10:28 pm - 10/22/2008

How long can sperm live?

This is not strictly a vagina question, but I hope it is still useful!

A commenter recently mentioned that sperm can live in the vagina for up to a week. This got me wondering if there is any decent research about on how long sperm can live. I'm thinking particularly on something like a hand or sheets, where semen might be spilled, or even mouth/lips as well as inside the vagina.

It would be just as interesting to hear any general comments about how possible it is to become pregnant from sperm transferred into the body by one of these strange routes. I've always believed it's technically possible, but don't know how likely it would be, and how much these are myths.
h0rsegurrrl 22nd-Oct-2008 09:58 pm (UTC)
Sperm can't live in the vagina for too terribly long, since it's generally an acidic environment, but it can live in the uterus/fallopian tubes for up to a week under ideal conditions.

I've always heard that sperm may live if there is some amount of semen with it, and that semen is still wet (there are exceptions, like I believe in laboratory conditions where the sperm is isolated but kept alive for IVF and such). So if a pool of semen is still wet, like on the sheets or a hand, there's a good possibility that sperm will still be alive. Under normal conditions I don't believe it can live if it's dry or if it comes in contact with some substance that kills it - I think saliva kills it, I know stomach acid kills it, soap, hand sanitizer, etc.
svexsal 22nd-Oct-2008 10:00 pm (UTC)
From what I've always understood, sperm dies shortly after it comes into contact with air. So, if it's on a hand, you should probably wash it to decrease your chances (depending on the amount of semen) but if it's on your sheets, it's probably too dry/immobilized to continue on its merry way of impregnating you.
verstummelt 31st-Dec-2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
I Just wanna say it's a huge misconception that sperm dies when it hits air.

That would mean all those sperm donors who ejaculate into a cup and live the lid off while they do up their pants that sperms all died?
Sperm died when it has dried up. The semen that sperm lives and travels in is full of protein. That's what allows them to swim and survive for long periods of time(2-5 days inside the vagina. If that protein dries up the sperm dies.
Sperm is sensitive to heat yes but it takes a lot and to heat up testicles to the point to kill every single one would be....quite excruciating for the guy.

The best method if you don't want to get pregnant is to go on birth control be it the pills or a shot in the butt whatever as well as the withdrawal method. Although there is nothing 100% effective if you're not ovulating and there's no sperm in the vaginal canal you cannot get pregnant.
Though if you're having willing and constant sex with someone it's good to keep in the back of your mind one day accidents could happen.
svexsal 31st-Dec-2008 03:02 pm (UTC)
Okay, given, but I was talking about bedsheets. This post was 2 months ago. Why the urge to comment now? :-P
archangelbeth 22nd-Oct-2008 10:09 pm (UTC)
I can go dig up the data again once the kid is in bed and not babbling at me and interrupting my train of thought so I go insane, but from what I recall...

• Once sperm is dry, it's basically dead.

• If it remains in a pool of seminal fluid, such as in a guy's urethra after ejaculation, it may live for some hours, but then the seminal fluid itself becomes toxic to the sperm and it dies. (That one was boggling to me when I found it.) This is why pre-cum can carry live sperm out from a prior ejaculation.

• A lot of sites say sperm live in the female body -- the uterus and fallopian tubes, and most especially the latter -- for about 5 days. Other sites say up to 7. There is one (count her, one) researcher who believes that sperm have a lifespan that is dictated by the genetics of the guy, and claims to have -- under perfect lab conditions, presumably -- recorded sperm living as long as two weeks.

Generally, unless you shove a glop of fresh semen into your vagina, it's not likely to get transferred. (Mouth would have to have a large glop, because the digestive enzymes in the saliva would start killing sperm instantly, and only the "inner" ones might be protected for a while.)

I might babble more, but my concentration is shot.
fionnghuala 23rd-Oct-2008 01:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this great information!

