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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A round clear dish viewed from above with a translucent white liquid pooled at the bottom
Human semen in a petri dish.

Semen is an organic fluid, also known as seminal fluid, that usually contains spermatozoa. It is secreted by the gonads (sexual glands) and other sexual organs of male or hermaphroditic animals and can fertilize female ova. In humans, seminal fluid contains several components besides spermatozoa: proteolytic and other enzymes as well as fructose are elements of seminal fluid which promote the survival of spermatozoa and provide a medium through which they can move or "swim." The process that results in the discharge of semen is called ejaculation.


Physiological aspects

Internal and external fertilization

Depending on the species, spermatozoa can fertilize ova externally or internally. In external fertilization, the spermatozoa fertilize the ova directly, outside of the female's sexual organs. Female fish, for example, spawn ova into their aquatic environment, where they are fertilized by the semen of the male fish.

During internal fertilization, however, fertilization occurs inside the female's sexual organs. Internal fertilization takes place after insemination of a female by a male through copulation. In low vertebrates (amphibians, reptiles, birds and monotreme mammals), copulation is achieved through the physical mating of the cloaca of the male and female. In marsupial and placental mammals, copulation occurs through the vagina.

Composition of human semen

During the process of ejaculation, sperm passes through the ejaculatory ducts and mixes with fluids from the seminal vesicles, the prostate, and the bulbourethral glands to form the semen. The seminal vesicles produce a yellowish viscous fluid rich in fructose and other substances that makes up about 70% of human semen. The prostatic secretion, influenced by dihydrotestosterone, is a whitish (sometimes clear), thin fluid containing proteolytic enzymes, citric acid, acid phosphatase and lipids. The bulbourethral glands secrete a clear secretion into the lumen of the urethra to lubricate it.

Sertoli cells, which nurture and support developing spermatocytes, secrete a fluid into seminiferous tubules that helps transport sperm to the genital ducts. The ductuli efferentes possess cuboidal cells with microvilli and lysosomal granules that modify the semen by reabsorbing some fluid. Once the semen enters the ductus epididymis the principle cells, which contain pinocytotic vessels indicating fluid reabsorption, secrete glycerophosphocholine which most likely inhibits premature capacitation. The accessory genital ducts, the seminal vesicle, prostate glands, and the bulbourethral glands, produce most of the seminal fluid.

Seminal plasma of humans contains a complex range of organic and inorganic constituents.

The seminal plasma provides a nutritive and protective medium for the spermatozoa during their journey through the female reproductive tract. The normal environment of the vagina is a hostile one for sperm cells, as it is very acidic (from the native microflora producing lactic acid), viscous, and patrolled by immune cells. The components in the seminal plasma attempt to compensate for this hostile environment. Basic amines such as putrescine, spermine, spermidine and cadaverine are responsible for the smell and flavor of semen. These alkaline bases counteract the acidic environment of the vaginal canal, and protect DNA inside the sperm from acidic denaturation.

The components and contributions of semen are as follows:

Gland Approximate % Description
testes 2-5% Approximately 200- to 500-million spermatozoa (also called sperm or spermatozoans), produced in the testes, are released per ejaculation.
seminal vesicle 65-75% amino acids, citrate, enzymes, flavins, fructose (the main energy source of sperm cells, which rely entirely on sugars from the seminal plasma for energy), phosphorylcholine, prostaglandins (involved in suppressing an immune response by the female against the foreign semen), proteins, vitamin C
prostate 25-30% acid phosphatase, citric acid, fibrinolysin, prostate specific antigen, proteolytic enzymes, zinc (serves to help to stabilize the DNA-containing chromatin in the sperm cells. A zinc deficiency may result in lowered fertility because of increased sperm fragility. Zinc deficiency can also adversely affect spermatogenesis.)
bulbourethral glands < 1% galactose, mucus (serve to increase the mobility of sperm cells in the vagina and cervix by creating a less viscous channel for the sperm cells to swim through, and preventing their diffusion out of the semen. Contributes to the cohesive jelly-like texture of semen.), pre-ejaculate, sialic acid

A 1992 World Health Organization report described normal human semen as having a volume of 2 ml or greater, pH of 7.2 to 8.0, sperm concentration of 20x106 spermatozoa/ml or more, sperm count of 40x106 spermatozoa per ejaculate or more, and motility of 50% or more with forward progression (categories a and b) of 25% or more with rapid progression (category a) within 60 minutes of ejaculation.[1]

Appearance and consistency of human semen

Human semen.

