What is male ejaculation? How does it occur?

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM - Contributor Avatar

Written by Chimene Richa, MD 

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM - Contributor Avatar

Written by Chimene Richa, MD 

last updated: Oct 01, 2021

5 min read

Let’s get in our time machines and revisit a scene from the wildly popular 1998 film, There’s Something About Mary. If you haven’t seen it, in an unfortunate turn of events, Cameron Diaz’s character winds up accidentally using semen (the product of male ejaculation) as hair gel. Hilarity ensues. 

But what is male ejaculation? Read on to learn more. 

Premature ejaculation

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What is male ejaculation?

Some common names for ejaculation are cumming, jizzing, shooting your load, and many more you can find in the deep recesses of the internet. Ejaculation is closely tied to the male orgasm, and usually, the two occur together. However, men can ejaculate without having an orgasm and vice versa (Alwaal, 2015). During ejaculation, the penis releases semen (also known as ejaculate, cum, jizz, etc.), a sticky white liquid that contains sperm

How does male ejaculation occur?

Ejaculation is a complex process with two phases: emission and expulsion. It involves several different parts of the male reproductive system, including (Alwaal, 2015):

  • Vas deferens: These are tubes that store and move sperm from the testes to the penis.

  • Seminal vesicles: These are glands that make fluids that go into the semen.

  • Prostate: This is the gland that secretes fluids that feed and protect sperm.

  • Urethra: This is the tube inside the penis by which urine and semen exit the body.

  • Bladder: This is the organ where your urine is stored until urination.

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Emission is the brief phase that makes up the first part of ejaculation. This phase is triggered by the autonomic nervous system (think "fight-or-flight" response) via nerves going from the male reproductive system to the spinal cord (Alwaal, 2015). 

First, the bladder neck closes so that semen cannot travel backward into the bladder. Then the prostate and the seminal vesicles add their seminal fluids to the urethra. There they are joined by sperm that traveled from the testes through the vas deferens to create semen. Ejaculation is inevitable at this point (Alwaal, 2015). 

The next phase of ejaculation is expulsion; this is the phase where semen leaves the body. Muscles in the pelvis and penis contract several times and expel the semen through the urethra and out the penis. After ejaculation, the erection decreases, and you have a temporary period where you can't have another erection, known as the refractory period (Alwaal, 2015).

What is precum?

Precum, also known as pre-ejaculate, is a fluid released when a man is sexually aroused but before he ejaculates. You may or may not notice a small amount of fluid at the tip of the penis. This fluid is typically clear and is different from semen. It is produced by special glands in the penis called Cowper's glands (Kovavisarach, 2016). 

Precum acts to lubricate the penis and to help semen exit the body. The fluid also helps counteract the acidity of any residual urine in the urethra, thereby protecting the sperm in the semen. While precum by itself does not contain sperm, if you have ejaculated recently, there may still be residual sperm in the urethra. Or it can get mixed with a little bit of fluid from the prostate gland that contains low levels of sperm (Kovavisarach, 2016).

It is, therefore, possible for a woman to become pregnant from precum if you don't use birth control. 

What is a nocturnal emission?

Nocturnal emissions (or "wet dreams") are when you orgasm and ejaculate in your sleep. This is most common during puberty; they usually decrease as you age, though they can happen at any age. These "wet dreams" cannot be controlled and are a normal aspect of sexual health.

Frequency of ejaculation 

How often you ejaculate is a very personal statistic that is affected by many life factors. However, the frequency of ejaculation does go down with age. One study noted that 57% of men aged 20–29 reported an average frequency of 13 ejaculations per month. But that number dropped to 32% in those 40–49 (Rider, 2016).

Benefits of ejaculation

Male ejaculations are a natural part of a healthy sex life. It also is an indicator of overall health. Ejaculation involves many body systems simultaneously, and all need to be working well for ejaculation to occur normally. But research shows that ejaculating is beneficial for more than just the obvious reasons (such as pleasure and reproduction).

A large study that looked at over 31,000 men for 18 years found that ejaculating can decrease your risk of prostate cancer. Researchers found that men who ejaculated more often had a lower risk of prostate cancer than those who ejaculated less often (Rider, 2016).

