Everything You Need to Know About Semen

Everything You Need to Know About Semen

Presenting the Giant AskMen Guide to Everything You Need to Know About Semen

It’s incredibly common and a crucial ingredient in the creation of almost every person who’s ever lived. Humanity produces masses of it every single day. Yet there’s a strange and mysterious quality to it, and to be frank, most people don’t know very much about it, even when it’s a normal part of their day-to-day lives.

What is this magical whitish, mostly liquid substance that people with penises produce when they ejaculate? You might blow a load of it, or shoot ropes of it. It goes by different names — cum, spunk, jizz, baby batter, splooge — but the technical term for it is “semen.”

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Those on the receiving end of it can feel all kinds of different ways about it. It can be a source of terror for people who don’t want to get pregnant (“Don’t you dare finish inside me!”), of joy for people who do (“Yes! Give me a baby!”) and of significant erotic power for many people, regardless of whether they have a uterus or not (“Oh, yeah, get it all over me!”).

Those who produce it — whether they’re cis men or boys, trans women or non-binary people — may glory in seeing how often or how much they can produce, or how far they can shoot it; or they may worry about its volume, consistency, smell and taste.

It can also transmit infections, which can vary from mild to a matter of life and death. And it can cause pregnancy — which, in addition to being a potentially life-changing event for both people involved, for good or for ill, is also a serious medical condition that can, in extreme cases, end the life of the person bearing the fetus.

In short, it can be a source of incredible pleasure and also a significant contributor to unhappiness. But what is semen, really? And what are the basic facts you should know about it that you maybe weren’t taught in sex education? AskMen spoke to half a dozen different experts to get the lowdown on your loads. Here’s what they had to say:

What Is Semen?

“Semen is the fluid expelled out of the penis during ejaculation,” says Suzannah Weiss, certified sex educator and resident sexologist for the erotic pleasure platform FrolicMe. “Typically, it contains sperm, as well as other fluids that help to nourish and transport the sperm. These fluids come from glands such as the prostate gland and seminal vesicles, while the sperm itself is made from the testicles.”

“Semen is a creamy, slightly yellowish or grayish, combination of fluids that includes sperm and water,” says Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW, certified sexologist, and founder and director of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health in Royal Oak, Michigan. “The sperm in semen are tadpole-like reproductive cells that contain half of the genetic information to create human offspring.”

While sperm is an important component of semen in terms of its function in causing pregnancy, those tadpole-shaped cells don’t actually account for much of the actual volume of semen, primarily because of how microscopically small each sperm is.

Even with tens or hundreds of millions of sperm cells in a normal ejaculation, sperm accounts for just “2 to 5% of semen,” says Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., the sexuality and relationships expert for SexToyCollective.com. “Semen also includes various amino acids, enzymes, nutrients, and fructose.”

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“Overall, semen is a vital part of male reproductive health and fertility,” says Mak Adikami, cofounder of lustyboy.com. “It contains important nutrients and hormones that support normal functioning, and it can contain potentially harmful compounds in small amounts. Ultimately, it is important to practice safe sex and get regular medical checkups to ensure that your semen is healthy and safe.”

The Age When You Start to Produce Semen

“People with penises begin to produce semen roughly around the age of puberty,” says Rohit Walwaikar, MD, a consultant psychiatrist with Allo Health. “This period varies from person to person, depending on a lot of factors, such as genetics, comorbid conditions, male reproductive hormone levels, and lastly any anatomical defects in the reproductive system.”

In numerical terms, the experts cited in this piece mentioned an age range from 10 to 16 years old, although the middle of that range, from 13 to 14, seems to be more common.

If you were assigned male at birth, puberty is typically the period when you begin to produce testosterone, says Adikami, “which is responsible for the development of the male reproductive organs. This is also when the testicles start to produce sperm.”

“It is important to note that although semen production is linked to puberty,” he adds, “it is not the same as being able to ejaculate. To ejaculate, a person needs to have an orgasm, and this is something that will usually occur after a person reaches a certain level of sexual arousal.”

However, not everything happens at the same time or in the same order for every person. As Weiss points out, “‘dry’ or non-ejaculatory orgasms” can happen before you start producing semen, and Melancon notes that ejaculations with semen can also occur before you start producing sperm.

“It is also important to understand that while semen production usually starts at puberty, it can take a while to reach its full potential,” says Adikami. “The amount of semen produced can vary greatly from person to person, and it can take months or even years for the full potential to be reached.”