Most semen is white, but grey or even yellowish semen can be normal as well. Blood in the semen can cause a pink or reddish colour, known as hematospermia, and may indicate a medical problem which should be evaluated by a doctor if it does not readily disappear.[2]

After ejaculation, semen first goes through a clotting process and then becomes more liquid. It is postulated  that the initial clotting helps keep the semen in the vagina, but liquefaction frees the sperm to make their long journey to the ova. Immediately after ejaculation semen is typically a sticky, jelly-like liquid often forming globules. Within 5 to 40 minutes it will become more watery and liquid before finally drying.[3]

Semen quality

Semen quality is a measure of the ability of semen to accomplish fertilization. Thus, it is a measure of fertility in a man. It is the sperm in the semen that is the fertile component, and therefore semen quality involves both sperm quantity and sperm quality.

Health effects

In addition to its central role in reproduction, various scientific findings indicate that semen has certain beneficial effects on human health, both proven benefits and possible benefits:

  • Antidepressant: One study suggested that vaginal absorption of semen could act as an antidepressant in women; the study compared two groups of women, one of which used condoms and the other did not.[4]
  • Cancer prevention: Studies suggest that seminal plasma both prevents and fights cancer, particularly breast cancer,[5] reducing risk by "not less than 50 percent."[6][7] This effect is attributed to its glycoprotein and selenium content, with apoptosis being induced by TGF-Beta. A related urban legend parodied these findings and claimed that performing fellatio at least three times a week reduced the risk of breast cancer.[8]
  • Preeclampsia prevention: It has been hypothesized that substances in semen condition a mother's immune system to accept the "foreign" proteins found in sperm as well as the resulting fetus and placenta, keeping blood pressure low and thereby reducing the risk of preeclampsia. Regular exposure to the baby's father's semen, especially orally, may help make a woman's pregnancy safer and more successful, because she is absorbing her partner's antigens.[9]

Semen and transmission of disease

Semen can be the vehicle for many sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Further research, such as that by Mathur and Goust, demonstrated that non-preexisting antibodies were produced in humans in response to the sperm. These antibodies mistakenly recognized native T lymphocytes as foreign antigens, and consequently T lymphocytes would fall under attack by the body's B lymphocytes.[10]

Semen contains proteins with potent bactericidal activity but these proteins are not active against Neisseria gonorrhoeae a common cause of sexually transmitted disease.[11]

Blood in the semen (hematospermia)

Illustration of hematospermia.

The presence of blood in semen or hematospermia may be undetectable (it only can be seen microscopically) or visible in the fluid. Its cause could be the result of inflammation, infection, blockage, or injury of the male reproductive tract or a problem within the urethra, testicles, epididymis and prostate.

It usually clears up without treatment, or with antibiotics, but if persistent further semen analysis and other urogenital system tests might be needed to find out the cause.

Semen allergy

In rare cases, people have been known to experience allergic reactions to seminal fluids, known as human seminal plasma hypersensitivity.[12] Symptoms can be either localized or systemic, and may include vaginal itching, redness, swelling, or blisters within 30 minutes of contact. They may also include generalized itching, hives, and even difficulty breathing.

One way to test for human seminal plasma sensitivity is to use a condom during intercourse. If symptoms dissipate with the use of a condom, it is possible that a sensitivity to semen is present. Mild cases of semen allergy can often be overcome by repeated exposure to seminal fluid.[13] In more severe cases, it is important to seek the advice of a physician, particularly in the event that a couple is trying to conceive, in which case, artificial insemination may be indicated.