I'd really appreciate some of the sources, if you do end up with some time later!
archangelbeth 24th-Oct-2008 02:09 pm (UTC)
Ooo, don't throw me in that google-patch, brer fox! O:D

"Under optimum circumstances, and with optimum sperm health, a few sperm can live up to about five days, but that is rare. To provide a framework for understanding how sensitive sperm are - and how vital cervical fluids can be - a sperm exposed to air outside the human body will likely die within an hour, and most will expire in just a handful of minutes."
--http://www.early-pregnancy-tests.com/studies.html
"Given the most ideal conditions (ideal vaginal/uterine environments, fertile CM, strong sperm health, etc) sperm may be able to survive between six and seven days."
--http://www.early-pregnancy-tests.com/sperm.html

"Sperm ejaculated into a woman's vagina remain alive in the mucus of the cervix and are able to fertilize an egg for three to five days. Sperm ejaculated outside the body usually live only a few hours."
--http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pregnancy/AN00281

"Sperm may survive in the Fallopian tubes for as long as 7 days, but generally survives for around 3 to 5 days. This means that fertilization can occur even if the sperm are deposited as much as a full week prior to ovulation."
--http://www.thelaboroflove.com/articles/how-long-can-sperm-survive-outside-the-body/

"Research has shown that some sperm may survive in the Fallopian tubes up to 7 days, with the average amount of time being 3 to 4 days."
--http://www.babyhopes.com/articles/sperm-survive.html.html (ware pop-ups!)

Googling on how long does sperm live? gets a lot of hits. http://www2.oakland.edu/biology/lindemann/spermfacts.htm is amusing to read and I'll stop mentioning any others of those now. Unless they're really amusing.

Buncha links for sperm not being in precum: http://community.livejournal.com/vaginapagina/12825985.html?thread=154920833#t154920833

"(If the sperm do not reach the woman's cervix within several hours, the semen itself becomes toxic to sperm and they die.)"
--http://adam.about.com/reports/000067_1.htm

I'm going nuts again trying to find the link to the researcher who claimed that sperm lifespan was variable based on the guy, and possibly much longer than even 7 days. I'd have thought I could search on my username and site:community.livejournal.com/vaginapagina and "sperm," but Google's not going back long enough, or it was a locked post... I'm going to post this and keep looking for that last one.
archangelbeth 24th-Oct-2008 02:22 pm (UTC)
( http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/how_does_male_reproductive_system_work_000067_2.htm appears to be the same data about toxic seminal fluid, and is probably the original article? )
archangelbeth 24th-Oct-2008 02:45 pm (UTC)
http://www.4ni.co.uk/news.asp?id=44353 -- hamsters with green, glowing sperm. ...yeah, still looking for the other one, but I had to share that.
archangelbeth FOUND IT! (edited only to fix my icon)24th-Oct-2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
http://www.wsu.edu/NIS/Universe/sperm.htm

Dr. Joanna Ellington is the researcher.

"Ellington describes the knowledge gap: “Throughout the past two decades, you have had medical textbooks teaching that sperm survive one to three days [in women]. There is no original source or study that provided this information—it’s just there. On the other hand, scientific journal articles were looking at real-life conception rates for people with long intervals—six days or more—between intercourse and ovulation.” She is now working with Spokane-area physicians, whom she describes as enthusiastic collaborators, to solve this contradiction."

"Ellington has modified her coculture system to study human sperm in contact with tubal cells. Her results suggest that many of the assumed details about human reproduction are incorrect. Her research team’s record for survival of human sperm is 10 days—far longer than the one to three days your doctor will tell you about—and sperm appear to be stored directly in the Fallopian tubes, as well as in the cervix."

[Her theory: Cells in the fallopian tubes extend sperm's lifespan. In the lab, they culture fallopian tube cells and cozy the sperm up to them, I gather.]

'“The Fallopian tube is not just a passive ‘pipe’ where sperm and eggs meet,” says Ellington. “Fallopian tube cells make a whole new set of products when sperm attach to them, and these products protect sperm and allow them to live at the internal body temperature of the woman, as opposed to living in the scrotum of men, while they wait for an egg to appear.”'

