Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Brace yourself, because we’re about to get all high school health class over here. Call it what you like, but everyone’s wondered at one point or another what’s going on with semen — and maybe even what happens when we consume it. Is semen high in calories? Does a teaspoon of the gooey stuff provide our muscles with extra protein? Is it a nutritional sinkhole or a secret superfood? For better or worse, we’re getting to the sticky, icky bottom of this eternal mystery.
Love Potion No. 9 — How Semen Gets Made
Male ejaculation isn’t just about those lil’ swimmers. (But, remember kids: No glove, no love.) Semen is a viscous liquid composed of sperm (aka male reproductive cells) and various other secretions from the male reproductive system that are released during ejaculation. The potent brew is designed to pave the way out of the penis and help sperm reach their target and fertilize eggs. Mother Nature thinks of everything, right?
Sperm cells are produced within the testicles in densely coiled tubes called seminiferous tubules (say that 10 times fast!). After this step (called "spermatogenesis"), sperm hang out in the epididymis (a series of ducts behind the testes), where they mature for about one day. When sexytime comes around, sperm conga-line through the vas deferens, the ejaculatory ducts, and finally out through the urethra.
Along the journey from testes to “the tip," other glands and ducts contribute the extra fluids that make up semen. The prostate produces a slightly alkaline liquid called prostatic fluid, which makes up most of the volume of semen. The seminal vesicles and Bulbourethral glands also produce fluids that go along for the ride. Each of these add-ins has an important function in baby-making: Prostatic fluid neutralizes the slightly acidic vaginal environment; seminal fluid contains fructose (aka sugar), fatty acids, and proteins to nourish the sperm; and Bulbourethral fluid cleans out any urine in the urethra and lubricates the dude’s ahem, hardware, too. Now that we know how semen is made, let’s take a closer look at the, er, nutritional side of things.
Illustrated by Ly Ngo.
Special Sauce — The Answer/Debate
Nobody needs to know the hows or whys, but since we’re all adults here, we can acknowledge that sometimes semen ends up in unexpected places. A normal male ejaculation (about one teaspoon’s worth) contains between five and 25 calories and a minimal amount of protein. Semen is only 1% sperm; the rest is composed of over 200 separate proteins, as well as vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, calcium, chlorine, citric acid, fructose, lactic acid, magnesium, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin B12, and zinc.
Levels of these compounds (including sperm count and mobility) vary depending on age, weight, and lifestyle habits like diet and exercise. That said, we’re talking about one teaspoon of total fluid here — semen is hardly going to make it onto the food pyramid anytime soon. For anyone worried about getting enough protein, we heartily recommend sticking to more conventional sources.
Even thought it will likely never become a new diet craze, semen can have some positive effects on the body. A study showed that sexually active women who came in contact with semen in the reproductive tract were less depressed than their counterparts who used condoms . Contact with semen has also been proven to reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a serious pregnancy complication. That said, forgoing a condom can have some serious repercussions (pregnancy and STIs — no matter your gender — come to mind), so take these studies with a grain of salt.
The Takeaway Sorry, ladies and gents, but we’re putting this ninth grade rumor to rest once and for all. Despite the complex compounds that make up each drop of ejaculate, semen doesn’t have significant concentrations of protein or calories.