it typically dies within half an hour. 
  • If it’s being frozen with liquid nitrogen, it can last years (more on that below).

How long does sperm live when frozen?

Frozen sperm can live for years. 

Sperm that is cryogenically frozen using liquid nitrogen, as it usually is in a sperm bank, can survive for years and be viable once thawed (Huang, 2019). Sperm freezing is a process that people undergo for many reasons, including increasing age and preparing for certain medical experiences like chemotherapy.

How long does sperm live inside the body?

Sperm can live for approximately three to five days inside the female reproductive tract (Khan, 2021). It has the best chance of surviving and reaching the uterus around ovulation (Oliver, 2021). 

During this time, the amount of cervical mucus—a fluid or gel-like substance produced by the cervix—increases, and its texture becomes slippery and wet, making it easier for sperm to get to the uterus (Oliver, 2021).

Can you get pregnant if there is semen near the vagina?

It is unlikely, but not impossible, for someone to get pregnant if there is semen near the vagina. 

For conception to occur, the sperm must reach the egg in a woman’s fallopian tubes during her fertile window (the few days before and up to ovulation). Sperm needs a warm, moist environment to survive. 

So, as long as it hasn’t dried, pre-ejaculate or semen that lands near a woman’s vagina could stay moist and theoretically move into the vaginal opening, up through the cervix, and into the uterus. 

How to improve the health of your sperm

Sperm count and quality naturally decline with age (Pino, 2020). However, there are some things you can do to help keep your sperm in good health (Sunder, 2021).

1. Manage your health

Poor diets and obesity can contribute to lower sperm quality, while a healthy diet is associated with better sperm quality and fewer issues related to sperm motility and concentration. Experts recommend a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, chicken, and low-fat dairy (Ilacqua, 2018; Skoracka, 2020).

2. Keep sperm cool 

Sperm prefers a cooler body temperature (Ilacqua, 2018). Tight clothing has also been shown to affect male fertility (Skoracka, 2020). Opt for boxers over briefs to keep things more breathable down there and avoid spending too much time in hot tubs.

3. Avoid drugs and alcohol 

Smoking cigarettes or cannabis and using alcohol or other drugs can all negatively affect sperm quality and contribute to reduced male fertility (Skoracka, 2020). So, to improve the health of your sperm, consider reducing your alcohol consumption and minimizing drug use.

4. Ask your healthcare provider about your medications 

Some medications can affect fertility, including some hormonal medications, drugs used in cancer treatment, and anti-inflammatory drugs (Ding, 2017). 

Your healthcare provider should discuss these side effects with you ahead of time. But, if you’re already on a particular medication and are worried about its effect on your fertility, don’t just stop taking it. Consult with your healthcare provider about potential risks and what your treatment options are moving forward.

5. Reduce your stress

Stress can lower sperm count (Ilacqua, 2018). Practice stress management techniques like yoga, tai chi, meditation, or deep breathing to support your overall health and the health of your sperm. If you find that relaxation techniques are not enough to reduce your stress levels, consider talking to a mental health professional

The bottom line 

Here’s the bottom line on the sperm life span: When sperm is dry, it dies. While there is a possibility of pregnancy occurring if semen is near the vagina, the best chance of pregnancy is when sperm is inside the female reproductive tract around ovulation.

References

  1. Ding, J., Shang, X., Zhang, Z., et al. (2017). FDA-approved medications that impair human spermatogenesis. Oncotarget, 8(6), 10714–10725. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.12956. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27801671/
  2. Huang, C., Lei, L., Wu, H. L., et al. (2019). Long-term cryostorage of semen in a human sperm bank does not affect clinical outcomes. Fertility and Sterility, 112(4), 663–669.e1. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2019.06.008. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31371041/
  3. Ilacqua, A., Izzo, G., Emerenziani, G. P., et al. (2018). Lifestyle and fertility: the influence of stress and quality of life on male fertility. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 16(1), 115. doi:10.1186/s12958-018-0436-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30474562/
  4. Khan, Y. S. & Ackerman, K. M. (2021). Embryology, Week 1. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 11, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32119449/
  5. O’Donnell, L., Stanton, P., & de Kretser, D. M. (2017). Endocrinology of the Male Reproductive System and Spermatogenesis. Endotext. Retrieved on April 11, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25905260/
  6. Oliver, R. & Basit, H. (2021). Embryology, Fertilization. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31194343/
  7. Pino, V., Sanz, A., Valdés, N., et al. (2020). The effects of aging on semen parameters and sperm DNA fragmentation. JBRA Assisted Reproduction, 24(1), 82–86. doi:10.5935/1518-0557.20190058. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31692316/
  8. Skoracka, K., Eder, P., Łykowska-Szuber, L., et al. (2020). Diet and nutritional factors in male (in)fertility-underestimated factors. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(5), 1400. doi:10.3390/jcm9051400. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32397485/
  9. Sunder, M. & Leslie, S. W. (2021). Semen Analysis. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 11, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33232039/