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13 Things You Need To Know About Semen

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    Photographed by Kate Anglestein.

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    There are almost as many things to know about semen as there are individual sperm inside of it.

    Sure, we often talk about semen in the context of the reproductive process, but not everyone having sex is doing so with the goal of pregnancy. There's a whole world of semen beyond fertilization, and if you find yourself in frequent contact with it, you might have some questions. Where does it come from? What does it say about a person's health? Is it actually okay to swallow it?

    To answer these questions, we spoke to Philip Werthman, MD, urologist and director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Vasectomy Reversal in Los Angeles, and Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and assistant professor at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford, NJ. They helped break down all of the important facts about semen (like what exactly it even is), as well as dispel some common myths.

    Ahead, 13 facts you need to know about semen.


    The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we're learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we're helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it's done to how to make sure it's consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once. Check out more, here.



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    Semen is a mixture of a few different things

    "Semen is a mixture of a number of things — one of the things in semen is sperm," says Dr. Caudle.

    The sperm is contained in a white fluid called seminal fluid that's released by the prostate glands and seminal vesicles. Semen is a combination of both this fluid and sperm.

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    People aren’t born with semen.

    While people can be born with male genitalia, the accompanying semen doesn't come in until puberty.

    "That’s when hormones are released and the testicles produce testosterone," Dr. Caudle explains. "And when the boy starts developing testosterone, that’s when we get all these, what we call secondary sex characteristics, voices get lower, they get hair, they get tall, they get masculine, all that kind of stuff. But in addition to that, he starts producing sperm."

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    An ejaculation can contain up to 500 million sperm.

    But Dr. Caudle reminds us that it only takes one for pregnancy to occur.

    How does this happen? After ejaculation, the semen is deposited in the vagina. The sperm swim up the cervix and into the uterus, where they "hang out" until ovulation. If they match with an egg, then pregnancy has occurred.

    And if pregnancy isn't your desired result, make sure you pick the best contraception for you and your partner.

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    Pre-ejaculate contains sperm.

    Not only does pre-ejaculate, or pre-cum, contain sperm, but a person isn't able to tell when they're producing it, unlike ejaculation.

    "That’s why we always, as physicians, say not to rely on the pull-out method to not get pregnant," Dr. Caudle warns. "Because you actually have pre-cum, which is a little bit of sperm leaking out, that can get a woman pregnant."

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    Semen is digested the same way as food.

    People can choose to swallow semen, either during oral sex or otherwise. When that happens, it passes through our bodies in the same way as food.

    "In terms of digestion, it makes me think of how we digest other things that go into our body," says Dr. Caudle. "I think a lot of how safe sperm digestion is probably depends on the people and what conditions they may or may not have."

    Meaning: If you have a sensitive stomach, treat semen as you would any other food and proceed with caution.