Psychological aspects

A recent study has suggested that semen acts as an antidepressant in women, so that women physically exposed to semen are less likely to suffer from depression. It is thought that the psychological effects of semen are a result of its complex chemical make-up including several mood-altering hormones (testosterone, oestrogen, follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, prolactin and several different prostaglandins). In a scientific survey of 293 college women it was also found that those who did not use condoms were most likely to initiate sex and to seek out new partners as soon as a relationship ended, suggesting that the chemical dependency to semen creates a "rebound effect". The effect of semen on a male sexual partner (a receiver of semen) is not known.[14][15][16]

Cultural aspects


Qigong and Chinese medicine place huge emphasis on a form of energy called 精 (pinyin: jīng, also a morpheme denoting "essence" or "spirit")[17][18] - which one attempts to develop and accumulate. "Jing" is sexual energy and is considered to dissipate with ejaculation so masturbation is considered "energy suicide" amongst those who practice this art. According to Qigong theory, energy from many pathways/meridians becomes diverted and transfers itself to the sexual organs during sexual excitement. The ensuing orgasm and ejaculation will then finally expel the energy from the system completely. The Chinese proverb 一滴精,十滴血 (pinyin: yì dī jīng, shí dī xuè, literally: a drop of semen is equal to ten drops of blood) illustrates this point.

The scientific term for semen in Chinese is 精液 (pinyin: jīng yè, literally: fluid of essence/jing) and the term for sperm is 精子 (pinyin: jīng zǐ, literally: basic element of essence/jing), two modern terms with classical reference.

Greek philosophy

In Ancient Greece, Aristotle remarked on the importance of semen: "For Aristotle, semen is the residue derived from nourishment, that is of blood, that has been highly concocted to the optimum temperature and substance. This can only be emitted by the male as only the male, by nature of his very being, has the requisite heat to concoct blood into semen."[19] According to Aristotle, there is a direct connection between food and semen: "Sperms are the excretion of our food, or to put it more clearly, as the most perfect component of our food."[20]

The connection between food and physical growth, on the one hand, and semen, on the other, allows Aristotle to warn against "engag[ing] in sexual activity at too early an age ... [since] this will affect the growth of their bodies. Nourishment that would otherwise make the body grow is diverted to the production of semen.... Aristotle is saying that at this stage the body is still growing; it is best for sexual activity to begin when its growth is 'no longer abundant', for when the body is more or less at full height, the transformation of nourishment into semen does not drain the body of needed material."[21]

Additionally, "Aristotle tells us that the region round the eyes was the region of the head most fruitful of seed ("most seedy" σπερματικώτατος), pointing to generally recognised effects upon the eyes of sexual indulgence and to practices which imply that seed comes from liquid in the region of the eyes."[22] This may be explained by the belief of the Pythagoreans that "semen is a drop of the brain [τὸ δε σπέρμα εἶναι σταγόνα ἐγκέφαλου]."[23]

Greek Stoic philosophy conceived of the Logos spermatikos ("seminal word") as the principle of active reason that fecundated passive matter.[24] The Jewish philosopher Philo similarly spoke in sexual terms of the Logos as the masculine principle of reason that sowed seeds of virtue in the feminine soul.[25]

The Christian Platonist Clement of Alexandria likened the Logos to physical blood[26] as the "substance of the soul,"[27] and noted that some held "that the animal semen is substantially foam of its blood".[28] Clement reflected an early Christian view that "the seed ought not be wasted nor scattered thoughtlessly nor sown in a way it cannot grow."[29]

Sacred semen

In some pre-industrial societies, semen and other body fluids were revered because they were believed to be magical. Blood is an example of such a fluid, but semen was also widely believed to be of supernatural origin and effect and was, as a result, considered holy or sacred.