For more information, google on Joanna Ellington or </i>Dr. Joanna Ellington</i>.



Edited at 2008-10-24 02:50 pm (UTC)
fionnghuala Re: FOUND IT! (edited only to fix my icon)24th-Oct-2008 03:31 pm (UTC)
Wow, my inbox was full of sperm information!

Thank you so much, that's fantastic.

Confirms my suspicion that although most sperm might die almost immediately after ejaculation, there are likely to be some that hang around, so precautions are still required.
archangelbeth Re: FOUND IT! (edited only to fix my icon)24th-Oct-2008 11:14 pm (UTC)
Glad to have been of service! (Also, I have now Memoried this post, so I can FIND IT AGAIN. *pants manically*)

Did you know that it takes sperm 2 hours before they can fertilize an egg? Chemical changes have to happen first! (Yeah, I was reading a lot about sperm... *grin*)
archangelbeth Updating this very post 'cause it's in my Memories...26th-Jun-2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
The Ellington researcher teamed up with a fellow named Wright. http://www.dailyevergreen.com/story/392 claims that they got 21 day lifespans for sperm in the lab, but, thankfully, makes no claim that this is possible in the wild.


Edit: URL above failed. http://media.www.kaleo.org/2.13219/sperm-able-to-live-for-21-days-1.1798203#.Tt2dVM1GNCA succeeded.

Edited at 2011-12-06 04:44 am (UTC)
archangelbeth Re: FOUND IT! (edited only to fix my icon)8th-May-2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
Well, bother. The link is now dead.

This Google Link may live a bit longer, but here's the text, with some bits clipped out to make an attempt at Fair Use. The article is attributed to Barb Chamberlain.

Understanding where sperm cells are stored in a woman’s body and how long they can live prior to fertilizing an egg is critically important, both for couples who want to conceive, as well as those who don’t. Yet little progress has been made in this field, due to the difficulty of studying the small Fallopian tube, where fertilization occurs in normal women.

However, research conducted by Joanna Ellington in WSU Spokane’s Health Research and Education Center is changing our understanding of human fertility.

Ellington describes the knowledge gap: “Throughout the past two decades, you have had medical textbooks teaching that sperm survive one to three days [in women]. There is no original source
or study that provided this information—it’s just there. On the other hand, scientific journal articles were looking at real-life conception rates for people with long intervals—six days or more—between intercourse and ovulation.” She is now working with Spokane-area physicians, whom she describes as enthusiastic collaborators, to solve this contradiction.

[...] In contrast to studies of people, a great deal has been learned over the past decade about how sperm are stored in females of other species. This has been done in part by use of an in vitro coculture system Ellington developed [...]. This system grows cells from the Fallopian tube (oviduct) of a female animal in a petri dish. Sperm will then interact with these
oviduct cells when cocultured with them, simulating what happens in the tube itself.

Comparing sperm function in this coculture system to what is seen in tubes removed surgically from animals has allowed Ellington and others in her field to map out where exactly
sperm are stored in the female and how long they live for each species. Sperm survival time in domestic animals ranges from two days in cows to a week or more in horses and dogs. [...]

Recently, in collaboration with Ray Wright of the Department of Animal Sciences and Spokane-area physicians, Ellington has modified her coculture system to study human sperm in con-
tact with tubal cells. Her results suggest that many of the assumed details about human reproduction are incorrect. Her research team’s record for survival of human sperm is 10 days—
far longer than the one to three days your doctor will tell you about—and sperm appear to be stored directly in the Fallopian tubes, as well as in the cervix.

Ellington and co-workers have now begun studies to determine whether sperm stored in the tube for longer time periods are damaged. Some earlier research found that couples in whom [...] fertilization occurred from “aged” sperm in the woman’s body—had an increased
incidence of children with chromosomal defects.

