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Updated 04 October 2013

Quick sperm facts

Without these little ones, and when we say little, we mean microscopic, reproduction would be impossible.

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Without these little ones, and when we say little, we mean microscopic, reproduction would be impossible. Sperm, released during orgasm by means of semen, fertilises the egg produced in the woman's ovaries.

So what's the big deal?
Let's explain the process from the beginning. Sperm cells are produced inside your nuts, formally known as the testicles, at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the body. Each cell contains a head, a mid-piece, and a tail. The head contains an acrosome and a nucleus, while the mid-piece is composed of centrioles and a mitochondria. The head and the mid-piece form part of the sperm's genetic make-up, while the tail's primary function is to propel the sperm cells towards the egg.

When these tadpole-like cells are ejaculated into the vagina, they swim vigorously up through the uterus and up into the fallopian tubes. The sperm then attach themselves to the walls of the fallopian tubes, and mature. Thereafter, a smell receptor on the sperm enables it to make its final journey and sniff its way to its target. It's basically like running a race in the Olympics.

Recent research has also proved that sperm cells are a bit like heat-seeking missiles, which seek out the warmer areas of the female reproductive system in order to find the egg. They can detect temperature differences from as little as half a degree. It was also proved that only sperm that attach themselves to the fallopian walls and then mature, have the ability to be heat seekers.

Keeping your gun loaded
A man's fertility abilities start dropping when he reaches his twenties. However, a good thing to remember is that the quantity of sperm is not affected so much, but the quality is. Scientists believe that when a man ages, his sperm start to lose their sense of direction, decreasing the chances of fertilisation. However, it still only takes one shot to start a new life, so don't think that just because you're 35, you can poke your gun wherever you please.

When it comes to fertilisation, the quality of sperm is far more important than the quantity. As mentioned before, it is like running a race in the Olympics and it is only those that are strong and able to move forward fast, that will eventually reach the egg. A good quality sperm has a regular oval-shaped head, whereas others can be rounded or irregular in shape.

Wanting a mini-me?
During a man's peak health, sperm production will be at its best. Sperm production can be seriously affected when a man is ill or is overly stressed. This not only has consequences with regards to getting your woman pregnant, but it could do your baby harm as well. Reduce your stress levels, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, and increase your intake of zinc. And yes, if you're inclined to lighting up a fag every few minutes, stop, as smoking impairs not only sperm production, but its quality too.

The big ooh la la
Sperm begin their journey at the factory (in the testicles) and then pass through the seminiferous tubules. From there they travel through the epididymis to the vas deferens. Then they will travel to the prostate and mix with semen, and ooh la la, finally it is ejaculated out of the penis through the urethra during orgasm.

A typical ejaculation fills up about one teaspoon. The actual amount is determined by a man's age (younger men usually make more semen), when a man last ejaculated, and how long he was aroused before ejaculating.

Contrary to what many may have heard, semen is not loaded with calories. Each teaspoon of ejaculate has about 5 - 7 calories. Since sperm make up only about 1 percent of semen, what accounts for the other 99 percent? Well, its other ingredients include:

  • fructose sugar
  • water
  • vitamin C
  • citric acid
  • enzymes
  • protein
  • phosphate and bicarbonate buffers (bases)
  • zinc

Interesting facts

  • Each sperm takes between 60 and 72 days to develop
  • Sperm production only occurs about four degrees below normal body temperature. A higher temperature will not only prevent sperm production, but it will also kill sperm in storage.
  • Between 150 and 400 million sperm are ejaculated during orgasm
  • The average number of sperm present per millilitre of semen is 50 – 100 million

(Matthew Louw, Health24, updated April 2013)

 
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