Semen is currently and has long been revered by Buddhist and Daoist traditions as a very important constituent of human physiology.

Dew was once thought to be a sort of rain that fertilized the earth and, in time, became a metaphor for semen. The Bible employs the term “dew” in this sense[citation needed] in such verses as Song of Solomon 5:2 and Psalm 110:3, declaring, in the latter verse, for example, that the people should follow only a king who was virile enough to be full of the “dew” of youth.

It was widely believed, in ancient times, that gemstones were drops of divine semen which had coagulated after having fertilized the earth. There is an ancient Chinese belief that jade, in particular, was the dried semen of the celestial dragon.

Based upon the resemblance of dandelion juice to human semen, it was historically believed that the flower magically promoted the flow of sperm. (This belief probably derives from the doctrine of signatures.)

The orchid’s twin bulbs were thought to resemble the testicles, and there was an ancient Roman belief that the flower sprang from the spilled semen of copulating satyrs.

Barbara G. Walker recounts these examples of sacred semen in The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects, the thesis of which is that myth and folklore show a pre-patriarchic rule by women that was later supplanted by masculine culture.[30]

In primitive mythology around the world, semen is very often considered analogous to breast milk in some way. In the traditions of Bali, it is considered to be the returning or refunding of the milk of the mother in an alimentary metaphor. The wife feeds her husband who returns to her his semen, the milk of human kindness, as it were.[31]

In some systems of medical philosophy, such as traditional Russian medicine and the Vital Force theory of Herbert Nowell, semen is regarded as the product of a complex physiological interaction between a man and a woman (rather than merely the product of the male reproductive system).[citation needed]

Semen in espionage

Semen seen with and without ultraviolet light

When the British Secret Intelligence Service (SSB) discovered that semen made a good invisible ink, Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming noted of his agents that "Every man (is) his own stylo".[32]

Semen ingestion

Some reasons for human ingestion of human or other semen are erotic gratification and physical and spiritual benefits. The most common way that swallowing of semen occurs is when fellatio or irrumatio are performed to climax.[citation needed] Both sexes ingest semen. Men may consume their own semen after masturbation, sex, or autofellatio.

Nutritional value

Semen is primarily water, but contains trace amounts of almost every nutrient the human body uses.[citation needed] It has somewhat higher amounts of commonly deficient minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, and selenium.[33] One typical ejaculation contains 150 mg of protein, 11 mg of carbohydrates, 6 mg fat, 3 mg cholesterol, 7% US RDA potassium and 3% US RDA copper and zinc.[34] When metabolized, protein yields 4 kcal/g, carbohydrate also yields 4 kcal/g, and fat yields 9 kcal/g.[35] Hence the food energy in the typical ejaculation is 0.7 kcal (2.9 kJ).

Health risks

There is no risk in ingesting the semen of a healthy man.[36] Swallowing semen carries no additional risk other than those inherent in fellatio. Fellatio does carry some risk for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV or herpes,[37] however, HIV and all other viruses are inhibited by saliva[38] and destroyed by stomach acid.[39] Research has suggested that performing unprotected oral sex on a person infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) might increase the risk of oral or throat cancer. The study found that 36 percent of the cancer patients had HPV compared to only 1 percent of the healthy control group. It is believed that this is due to the transmission of HPV because this virus has been implicated in the majority of cervical cancers.[40] Even if semen is cold before the individual ingests it, viruses can stay active for a long period of time once outside the body. Contracting diseases from oral sex is more likely if there are sores in the mouth.