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Finally, Kort notes that for people who’ve only just started producing it, their semen “may be only a few drops at first and it is clear instead of a milky color,” and adds that “the glands that produce semen are independent of other body systems such as height and body hair.”

Meaning, if you start “showing signs of puberty in other areas, it does not necessarily mean [you] will start producing semen at the same time.”

While men and other people with penises typically hit their peak in terms of semen volume per ejaculation in their 30s, as they continue to age, they’ll begin to produce less semen, with most of the experts we spoke to citing the 50s as a point where semen production may dip noticeably.

And while they may find themselves less fertile — due to decreased sperm quality, rather than decreased semen volume — at that age, Weiss points out that, if you produce sperm, it’s still technically possible to impregnate someone no matter what age you are.

“Semen has the ability to get someone pregnant unless someone has undergone a vasectomy (which prevents sperm from entering the semen) or has dealt with a health condition or medical treatment that compromises fertility, such as radiotherapy or hormone therapy for prostate cancer,” she explains.

Semen Ingestion Facts

While much of sex involves condoms, and acts like handjobs, mutual masturbation or phone sex don’t involve semen entering into another person’s body, sex acts like blowjobs, and unprotected penetrative sex, whether anal or vaginal, can and do lead to one person’s semen entering into another person’s body.

While this may be the desired result on the part of both parties involved, and isn’t necessarily cause for alarm in and of itself, getting semen in someone else’s orifice(s) can, in many different scenarios, have negative consequences, so it’s important to know the potential risks involved before you proceed.

Semen and Pregnancy

Perhaps most notably, semen plays an important role in conception, aka getting someone pregnant. This happens when someone with a penis ejaculates inside the vagina of someone with a uterus, most commonly with a cis man and cis woman.

In these cases, the sperm cells in your semen — aka the 2 to 5% of it by volume — ”must travel through the cervix and uterus and then must find the egg in order to fertilize it, and create a pregnancy,” Adikami says.

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If a person with a uterus — this could be a cis woman or girl, but it could also be a trans man or a non-binary person who was assigned female at birth — is ovulating “and semen is introduced into the vagina, then it is possible to cause pregnancy,” says Melancon. “Pregnancy is a potential risk five days before and five days after ovulation, termed the ‘fertile window.’

While Melancon, notes that semen “cannot cause pregnancy when a female is outside of her fertile window,” she also points out that “sperm can live inside the vagina for up to five days” — as well as the fact that people with uteruses don’t just magically know when they’re ovulating: “A female partner would have to track her cycle to know her fertile window; otherwise, always assume pregnancy is a risk, and engage in safer sex practices.”

Kort adds that, in rare cases, “semen can cause pregnancy even if the woman does not have intercourse,” says Kort.

Engaging in oral, manual or anal sex, if you’re not careful, can lead to trace amounts of semen entering into the vagina, which could lead to a sperm cell eventually reaching an egg and fertilizing it. That’s why, if you or your partner(s) aren’t interested in conceiving a child, you should use condoms or other birth control methods.

Semen and Sexually Transmitted Infections

Whether your sexual partner has a uterus or is ovulating or not, semen can also carry with it more than just pregnancy-causing spermatozoa — it can also carry with it sexually transmitted infections.

“STIs (sexually transmitted infections) are infections in which a bacteria or virus is present in bodily fluids, including semen,” says Kort. “If this happens, the STI can be passed to a partner.”

“When it comes to STIs, transmission can occur through any type of unprotected sexual contact,” says Adikami. “This means that if a person engages in sexual activity with someone who has an STI, they can contract it through direct contact with the infected person’s bodily fluids, including semen.”

“Semen can carry a variety of STIs, such as HIV, herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis. HIV is transmitted when an infected person’s bodily fluids, including semen, come into contact with the mucous membranes of another person.”

However, not all STIs are transmitted through semen — herpes and HPV, for instance, “are transmitted through skin-to-skin contact,” Weiss notes, meaning there can be transmission even without an ejaculation. As such, wearing a condom remains a best practice for protecting yourself and others from STIs.

Not all STIs are serious matters. Kort adds that gonorrhea and chlamydia are “treatable immediately with antibiotics that are easily available, inexpensive and effective.” But getting them — and passing them on to one or more partners — isn’t fun for anyone, so taking measures to prevent that transmission is a good idea.

