Men's Health

How Long Can Sperm Live?

How Long Does Sperm Live Outside the Body?

Introduction

An average man ejaculates 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of semen. This small amount of semen contains millions of sperm cells. It only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, but each sperm has a limited life span, which begins once it leaves a man's body.

For a couple trying to have a baby, it is important to know how long the sperm can survive. Sperm can live up to five days inside a woman’s body. Having sexual intercourse around the time of a woman's ovulation will increase the chances of pregnancy. However, when sperm is outside of the body, it cannot survive for long.

 A number of factors usually determine the survival of the sperm. They include:

  • Quality of semen
  • Where the ejaculation happened
  • The number of sperm cells
  • Moisture
  • Temperature of the surface where the sperm is

Life Span of Sperm Inside the Male Reproductive System

Sperm cells are produced during the process of spermatogenesis. Spermatids are formed from spermatogenic cells through division. These immature cells then for maturation pass into the epididymis. It takes approximately 2-3 weeks for the sperm to mature in the epididymis. The sperm cells are stored in the epididymis until they are ejaculated. In the male body, the sperm lasts for about 74 days. They usually die and reabsorbed in the body when they are not released within the given period. 

How long can sperm live inside a woman's body?

A man may ejaculate millions of sperm cells inside a woman's body, but only a few will survive to fertilize the egg. The survival of sperm cells inside a woman’s body depends on how fast and how far they can swim. For several days, the sperm cells can live if they are able to make it to the cervix. However, they will only live for a few hours if they are not able to make it past the vaginal canal. The reason is that it would be toxic for them to stay in the vagina's acidic environment.

A woman's body has a built-in mechanism to make conceiving easier during ovulation. During this time, a woman's body produces cervical mucus to create a protective environment for the sperm. This mucus enables the sperm to make its way to the cervix. If the conditions are right and healthy sperm cells are able to pass the cervix and reach the fallopian tube, then they can survive for 5-7 days. However, on an average, even after reaching the fallopian tube, most sperm cells survive only for 3-4 days. It only takes one sperm cell to enter and fertilize an egg. Even though sperm cells can survive inside a woman’s body for several days, the egg is only viable for one day after its release.

It has been reported by the Journal of Clinical Investigation that along the way, inside a woman’s body, sperm cells encounter many obstacles such as:

  • Getting into the fallopian tube through the cervix
  • Reaching the right fallopian tube where the egg is present
  • Penetrating ability to enter and fertilize the egg

The chances of getting pregnant can be increased by taking care of men's health. During a woman’s period, sperm can live in the vagina. Through the entire menstrual cycle, the sperm can remain active for up to 5 days. On WebMD, Dr. Rod Moser explains that pregnancy is not prevented by vaginal blood. Towards the end of the period, if women had sexual intercourse, then they may get pregnant since sperm cells can live inside the body for five days. For instance, sometimes, vaginal spotting in between periods may be experienced due to ovulation. You are most likely to become pregnant if you had sexual intercourse around the time of ovulation since sperm cells can survive inside the cervix or upper genital tract for 3-5 days. This is from where the 6-day fertile window comes. It can either lead to ovulation or conception on the day of ovulation.

The length of time sperm cells survive inside a woman’s body will be determined by their health and strength. The internal metabolic capacity will also determine how long the sperm will live inside the female reproductive tract.

How long can sperm survive outside the body?

To survive outside the body, sperm cells need a warm and moist environment or else they will quickly perish. They will survive outside the body for a maximum time of one hour. Their life span also depends on a variety of environmental factors including how long they are exposed to the air. Other factors include moisture, temperature, the condition of a woman's reproductive tract, and lifestyle.

Outside the body, the life span of sperm cells can be increased for many years with the help of modern fertility methods. Sperm can be frozen to extend their life span.

Sperm cells need moisture and warmth for survival. However, when they are stored at a lower temperature, they can be preserved for weeks. When they are frozen, they can be preserved for years.

Life of Sperm in Different Environments

After leaving the male body, the sperm's life span becomes limited.