Taste and quantity

One source has noted that "few women praise the taste" of semen.[41] Although it is commonly reported that the taste of semen is significantly influenced by diet,[42] there are no scientific studies that indicate which foods do so, nor are there likely to ever be.[43]

The volume of semen ejaculate varies. A review of 30 studies concluded that the average was around 3.4 milliliters (ml), with some studies finding amounts as high as 4.99 ml or as low as 2.3 ml.[33] In a study with Swedish and Danish men, a prolonged interval between ejaculations caused an increase of the sperm count in the semen but not an increase of its amount.[44] Younger males tend to produce larger quantities.[citation needed]

Cultural practices

In some cultures, semen is attributed with special properties of masculinity. Several tribes of Papua New Guinea, including the Sambia and the Etoro, believe that semen provides sexual maturation among the younger men of their tribe. To them, sperm possesses the manly nature of the tribal elders, and in order to pass down their authority and powers, younger men of their next generation must fellate their elders and ingest their semen. This custom commences among prepubescent males and postpubescents.[45] This act may also be attributed to the culturally active homosexuality throughout these and other tribes.[46]

Spiritual views

The church father Epiphanius records that the Borborites[47] and other libertine Gnostic sects[48] consumed semen as the Body of Christ. The Pistis Sophia[49] and Testimony of Truth[50] harshly condemn such practices.

In the modern St. Priapus Church, consumption of semen in the presence of others is a form of worship.[51] It is esteemed as sacred because of its divine life-giving power. Some chapters of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica practice the consumption of semen during the Gnostic Mass, composed by Aleister Crowley.[52]

Sexual practices

There are several sexual practices involving the ingestion of semen. They can be done with one or more partners, like snowballing, felching and creampie eating, or with multiple partners, like the practices of bukkake and gokkun, which originate from Japan.

Increasing semen volume

Many men who experience erectile dysfunction or impotency have started using natural semen volume pills. These herbal pills are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration and fall under the male enhancement category. Semen volume pills are designed to increase the amount of ejaculation or semen volume during sex. The companies like Semenax and Volume Pills claim people can cure sexual health problems by increasing semen levels during ejaculation.

These herbal pills were introduced and have been promoted in the adult entertainment industry with adult porn star Ron Jeremy acting as a spokesman.

None of these claims have been verified and the FDA does not approve or recommend any herbal preparations for the purpose of increasing the volume of ejaculate.


A huge variety of euphemisms and dysphemisms have been invented to describe semen. For a complete list of terms, see sexual slang.

Semen in popular culture

Depiction of semen in art and popular culture has, for a long time, been considered a taboo subject.

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is famous for a manga style piece entitled My Lonesome Cowboy, which features a naked cowboy superhero wielding his own semen as a lasso.

Andres Serrano, whose photos depict bodily fluids such as Blood and Semen II (Semen y sangre II) (1990), became a controversial figure for featuring semen in his work. He was criticized by some for producing offensive art, while others defended him in the name of artistic freedom.[53] His photos were featured on the cover art of two Metallica albums, Load and ReLoad, which feature images made by shining light through a piece of clear plastic on which semen, blood and urine have been splattered and swirled around.

Only recently has semen been depicted (albeit controversially) in movies such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Kika (1993), There's Something About Mary (1998) ("a hard-core staple making its debut in a mainstream Hollywood comedy")[54], Happiness (1998), American Pie (1999), Scary Movie (2000), Y tu mamá también (2001), Scary Movie 2 (2001), Freddy Got Fingered (2001), National Lampoon's Van Wilder (2002) and Clerks II (2006). Jackass Number Two (2006) features a scene where Chris Pontius drinks the semen of a horse. It has also appeared in the anime movie End of Evangelion.