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Semen Ingestion Safety

“With a stellar sexual health status upon prior testing, ingesting semen is a safe practice,” says Christine Kingsley, health and wellness director of the Lung Institute. “Swallowing ejaculate is no better or worse than drinking another person’s sweat. It’s a form of excretion that the body creates as a byproduct of all the functions of its systems.”

“If there are no STIs present, then it is generally safe to ingest semen,” Melancon agrees. “There are two extremely rare circumstances where ingesting semen would be dangerous: If you ate a food to which your partner is severely allergic several hours before sex, it is very rare but possible for your semen to contain proteins of that food, and lead to an allergic reaction. Allergies to semen itself are also possible, though rare.”

“If you are allergic to semen, you will notice symptoms such as itching, burning, and pain wherever the semen made contact around half an hour later,” says Weiss. “If this is the case, you should avoid direct contact with semen by using condoms.”

Additionally, semen itself can be an indicator of whether it’s safe to consume, says Kort: “If the semen has a foul smell or is not the normal whitish to grayish color, your partner could have an infection or health problem. Red-colored semen can mean inflammation of the glands that produce it. Yellow or green semen can be caused by an infection, medication or vitamins.”

If you’re not allergic to it, and your partner doesn’t have any communicable diseases, ingesting semen “may even have some benefits,” though, Weiss says: “Research has linked semen exposure with reduced risk of depression and preeclampsia, though these studies looked at semen exposure via intercourse, not oral sex. Semen also contains vitamins such as zinc as well as hormones such as melatonin (which helps you sleep).”

However, “It would take gallons of semen to actually deliver a substantial amount that can positively improve one’s immunity or overall health,” says Kingsley. And, as you’ll see in this next section, gallons of semen can be hard to come by.

Semen Volume

If you’ve ever spent any time in a kitchen, you may be familiar with the teaspoon as a unit of measurement — it’s one of the most commonly used ones in many recipes. It’s also approximately how much semen the average ejaculation contains, at least at the upper range.

That’s right — not a tablespoon (15 ml), a simple teaspoon (5 ml). While porn actors may have you thinking otherwise, the data shows that a mere 2 to 5 ml of liquid is the standard range for semen volume.

That being said, it’s possible to ejaculate more or less than that at any given moment depending on a handful of factors.

“According to the World Health Organization,” Adikami says, “the average amount of semen produced in a single ejaculation is [between] 1.5 and 7.6 ml. However, the actual amount of semen produced in a single ejaculation can vary from as little as 0.2 ml up to 10 ml or more.”

So what are those factors? As discussed earlier, age can be a significant one.

“Generally speaking, younger men tend to produce more semen than older men, as young men typically have higher levels of testosterone and other hormones that stimulate the production of semen,” says Adikami, who also mentions “alcohol and drug use, smoking and certain medications” as possible factors.

However, whether you’re ejaculating less than a milliliter or over 10 times that much, it’s likely not much to be worried about either way.

“The only time that semen volume becomes a concern is when you ejaculate after a while of no sex or masturbation, and the semen produced is watery,” says Kingsley. “Normal, healthy semen should have a consistency similar to a raw egg or a runny jelly. Holding out for a couple of weeks will increase the semen content in the ejaculate and, therefore, make it more volumized and slightly thicker.”

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Increasing Semen Volume

If you are wondering about increasing the volume of your semen, the first thing you should know is that it’s not either important or necessary when it comes to your fertility.

“Men in general associate semen volume with fertility and masculinity,” says Kort, but he notes that there’s not a scientific link to this association.

“There is no known health or fertility benefit from shooting more semen,” he adds. “Unfortunately, pornography depicts a different, untrue picture about semen volume.”

It’s also not likely that producing more semen will make a significant difference to your partner. While some people may get very aroused by seeing a man shoot “big loads,” the absence thereof isn’t a common complaint from people who date men.

Ultimately, we’re all bound by natural constraints here.

“Normal semen volume is about 2 ml to 5 ml per ejaculate,” says Kort. “It doesn’t and can’t vary much from this. Many products on the market will claim to increase semen volume, but be very cautious. These don’t work.”

Weiss agrees that there “isn’t much evidence behind” these supplements, noting that “the best way to increase your semen volume is to go a period of time without ejaculating, so that there is more available.”

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However, even if you can’t increase your semen production radically above the standard range of about a teaspoon, abstaining from ejaculating for a period of time isn’t the only thing you can do to positively impact your semen volume.

