Can men’s sperm go bad?

Sperm quality and viability is a common concern for many men, especially as they get older. Men may wonder if their sperm can expire or go bad, and how this affects their fertility and ability to conceive.

Can Sperm Expire or Go Bad?

Yes, sperm can lose quality and expire over time both inside and outside the body. Sperm health is affected by a variety of factors:

  • Age – Sperm quality declines as men get older, with lower sperm counts, decreased motility, and increased DNA fragmentation.
  • Length of time since ejaculation – Sperm that remains in the male reproductive system too long can lose quality.
  • Improper storage conditions – Sperm stored outside the body, such as in a sperm bank, can expire if not frozen properly.
  • Health conditions – Medical issues like infertility, infections, varicocele, etc. can reduce sperm quality.
  • Lifestyle factors – Diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol, drugs, and other lifestyle factors impact sperm health.

So while sperm doesn’t have a definite shelf life or expiration date, its quality and performance does decline outside the body and as men age. Let’s look closer at how long sperm can survive inside and outside the body and what affects its viability.

How Long Does Sperm Survive Inside the Body?

Sperm can survive for a limited time inside the male body before being ejaculated or reabsorbed. Here is an overview of sperm lifespan inside the male reproductive system:

  • Testes – New sperm are continuously created in the testes, taking 64-72 days to reach full maturation.
  • Epididymis – Mature sperm are stored here for up to 6 weeks.
  • Vas deferens – Sperm survive around 3 months in this tube connecting the epididymis to the ejaculatory duct.
  • Ejaculatory ducts and urethra – Sperm can survive here for several weeks to months.

If sperm is not ejaculated, it will eventually be reabsorbed by the body. Older sperm in the reproductive system tends to be less viable than fresh sperm.

Does frequent ejaculation deplete sperm?

No, regular ejaculation will not deplete or use up sperm supplies. The testes continuously produce millions of new sperm daily. Frequent ejaculation may temporarily lower sperm counts, but they quickly recover. However, lacking ejaculation for extended periods allows dead sperm to accumulate.

How Long Does Ejaculated Sperm Survive Outside the Body?

Once released from the body in semen, sperm have a limited lifespan:

  • In the vagina – Up to 5 days, decreasing over time
  • In fertile cervical mucus – Up to 5 days
  • In the fallopian tubes – 12-48 hours
  • On dry surfaces – Minutes to hours
  • In water – Up to 2 hours

Sperm survival depends on the environment. A receptive fertile environment like the cervix supports sperm viability better than an inhospitable environment like in water.

What affects ejaculated sperm lifespan?

Several factors impact how long sperm can survive when ejaculated:

  • Semen quality – Semen protects sperm, so healthier semen means longer viability.
  • Sperm health – Higher quality sperm survive longer than flawed sperm outside the body.
  • Location – Sperm survive longer in fertile cervical mucus than the vagina or in open air.
  • Temperature – Warmer temperatures accelerate sperm death while cool environments prolong survival.
  • pH levels – Acidic pH can reduce lifespan while a neutral pH around 7-8 supports sperm.
  • Exposure – Direct exposure to elements like air or water shortens survival versus protected inside the body.

Optimizing these factors can help extend ejaculated sperm lifespan.

How Is Sperm Stored and Preserved Outside the Body?

Special storage techniques allow sperm to remain viable outside the body for extended periods. This is done most commonly for sperm donation at sperm banks and fertility clinics. Here are some ways sperm is preserved:

  • Cryopreservation – Frozen at -196°C in liquid nitrogen for indefinite storage. This stops sperm activity while preserving it.
  • Refrigeration – Stored at slightly above freezing up to 5 days.
  • Room temperature – Kept in climate-controlled room for up to a few days.
  • Sperm concentration – Centrifuging to concentrate sperm allows better preservation.
  • Semen extender – Special solutions sustain sperm for days to weeks outside the body.

Strict protocols must be followed to freeze, thaw, and handle preserved sperm to maintain viability. With proper long-term cryopreservation, sperm can remain dormant for decades.

How Does Age Affect Sperm Quality and Viability?

As men age, the quantity and quality of their sperm declines. While not a definitive cutoff, research shows sperm viability decreases after age 35-40. Here are some age-related sperm changes:

  • Volume – Semen volume peaks around age 30 then declines.
  • Count – Sperm counts decrease up to 50% between 20 and 80 years old.
  • Motility – Fraction of active swimming sperm decreases with age.
  • Morphology – Increased abnormal sperm shapes in older men.
  • DNA – Higher sperm DNA damage linked to older paternal age.

Older paternal age also increases risks of certain birth defects, autism, schizophrenia, and other disorders. While men can conceive into old age, their sperm carry more risks.

At what age do sperm start to decline?

Sperm quality begins gradually declining around ages 35-40, including drops in sperm count, mobility, and morphology. However, men vary individually in when exactly they experience sperm deterioration.