See also


  1. ^ World Health Organization (2003). Laboratory Manual for the Examination of Human Semen and Semen–Cervical Mucus Interaction, 4th edition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 60. ISBN 0-521-64599-9.,M1. 
  2. ^ Blood in Semen - What could cause blood in my semen?
  3. ^ Dean, Dr. John. "Semen and sperm quality". Retrieved 2006-12-07. 
  4. ^ Gordon Gallup (2002), "Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?", Archives of Sexual Behavior 31: 289–293, ISSN 0004-0002, 
  5. ^ Muller, Melissa; Kurt J. Sales, Arieh A. Katz and Henry N. Jabbour (2006). "Seminal Plasma Promotes the Expression of Tumorigenic and Angiogenic Genes in Cervical Adenocarcinoma Cells via the E-Series Prostanoid 4 Receptor". Endocrinology (The Endocrine Society) 147 (7). doi:10.1210/en.2005-1429. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  6. ^ Lê, Monique G.; Annie Bacheloti, Catherine Hill (1989). "Characteristics of reproductive life and risk of breast cancer in a case-control study of young nulliparous women". Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 42 (12): 1227–33. doi:10.1016/0895-4356(89)90121-2. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  7. ^ Gjorgov, Arne J. (1978). "Barrier contraceptive practice and male infertility as related factors to breast cancer in married women". Medical Hypotheses 4 (2): 79–88. doi:10.1016/0306-9877(78)90051-8. Retrieved 2009-08-13. 
  8. ^ "Fellatio Breast Cancer Reduction".  Also at Study: Fellatio May Significantly Decrease the Risk of Breast Cancer in Women }}
  9. ^
  10. ^ Mathur S, Goust J, Williamson H, Fudenberg H (1981). "Cross-reactivity of sperm and T lymphocyte antigens.". Am J Reprod Immunol 1 (3): 113–8. PMID 6175235. 
  11. ^ Edström, AML, Malm J, Frohm B (2008). "The major bactericidal activity of human seminal plasma is zinc-dependent and derived from fragmentation of the semenogelins.". J Immunol 181 (5): 3413–21. PMID 18714013. 
  12. ^ Guillet G, Dagregorio G, Guillet M (2005). "[Vulvar contact dermatitis due to seminal allergy: 3 cases]". Ann Dermatol Venereol 132 (2): 123–5. PMID 15798560. 
  13. ^ Weidinger S, Ring J, Köhn F. "IgE-mediated allergy against human seminal plasma.". Chem Immunol Allergy 88: 128–38. PMID 16129942. 
  14. ^ Tiffany Kary, "Crying Over Spilled Semen", Psychology Today
  15. ^ Raj Persaud. "Semen acts as an anti-depressant". New Scientist.
  16. ^ Gordon Gallup (2002), "Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?", ARCHIVES OF SEXUAL BEHAVIOUR 31: 289–293, ISSN 0004-0002, 
  17. ^ Qigong Bible, Chapter #8
  18. ^
  19. ^ Salmon, J.B.; L. Foxhall (1998). Thinking Men: Masculinity and Its Self-representation in the Classical Tradition. Routledge. p. 158. 
  20. ^ Sumathipala, A.; S.H. Siribaddana, D. Bhugra (2004). "Culture-bound syndromes: the story of dhat syndrome". British Journal of Psychiatry 184: 200–209. . See table 2.
  21. ^ Aristotle; Richard Kraut (trans.) (1997). Politics. Oxford UP. p. 152. ISBN 9780198751144.,M1. 
  22. ^ Onians, R. B. (1951). The Origins of European Thought. Cambridge. p. 203. 
  23. ^ Diogenes Laertius, Life of Pythagoras, 19. Smith, Justin E. H. (2006). The Problem of Animal Generation in Early Modern Philosophy. Montreal: Concordia University. p. 5. ISBN 9780511217630. 
