And, not surprisingly, there are just as many misconceptions about sperm/semen and its functions as there are about the female reproductive cycle. Hopefully, this post will help clear up some of that confusion and teach you a little bit more about the awesomeness of sperm.
First of all, let's talk about sperm vs. semen. Many people use them interchangeably, but they are actually referring to two different things.
SPERM VS. SEMEN: TWO DIFFERENT THINGS
Semen (or seminal fluid) is the nourishing fluid that surrounds and protects the sperm before it gets to the cervix. It is composed of a lot of different components that provide an alkaline environment for the sperm to offset the acidic environment of the vagina. Without semen, sperm would have zero chance at conception. Immediately after ejaculation, semen "gels up" a little bit, which is speculated to keep the sperm "at your cervix" (har har) and give it more time to head for the fallopian tubes (more about that later). About 20-30 minutes after ejaculation, it becomes thins out and usually drips out of the woman's vagina.
Now that we know the difference between sperm and semen, let's talk a little bit about some of the commonly asked questions.
FIRST OF ALL, HOW LONG CAN SPERM ACTUALLY LIVE?
Unlike the vagina, cervix, and uterus, the fallopian tubes don't treat sperm as hostile intruders. If they can make it past the uterus into the fallopian tubes using fertile cervical fluid channels, they can live there, waiting for the release of an egg, for up to five days.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR SPERM TO GET TO THE EGG?
HOW MANY SPERM ACTUALLY MAKE IT THROUGH TO THE EGG?
SHOULD I STAY ON MY BACK WITH MY HIPS ELEVATED AFTER SEX?
SHOULD I HAVE SEX EVERY OTHER DAY TO ENSURE A HIGHER CONCENTRATION OF SPERM IN THE EJACULATE?
Two things to consider, however: if your man has low sperm count or other issues with his semen, this advice may not hold true for you. Talk with your doctor or RA with any questions.
Additionally, if you're trying to conceive for a certain gender, this may not apply to you. There are theories (and some research) that speculate that sperm containing the necessary DNA to make a girl are slow and steady swimmers, while sperm that would make a boy are fast but easily burned out swimmers. This would mean that the timing and abstinence of sex during certain periods may be advantageous.
IF EVERYTHING HAPPENS PERFECTLY, WHAT ARE MY CHANCES OF GETTING PREGNANT?
On average, about 85% of women will get pregnant after a year of unprotected sex. Even if you and your significant other are 100% normal, it can still take months to conceive. This does not mean you're infertile--it simply reflects the relatively low rate at which women get pregnant each month. Fertility Awareness can decrease the waiting time in conception by ensuring the timing of intercourse. In Taking Charge of Your Fertility, author Toni Weschler says this:
"Couples are usually told to see a physician if they haven't gotten pregnant within a year of trying. By now you should realize how unnecessary it is to wait a full year if you've been timing intercourse precisely. So if you have not gotten pregnant after 4 to 6 cycles of intercourse during your most fertile days, you should see what diagnostic tests and treatments to consider." (Taking Charge of Your Fertility, page 171.)
Of course, this assumes that you have been charting and you know precisely when your fertile days are. If you're just taking a guess, it won't be much help. The fertility awareness method can not only help you time things properly, but get a jump start on diagnosing problems that may prevent conception. Get started with fertility awareness here.
As amazing as fertile cervical fluid is, semen sure gives it a run for its money. This amazing fluid works in harmony with the woman's reproductive system to increase your chances of conception each month. I hope you learned something new about sperm, and hopefully this information will help you in your journey to get pregnant.
What other questions do you have about sperm? Did I leave anything out? Do you have a question that wasn't addressed? Leave a comment below!