  • Inside the Genital Tract or Cervix of Women - According to the American Pregnancy Association, after ejaculation, sperm can live for up to five days inside a woman’s cervix or upper genital tract.
  • In the Vagina - Sperm can manage to survive for approximately five days in the cervix. However, sperm can only survive for a few hours in the vagina since it has a highly acidic environment. 
  • Outside the Body - How long sperm can survive outside the body depends on other conditions. Generally, sperm cells can survive outside the body for up to 20 minutes.
  • On a Dry Surface - Sperm cells die as soon as semen dries up.
  • In the Water - Their survival in the water depends on many conditions. They immediately die if the water is too hot. They also instantly die when there are soap and other chemicals in the water. However, they can live a little longer if the water is clear and close to the body's temperature. Their life span could be within minutes, hours, or days.

Factors That Affect the Longevity of Sperm

1. Temperature

According to The Testicular Cancer Resource Center, a temperature of a few degrees lesser than the body's internal temperature is needed to achieve an optimal development of sperm cells. To provide a suitable environment for the sperm cells to develop, it is probably the reason why testicles are located outside of the body. 

As stated by WebMD, the life span of sperm cells can be preserved by avoiding the testicular area from getting overheated. To avoid overheating, using hot tubs and saunas should be avoided. Wearing tight underwear should also be avoided since it can trap heat. Even fever can affect the longevity of sperm. According to a study published in an edition of Human Reproduction on October 18, 2003, the production of sperm in men is negatively affected by high fever. Having a consistently high temperature can affect the sperm's morphology, which can decrease the longevity of the sperm and its production. Such effects can last for many weeks after the fever has subsided. 

2. Moisture

Sperm cells cannot survive long without moisture. About 2-5 percent of semen is composed of sperm cells. According to News Medical, semen provides a suitable moist environment for the sperm cells. When semen dries up, sperm cells will not survive outside the body. Moreover, according to WebMD, semen can live a little longer in water such as in a pool or in a bath tub than on a dry surface. However, the chances of the sperm cells entering inside a woman’s body through these water are very unlikely.

3. Lifestyle

Sperm longevity may also depend on men's lifestyle choices. An article published in the December 2012 issue of Human Fertility stated that sperm genetics can be negatively affected by several factors such as cigarette smoking, sexually transmitted diseases, and air pollution. All of these factors can decrease the life span of sperm cells. Alcohol use, illicit use of drugs, being overweight, and use of anabolic steroids can also have detrimental effects on the sperm. These factors can inhibit sperm production and can also shorten the life span of the sperm.

4. Women’s Reproductive Tract

The pH of women's reproductive tract can also affect the longevity of sperm. At certain times, the pH of women's reproductive tract provides a toxic environment for sperm cells. When women ovulate, their vaginal pH increases. Thus, the environment becomes alkaline, which becomes less toxic for the sperm.

As stated by the American Pregnancy Association, ovulation is triggered by a spike in the luteinizing hormone. An increase of this hormone causes the pH in the cervical mucosa to increase. Thus, the chances of women to get pregnant also increases.

5. Stay Healthy

Enjoy an active, well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. This will improve physical health and life span of the sperm. A connection was found between poor semen quality and a sedentary lifestyle. Another study showed that the life span of sperm can be improved by doing moderate-intensity continuous training. This is one of the best exercise regimens. It has been found that the health of the sperm can be negatively affected by intensive cycling. A positive impact on the activity of sperm can be caused by a diet that consists of fish, legumes, chicken, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits. Consuming a healthy diet often results in healthier sperm.

Timing

To achieve or prevent pregnancy, the timing of sexual intercourse is very important. Around the time of ovulation, intercourse must happen to achieve pregnancy. Around 1-2 days after ovulation, the temperature of a woman’s body may slightly rise. During that period, the window of opportunity closes until the next cycle. Couples can plan accordingly, bearing in mind that inside a woman’s body, the sperm can survive up to seven days.

Improve the life span of sperm cells by doing the following:

  • Quit smoking
  • Do not use illicit drugs
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Avoid contact with pesticides, heavy metals, or any other toxins
  • Keep your weight under control
  • Maintain a well-balanced and healthy diet
  • Avoid extreme heat exposure and keep your scrotum cool

Key Takeaways

  • Sperm can manage to survive for approximately five days in the cervix. However, sperm can only survive for a few hours in the vagina since it has a highly acidic environment. 
  • If the conditions are right and healthy sperm cells are able to pass the cervix and reach the fallopian tube, then they can survive for 5-7 days.
  • Generally, sperm cells can survive outside the body for up to 20 minutes.