How Do Health Issues Affect Sperm Viability?

Reproductive health conditions and general medical issues can impact sperm quality and viability. Here are some that may affect sperm lifespan and survival:

  • Varicocele – Enlarged veins around the testes causing heat stress and oxidative damage.
  • Infection – STIs, prostatitis, epididymitis, etc. create inflammation and antibodies harmful to sperm.
  • Ejaculatory duct obstruction – Blocked ducts prevent sperm release, allowing dead sperm accumulation.
  • Testosterone deficiency – Low T levels reduce sperm production and can impair function.
  • DNA damage – Medical radiation, chemicals, smoking, etc. cause sperm DNA damage affecting viability.
  • Antisperm antibodies – When the immune system attacks sperm cells, reducing viability.

Treatment targeting the underlying condition may help restore sperm health and extend viability.

Can hot tubs or tight clothes affect sperm life?

Hot tubs or tight clothes like spandex that raise testicular temperature could temporarily impact sperm production and viability. However, these do not cause permanent damage or sperm DNA mutations like some health conditions can.

How Do Lifestyle Factors Influence Sperm Longevity?

Daily lifestyle habits and exposures can also alter sperm lifespan. Here are some examples:

  • Diet – Poor diet, obesity, antioxidants, and vitamins like folate impact sperm.
  • Exercise – Moderate exercise benefits sperm, but excess training may reduce quality.
  • Smoking – Cigarette toxins can reduce sperm counts and lifespan.
  • Alcohol – Excessive drinking linked to lower sperm counts and decreased motility.
  • Drugs – Marijuana, opioids, anabolic steroids, etc. may temporarily lower viability.
  • Exposure to toxins – Environmental toxins like BPA, phthalates, lead, etc. reduce fertility.

Lifestyle changes to eliminate harmful exposures or practices and add healthy nutrition and exercise can potentially enhance sperm longevity.

Can laptops or cell phones age sperm faster?

Using laptops on your lap or keeping phones in your pocket may expose testes to small amounts of radiation that in theory could impact sperm. However, any such effects are likely insignificant compared to other lifestyle factors.

How Does Sperm Viability Relate to Fertility?

A man’s fertility relies on sperm health and viability. Low sperm lifespan outside the body reduces conception ability. Here’s how:

  • Less time to reach the egg – Weaker sperm may not survive long enough to navigate the female reproductive system.
  • Reduced motility – Sperm must actively swim with vigor to penetrate the egg.
  • Impaired binding – Compromised sperm may not properly bind to the egg coat to achieve fertilization.
  • DNA damage – Genetic defects can cause failed embryo development or miscarriage.

Shortened sperm lifespan isn’t the sole cause of infertility – factors like low sperm count or motility also play a role. But optimizing viability is important for male fertility.

What is a normal sperm lifespan?

On average, sperm can survive for around 5 days inside the female reproductive tract or when ejaculated. However, what qualifies as a “normal” lifespan varies between men based on individual health and medical factors.

Can You Extend or Improve Sperm Viability?

While sperm inevitably expires both inside and outside the body, you may be able to take steps to enhance and prolong sperm lifespan and quality:

  • Treat underlying health conditions – Target issues like varicocele, infections, etc. to restore sperm health.
  • Improve lifestyle habits – Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, avoid toxins from smoking, alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • Take supplements – Antioxidants, vitamins like folate, zinc, selenium may support sperm.
  • Manage medications – Discuss impact of prescription drugs on sperm with your doctor.
  • Reduce stress – Lower stress levels to mitigate sperm DNA damage from oxidative stress.
  • Avoid excessive heat – Avoid hot tubs, tighter clothing, keeping cell phones near groin area.

While you can’t indefinitely extend sperm lifespan, following sperm-friendly health and lifestyle practices can help keep it viable for longer.

Are there foods that increase sperm lifespan?

Some foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, and folate may help nourish sperm cells and slow deterioration in quality and lifespan. However, no specific foods drastically prolong viability.

Takeaways on Sperm Viability

  • Sperm health and lifespan declines both inside and outside the male body as men age.
  • Many internal and external factors impact how long sperm can survive.
  • Refrigeration, freezing, and storage solutions can extend sperm viability for decades.
  • Shorter sperm lifespan outside the body reduces male fertility.
  • While you can’t stop deterioration, healthy lifestyle habits may prolong viability.

The key is recognizing sperm is not an indefinitely renewable resource. Taking steps to safeguard viability can help preserve male fertility over the long term.


Sperm viability inevitably declines over time – both inside the male reproductive tract and after ejaculation. Exactly how long sperm can survive depends on many factors. While sperm production continues throughout life, the quality and lifespan diminishes with age and poor health. Storing sperm properly can preserve viability for many years. Though you cannot prevent sperm deterioration forever, lifestyle measures to enhance overall health may extend the lifespan. Understanding sperm viability provides men key insights into protecting their fertility as they age.

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