Let’s Talk About Sperm!

Throughout college, I’ve spent a good deal of my time working as a health educator for Peer Health Exchange, a national nonprofit that provides health education in high schools across the country. Although I have quite a few years of teaching experience under my belt, I’m never quite prepared for the questions that emerge during our sex and sexuality workshops. As you can imagine, being a college student and speaking to curious ninth graders about what sex, gender identity and sexual orientation are can garner some interesting questions.

However, the most peculiar questions revolve around the topic of sperm. Sperm, or the reproductive cell associated with those who possess testicles, is the component that joins with a human egg in utero to form the beginnings of a human being. As you can imagine, many of my students and peers question the physiology and capabilities of the humble sperm, and what conditions make conception possible.

When I tackle these questions, by far the question I get most frequently is whether someone can conceive on accident or indirectly. I want to take this opportunity to bust a few sperm myths, and hopefully enlighten people about the physiology of the sperm cell.

First thing first — lets talk about the temperature at which sperm can be viable. Semen has to be kept 1 to 2 degrees Celsius less than the typical internal body temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. Sperm cells like warmth, and when they exist outside of this window they will become inactive and unable to fertilize an egg. This is also why the testes are separate from the rest of the body — our internal temperatures will negatively impact the ability for sperm cells to fertilize eggs.

So with that in mind, let’s address a couple myths that I encountered in a recent workshop I taught.

Can I get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat?

Unless the sperm on the seat is recent, this is highly unlikely. Just like us on a cold winter’s day, sperm will hate being in on a cold toilet seat and will soon die or lose their mobility. The likelihood of sperm being able to swim from the seat to the uterus is also extremely low.

Can I get pregnant from sharing a towel?

This is also very unlikely, as sperm will typically die after a few minutes or when it dries. Temperature, as in the aforementioned scenarios, will also likely impact the vitality and mobility of the sperm cell.

Can I get pregnant if there is sperm in a bath or pool?

Again, the likelihood of sperm being able to reach the uterus is extremely low in both of these instances. While the warmth of a bath may provide an optimal temperature for sperm, soap, shampoo and chemicals will likely kill the sperm before it can do much. 

When sperm interacts with water, special proteins in the sperm are unable to prevent clumping. Sperm will then coagulate together and form jelly-like clumps, rendering most of the cells ineffective and immobile.

Can someone take the semen out of a recently used condom and impregnate themself after sex?

While this may be possible depending on how long it has been since sex and the temperature at which the sperm is kept at, this is definitely a clear violation of respect between two people. If you want to become pregnant, this is an important conversation that has to happen so you can understand the wants and needs of your partner.

And on that note, I want to reiterate something important. Sex and pregnancy are very important topics and require lots of communication between two partners! If you are considering having a child, make sure this is consensual between you and your partner. And the same goes for sex as well — the use of condoms and other contraceptives should be a similar conversation, as both sides should be aware of and respect the wants and needs of the other.

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