“First, you should make sure you’re getting enough nutrients,” says Adikami. “Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, and proteins can help increase semen volume. A healthy libido is also important, so make sure you’re getting enough sleep and avoiding excessive stress.”

“You should also try to exercise regularly,” he adds. “Exercise increases blood flow to the penis, which can help increase semen volume. Additionally, exercise can help reduce stress levels and increase testosterone levels, both of which can have a positive effect on semen volume.”

There’s also the question of your relationship to addictive substances like nicotine and alcohol. Smoking and drinking, Adikami notes, can negatively impact your fertility, and your semen volume, too.

On the dietary side of things, Melancon notes that “ashwagandha and zinc may help,” and Walwaikar mentions “amino acids, most notably d-aspartate” as potentially working in your favor.

Finally, Kort points out that, as noted earlier, volume increases and decreases over time: “Peak volume is produced between the ages of 30 to 35, and lowest volume is experienced when men reach 50 to 55 and older.”

Semen Taste and Smell

So what does semen taste and smell like? It can be a tricky question to answer.

“Like all other bodily fluids, the ejaculate’s taste and smell vary depending on one’s physical state,” says Kingsley. “Because what’s excreted out of the body, be it ejaculate, sweat, or odor, reflects the chemical reactions that take place within our system, their taste, smell, and consistency majorly depend on certain foods, medications, drinks that are consumed, or even the overall state of one’s health.”

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Let’s start with its taste. While Weiss describes it as having “a bleach-like, chlorine-like, or salty taste,” and Adikami calls it “salty, slightly sweet,” Kingsley points out that “different people can register different tastes in different ways, so some may experience semen to be tasteless while others may experience it to be bitter.”

“In general,” says Kort, “it can taste slightly salty, sometimes slightly bitter, sometimes a little sweet and sometimes a little coppery.” Melancon, for her part, notes its “distinct flavor that is difficult to describe.”

Got that? Ultimately, the truth is that it varies from person to person, both in terms of the person producing the semen and the person tasting it, and that how each person’s semen tastes may change over time based on a variety of factors.

(In fact, Kort notes, “the thickness of semen will change how it tastes. If it is thick and creamy, its taste may be more intense, and if it is thin and runny, it will be easier to swallow and less intense in taste.”)

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So what about the smell? While Melancon says it shouldn’t smell especially strong, it will still emit a slight odor, and Kingsley and Adikami both mention its potentially smelling somewhat like chlorine.

However, Melancon notes, if it carries a “particularly foul taste or smell,” it could be a sign of infection.

Changing Semen Taste

If you enjoy receiving oral sex, it’s not a bad idea to think about the taste of your own semen, particularly if you’re hoping that your partner(s) will swallow your ejaculate.

While taste and smell, like volume, tend to only exist within a certain range — you’re never going to be able to make your cum taste like vanilla ice cream, sadly — it is possible to shift them within that range.

While working on making your cum taste better is certainly a noble goal, Melancon points out that there isn’t any hard scientific research on semen taste — but there is a generally accepted group of things that will influence its taste. As with volume, it has a lot to do with what you eat and drink.

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“Eating foods like pineapples, celery, and melon can make the taste of semen sweeter, while red meat and dairy products can make it more savory,” Adikami notes. “On the other hand, certain medications, such as antibiotics and antidepressants, as well as recreational drugs, can also affect the taste.”

“Fruit in general may cause semen to taste sweeter, while beverages like coffee and alcohol can give it a more bitter taste when consumed in large quantities,” Weiss adds.

Kingsley highlights “citrusy and sweet foods like pineapple and oranges,” while Kort mentions lemon, cranberries, wheatgrass and peppermint — and both mention cinnamon.

Diet, of course, Adikami notes, isn’t the only way to improve matters — you can also drink “plenty of water,” which he says “helps to flush out toxins from the body.”

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On the flip side, the experts cite things like smoking doing drugs, drinking alcohol and caffeine, eating candy and salty, fatty fast food, garlic and onions, meat and dairy, and high-sulfur cruciferous foods like cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage as things that can negatively impact your semen’s taste.

Either way, Kort notes, “changes in eating habits will not change the taste of your semen right away. It might take a few weeks.”

So if you’ve got a hot first date coming up, it may already be too late to make much of a difference — but it’s not too late to have a positive impact for a second or third date a little while later.

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