  24. ^ Tripolitis, Antonia (2002). Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 37-38. 
  25. ^ “And when she (intelligence) lives as a comely wife with comely Reason (Logos), that is with virtuous Reason, this self-same Reason himself undertakes the care of her, sowing, like a husband, the most excellent concepts in her.” Philo, De Spec. Leg., § 7. Mead, G.R.S (1906). "Philo of Alexandria and the Hellenistic Theology". Thrice Greatest Hermes: Studies in Hellenistic Theosophy and Gnosis. I. London and Benares: The Theosophical Publishing Society. p. 222. 
  26. ^ "And that the blood is the Word, is testified by the blood of Abel, the righteous interceding with God." Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, 1, 47.
  27. ^ Cf. Leviticus 17:14; Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, 1, 39.
  28. ^ Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, 1, 48.
  29. ^ Clement of Alexandria, The Paedagogus, 2, 91. See also: Onan.
  30. ^ Walker, Barbara (October 19, 1988) (Trade PB). The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 576. Retrieved 2007-02-23.  ISBN 0-06-250923-3 ISBN 978-0-06-250923-9
  31. ^ Bellows, Laura J. (2003). PERSONHOOD, PROCREATIVE FLUIDS, AND POWER: RE-THINKING HIERARCHY IN BALI: Working Paper No. 9 (PDF). Gender Relations Centre, RSPAS, The Australian National University. Retrieved on 2007-02-23. ISSN 1320–4025 (pbk); ISSN 1447–5952 (online)
  32. ^ The Independent review of The Quest for C: Mansfield Cumming and the founding of the British Secret Service by Alan Judd
  33. ^ a b A Review of the Physical and Chemical Properties of Human Semen and the Formulation of a Semen Simulant, Derek H, Owen; David F. Katz, Journal of Andrology, Vol. 26, No. 4, July/August 2005. DOI: 10.2164/jandrol.04104
  34. ^'s-Health/Weird-Facts-About-Semen.263033
  35. ^ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) (2003). "Food energy – methods of analysis and conversion factors" (PDF). Rome. pp. 57–60. Retrieved November 14, 2009. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Rosenthal, Sara. The Gynecological Sourcebook, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2003, ISBN 0071402799 p151
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ Staines, L. What women want Rodale, 2000, ISBN 1579540937, p.236
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^ Herdt, Gilbert (editor) (January 28, 1993). Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08096-3. 
  47. ^ Epiphanius, Panarion, 26, 4.
  48. ^ I.e., the Simonians; Epiphanius, Panarion, 21, 4.
  49. ^ "We have heard that there are men on the earth who take the sperm of men and the flux of women, and mix them with lentils and eat them, saying, 'We believe in Esau and Jacob'" (386-387). Mead, G.R.S (1896). Pistis Sophia. London: The Theosophical Publishing Society. p. 390. 
  50. ^ Meyer, Marvin (2007). "The Testimony of Truth". The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. trans. Birger A. Pearson. Harper Collins. p. 624. ISBN 978-0060523787. 
  51. ^ J. Gordon Melton (1996, 5th ed.). Encyclopedia of American Religions (Detroit, Mich.: Gale) ISBN 0810377144 p. 952.
  52. ^ Gallagher, Eugene. Ashcraft, Michael. Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America, Greenwood, 2006, ISBN 0275987124, p.101
  53. ^ sBMJ | Andres Serrano
  54. ^ Review in Rolling Stone