Potential problems with ejaculation

Satisfying sex depends on a complex interplay of many factors; sometimes, something goes wrong, and the result is not what we expected or wanted.

Premature ejaculation (PE)

Premature ejaculation is ejaculating more quickly during sex than you or your partner intended. This condition affects about a third of men and is the most common male sexual dysfunction. PE is thought to be caused by a combination of psychological and biological factors, and it’s usually treated with a combination of behavioral and medical therapies (Crowdis, 2021).

Delayed ejaculation

Delayed ejaculation that takes longer than you (or your partner) would like is among the least understood and least common male sexual dysfunction, affecting 1–5% of men. Some men may need more than 20–25 minutes of stimulation to reach orgasm and ejaculate. Difficulty achieving ejaculation can sometimes result from depression, anxiety, alcohol use, medication use, or diabetes; addressing these issues may improve ejaculation (Abdel-Hamid, 2018). 

Retrograde ejaculation

Sometimes referred to as a "dry orgasm," retrograde ejaculation happens when the semen travels backward into the bladder rather than out of the penis. Those with this condition are still able to orgasm but without the accompanying ejaculation. In retrograde ejaculation, you might notice that your urine looks cloudy because of the semen mixed in, especially if you urinate right after sex. Common causes include prostate surgery, specifically transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), bladder surgery, and diabetes (Althof, 2016). 

Anejaculation (no ejaculation) 

The inability to ejaculate is rare but can be caused by multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and spinal cord injury due to surgery, trauma, etc. (Althof, 2016).

Painful ejaculation

Pain with ejaculation is not typical. It can be a sign of prostate disease like inflammation (prostatitis), enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia), or prostate cancer (Althof, 2016).

Bloody ejaculation

Blood in the semen (also called hematospermia) can certainly be alarming but is usually nothing to worry about. Especially in those younger than 40, it does not usually signify a serious problem and often resolves on its own. However, if you are over 40 and have multiple episodes of reddish or brownish semen, there may be a problem, including inflammation, infection, prostate cancer, trauma, etc. (Mathers, 2017)

Talk with your healthcare provider if you have blood in your semen, especially if you are over 40 or if you have any associated symptoms like pain with ejaculation or urination, pain in your groin or lower back, discharge from your penis, or if you are just concerned and would like to be evaluated. 

Ejaculation is the peak of sexual intercourse and is vital to fertility. It is an important part of sexual health, and when it is dysfunctional, discussions with your healthcare provider can go a long way to helping you regain satisfaction with your sex life.


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.

  • Abdel-Hamid, I. A., & Ali, O. I. (2018). Delayed ejaculation: pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment. The World Journal of Men's Health , 36(1), 22–40. doi: 10.5534/wjmh.17051. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29299903

  • Althof, S. E., & Mcmahon, C. G. (2016). Contemporary management of disorders of male orgasm and ejaculation. Urology , 93 , 9–21. doi: 10.1016/j.urology.2016.02.018. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26921646/

  • Alwaal, A., Breyer, B. N., & Lue, T. F. (2015). Normal male sexual function: emphasis on orgasm and ejaculation. Fertility and Sterility , 104 (5), 1051–1060. doi: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.08.033. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26385403/

  • Crowdis, M. & Nazir, S. (2021). Premature ejaculation. [Updated Jul 1, 2021]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved on Oct. 1, 2021 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK546701/

  • Kovavisarach, E., Lorthanawanich, S., & Muangsamran, P. (2016). Presence of sperm in pre-ejaculatory fluid of healthy males. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand , 99 Suppl 2, S38–S41. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27266214/

  • Mathers, M. J., Degener, S., Sperling, H., & Roth, S. (2017). Hematospermia—a symptom with many possible causes. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online , 114 (11), 186–191. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0186. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28382905/

  • Rider, J. R., Wilson, K. M., Sinnott, J. A., Kelly, R. S., Mucci, L. A., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2016). Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. European Urology , 70(6), 974–982. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27033442/

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Current version

October 01, 2021

Written by

Chimene Richa, MD

Fact checked by

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

About the medical reviewer

Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and a former Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.