So far, they have found that sugars and proteins made by the tubal cells actually protect sperm from any break-down or DNA damage during coculture. In fact, contact of sperm with the tubal
cells allows sperm to live longer and maintain normal function two to three times longer than sperm in salt solutions in the laboratory.
[...]
Ellington’s research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
fionnghuala Re: FOUND IT! (edited only to fix my icon)9th-May-2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
Still really useful stuff! Thank you :D
vronwe 22nd-Oct-2008 10:51 pm (UTC)
The longest estimate I've heard for how long sperm can live outside the body is an hour. But that's in idea conditions, meaning warm and in a moist environment. So you'd have to keep the semen warm and like scoop it into your vagina in order to get pregnant. I've never heard of someone getting pregnant from semen on the sheets or anything like that.
kaz_lynx 22nd-Oct-2008 11:10 pm (UTC)
Hands or sheets, they'd die quite quickly as the semen (their water/food source) dries up. The sperm themselves will dessicate very quickly when exposed to the bare environment, just like any other cell.

I'd imagine they could live a little longer in the mouth, since it's warmer and moist. But you're actively swallowing and producing saliva, so I'd imagine they get swallowed and "washed away" fairly quick. So unless someone, say, gave a guy oral and didn't swallow, then IMMEDIATELY after started giving you oral, I doubt there's much cause to worry.
ktnzgtklws 23rd-Oct-2008 02:33 am (UTC)
Semen is actually quite fragile.
Light, oxygen, water, the wrong temperature... the list goes on forever as to all the things that kill it.
Once ejaculated, semen want to be in the vagina with fertile cervical mucous. I have read that with fertile cervical mucous, it is possible for the little bastards to live up to 7 days, although most lab results would indicate 5 as being more realistic.
In general it would be rather odd for them to live much past 2-3 days in the reproductive tract, however. As for sheets, lips, etc? A few minutes would be all it takes.
fionnghuala 23rd-Oct-2008 01:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks everyone for all these great responses!

Does anyone have any references or links to sites that might collate this information?

As this is such an important issue (and I might change my behaviour as a result - I hadn't realised sperm was so killable!), I'd like to follow the current thinking about it.
ktnzgtklws 23rd-Oct-2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
As for human, in tract lifespan:
http://yourtotalhealth.ivillage.com/lifespan-sperm.html
The "expected" 48, "super sperm" 5 days, and "ultra-evolved super sperm" 7 days I read in "Taking Charge of Your Fertility", a WONDERFUL book. You can pick it up pretty cheap off of amazon, or any decently sized used book store should have a copy or two laying around, as well.
As for outside the body:
http://www.thelaboroflove.com/articles/how-long-can-sperm-survive-outside-the-body/
The 48 hours is also backed up by my B.S. in Animal Sciences, aka Animal Husbandry. Even the semen that we would process for cooled, shipped semen seldom lasted more than 3 days. Often after 48 hours more than half were dead, and the motility of those alive questionable. And these are sperm that we have cooled (less waste production, energy using), put in a solution that feeds them, buffers them, put them in a container that protects them from light and water... Oi.
As for outside the body, let me put it this way: in the dark, in an incubator, in a sealed test tube, the horse sperm we collected would last no more than a few hours after ejaculation. And THAT is basically as good as semen is going to get it, and as long as you're going to get it to live, if it's ejaculated outside the female reproductive tract! If exposed to light, water, the air, etc., it dies VERY quickly.
donniedoit Curious. Not sure if possible. 11th-Aug-2011 07:05 am (UTC)
I am curious about an ability to give my spouse a child from hundreds of miles away. I am deployed and my spouse has a limited gateway to conceive a child. The fastest time I can get a package back home is 3 days. Is there a way to transport sperm via that method? Or a packaging method that can conserve the life of the sperm to make it home. Or even a lab or bank that can do it for me. We really wish to conceive but the military cannot authorize leave. FYI she has cancer in one of her tubes and they fear that it may spread to the other before I can arrive back home. I still have 11 months tour remaining.
This page was loaded Oct 24th 2014, 11:49 pm GMT.