The latter has long been a subject of fascination, and pop culture prompts us to think about it all the time. There’s a “cum guzzling” reference in Cards Against Humanity, and there was that American Pie storyline in which Steve Stifler drank a red solo cup of beer and semen. There are significantly fewer references to the ejaculate of folks with vulvae — also known as squirting — although it’s a pretty common porn staple, with plenty of people swallowing the fluid in the X-rated videos.
If this sounds a little sexist to you, you’re not wrong. Although we’ve known about squirting for more than 2,000 years, according to an article in the The International Encyclopedia of Human Sexuality, there’s still a lot we don’t know about it — like, almost everything. Researchers disagree on what it’s made of and how it works. And some question if it even exists at all.
While there is discourse dating back to Aristotle about the theoretical nutritional benefits of semen (“Sperms are the excretion of our food, or, to put it more clearly, as the most perfect component of our food,” he wrote), in these modern times, we certainly would never recommend just eating semen or ejaculate for nourishment — sure, it’s technically protein, but chickpeas are tastier.
Plenty of people do swallow semen and ejaculate, and if you’re one of those people, or you’re considering it, you might still have some questions. For example: Can I get an STI from it? Can I get pregnant? Is it healthy? These are valid Qs, so I asked for answers from Erica Smith, M.Ed., a sexuality educator in Philadelphia, PA. Of course, there’s no pressure to swallow, and doing so (or not) is a choice. Here’s everything you need to know about consuming cum.
What, exactly, is ejaculate?
The liquid produced from squirting vaginally is harder to pin down. Researchers don’t agree on what, exactly, it consists of — which shows how fraught research on sex and specifically the vagina has been historically. We do know that it’s not the same as the cervical fluid that lubricates the vagina when someone is turned on.
When you squirt, "a varying amount of watery fluid comes out of the urethra — either forcefully or not — during sexual arousal and stimulation, often very near to the timing of orgasm,” Dale Mueller, a sexual health educator at Minneapolis’ previously told Refinery29. Some researchers agree that said “fluid” is made of water, glucose, fructose, prostatic fluid, protein, ejaculate — and trace amounts of urine. However, experts have come up short on how much urine, exactly, is in it, and whether what is squirted originates from the urethral sponge, the bladder, or the Skene's glands.
“I will say this,” Smith says. “We get caught up in what comprises ejaculate from people with vulvas. Everyone wants to know, ‘Is it pee?’ But I think worrying about this is besides the point. It might be an interesting scientific question, but does it matter if it's enjoyable? Not to me.”
Can swallowing put me at risk for an STI?
This is probably the most important of all the following swallowing questions. “Contracting an STI from oral sex is less likely than contracting one from vaginal or anal sex,” Smith says. “However, swallowing semen does increase a person's risk for bacterial STIs that can infect the throat — such as Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.” You may also get an infection that’s transferred from skin-to-skin, such as herpes. This is where dental dams and condoms come in handy, as they let you experience the joys of oral sex while decreasing your risk of STIs.
Can I get pregnant from swallowing semen?
Nope — if you have eggs, there’s no way for the ejaculate to travel to them through the GI tract.
Can I get the coronavirus from swallowing semen or vaginal fluids?
There's no evidence to show that this kind of transmission is possible, Mayo Clinic notes, despite the fact that one study found genetic material from the virus was present in the semen of some coronavirus patients. More research needs to be done, because it "must be confirmed that there is infectious virus — not just a virus product in the semen,” Stanley Perlman, MD, PhD, a professor of microbiology, immunology, and pediatrics at the University of Iowa, told The New York Times.
But, since the coronavirus is mainly transferred through respiratory droplets, it's plausible that if you're in close sexual contact with someone who has the virus, they might transfer it to you by way of proximity and the natural huffing and puffing that tends to accompany sex. At the time the semen study was published, Justin R. Garcia, acting executive director and research director at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, told me: "I think this is a reminder that people need to think cautiously about the behaviour they’re engaging in right now, whether that’s kissing or intercourse."
Does swallowing have any nutritional benefits?
“The nutritional benefits are incredibly slim,” Smith says. “Though sperm contains protein, you'd have to swallow an incredible amount — I'm talking gallons — to actually receive substantial protein. The average ejaculation produces only a teaspoon.”
Can swallowing improve your mood?
Consentual sex itself has been shown in some studies to help with stress. As for actual swallowing, the research is a little thinner. But Smith points to one study which showed that those exposed to semen through sex experienced better mood and fewer symptoms of depression. “But this might not be a cause and effect correlation,” she says.
Thanks to such research, back in 2012, the idea that “semen is good for you” was plastered across headlines. But at the time, the National Health Service called the study referenced “full of holes” and not “news.”
So, rather than focusing on swallowing to improve your state of mind, think big picture. Have sex with someone you want to have sex with. Masturbate for pleasure. And if you’re feeling depressed, consult professionals and trusted family or friends to get the help you need.
Are some people allergic to swallowing?
So, it’s rare. But yes. Folks who are allergic are actually reacting to a protein in the semen, says Smith. This is officially dubbed human seminal plasma hypersensitivity, or HSP. Symptoms include itching, pain, swelling, hives, and difficulty breathing, and often occur 20 or 39 minutes after contact.
A person with such an allergy previously told Refinery29: “[If I get semen in my mouth], it makes my mouth feel super swollen and itchy. My throat feels itchy and then my stomach ends up feeling very unsettled. In my vagina, it was worse,” they said. "I realized I was allergic, because I went to the ER for something and they insisted I had an STI because my vagina was so swollen."
Can certain foods change the consistency and taste of semen and ejaculate?
Back when I was in college, I heard a rumour that some of the guys on campus were actively eating tons of pineapple because they wanted to improve the taste of their splodge. How… thoughtful? Smith says there’s anecdotal evidence that what you eat changes the taste and smell of your ejaculate, but there are no real clinical studies.
Yet, some experts swear what you consume will change how your ~liquids~ taste. "Any kind of intake, whether it's food, medication, or drink, can affect the flavor of your semen or vaginal fluid," Carol Queen, a sociologist and sexologist whose practice focuses on sex-positivity, told Vice. "Anything we smell or taste on the body is part of an excretory process... If you can tell a difference in someone's body odour, then the likelihood is that you can tell about their sexual secretions, as well."
Dr. Queen says that fruits such as papaya, citrus, and, yes, pineapple, can take bitter tasting jizz and make it more of a sweet juice. Healthline reports that eating spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg can improve taste. But, ingesting garlic, onions, broccoli, asparagus, and alcohol can make things not as delish.
Smith says that if your bodily syrups don’t taste great, it doesn’t necessarily mean something is awry. “It’s going to taste different to different people,” she adds.
So, should I swallow?
There are a few things to take into consideration before you make this decision, Smith says.
1. “Does this sexual encounter increase your STI risk? “Meaning, have you and your partner been tested, and do you have other partners?” she says. If there’s any doubt, don’t swallow.
2. Are you comfortable with swallowing? “Some people absolutely love to swallow, and some folks find it distasteful, and may even gag,” she says. “You have to consider not only your sexual health, but also your own boundaries and comfort level with the activity.” And if someone is pressuring you into swallowing, that’s not cool. Smith adds: “It’s a decision that the giver of oral sex should be making of their own volition.”