External links

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Some semen on a piece of glass. Semen is a sticky white or yellowish fluid that contains sperm.]]

Semen (pronounced SEE-men or SEE-mən) is the fluid that comes out from the end of a man's penis when he has an orgasm (the height of sexual excitement) and ejaculates. It is usually a white or yellowish, sticky substance made up of sperm (male cells for sexual reproduction) floating in a fluid called seminal plasma that has water and different chemicals in it. Normally, an ejaculation makes between 1.5 and 5 millilitres (up to one teaspoonful) of semen.

Some scientists think that semen that is taken into a woman's body causes her not to feel depressed or sad. On the other hand, if semen touches another person's body, it can pass on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In a few cases, it can also make the other person's immune system weaker, or cause the person to have an allergic reaction. The risks of these health problems happening can be reduced if the man wears a condom when having sex.

Many cultures around the world once thought or still think that semen has special or even magical qualities. Showing semen in forms of popular culture such as art and movies has for a long time been taboo, that is, not generally accepted by society. However, since the late 20th century, artists and moviemakers have done so more often.



The English word semen comes from the Latin word sēmen, which means "seed".[1] In fact, seed was an old-fashioned name for semen.[2] The Latin word sēmen itself came from another Latin word, serěre, which means "to plant (a plant into the ground) or to sow (seeds in the earth)".[1] It was once thought that semen was like a seed that grew into a baby after being "planted" inside a woman's body.

Another name for semen is ejaculate. Some slang words for semen are cream, cum, jism, jizz, load, spooge, spunk and wad.

The way it looks and its nature

Semen is the fluid that comes out from the end of a man's penis when he has an orgasm (the height of sexual excitement) and ejaculates. It is usually white, but may also be slightly grey or yellow.[3] If there is blood in the semen, it can look pink or reddish. This is a condition called hematospermia, and may be because of some blockage, inflammation, infection or injury to some part of the male sex organs, such as the urethra, epididymis, prostate or testicles. A doctor should be seen if the pink or reddish colour does not go away after a few days.[4]

Men ejaculate different amounts of semen. Normally, an ejaculation makes between 1.5 and 5 millilitres (up to one teaspoonful) of semen.[5] More semen tends to come out if a man has not ejaculated for many days, or if he has been stimulated (made sexually excited) for a long time. Older men make less semen. If a man ejaculates an unusually small amount of semen, this is a medical condition called hypospermia.

After a man has ejaculated, semen first becomes slightly thick and sticky, and may feel a bit like jelly and clump together in globs. Scientists think that semen does this so that if the man has had sex with a woman and has ejaculated inside her vagina, the semen stays in her vagina for longer and does not leak out. Between five and 40 minutes after this, semen becomes more liquid and watery. This probably allows the sperm in the semen to move through the vagina and into the woman's uterus and Fallopian tubes to try and fertilize an ovum (egg cell). If semen is ejaculated outside the body, after becoming watery it eventually dries up.[3]

What it is made up of

Semen is made up of sperm (male cells for sexual reproduction) floating in a fluid called seminal plasma. Sperm, also called spermatozoa, are made by a man's testicles and mature (grow up) in the epididymis. The fluids in seminal plasma come from different glands in the man's body: the seminal vesicles, prostate and bulbourethral glands (also called the Cowper's glands). (Glands are special organs in the body that make chemicals.) The table below shows the substances that make up semen and the glands that produce them:[3]

Glands Rough amount Substances
Testicles and epididymis 5%
  • Sperm – in each ejaculation, there are between 40 and 600 million sperm.
Seminal vesicles 40–60%
Prostate 13–33%
  • Zinc – this stops the parts of the sperm containing DNA from breaking up. If a man does not have enough zinc in his food, he will have lower fertility and be less able to make a woman pregnant as his body will not be able to make sperm well, and the sperm will be weaker.
  • Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) – this is an enzyme (a chemical that speeds up chemical reactions) which causes the semen to become watery so sperm can move easily inside a woman's body.
  • Other substances such as acid phosphatase, citric acid, fibrinolysin, and proteolytic enzymes.
Bulbourethral (Cowper's) glands 5%
  • Mucus – this is a slippery fluid that gives semen its jelly-like texture. It helps sperm to move through the man's urethra and inside the woman's vagina and cervix, and also stops them from spreading out too much from the semen when it is inside the woman's body.
  • Other substances such as galactose (another kind of sugar), pre-ejaculate and sialic acid.

Seminal plasma protects and provides food for sperm as they travel inside a woman's body. The inside of a woman'a vagina does not suit sperm cells as it is acidic. To protect the sperm from the acid, seminal plasma is alkaline. A woman's immune system also tries to kill organisms (living things) that are not part of her body. Seminal plasma has chemicals called prostaglandins in it to stop the woman's body from killing the sperm.

Semen that does not have any germs in it (see below) is not harmful if it is swallowed, for example after a person has had oral sex with a man and the man ejaculates in that person's mouth.

Semen quality

[[File:|thumb|A photograph of human sperm. Sperm are not really red and green in colour; the colours were added to the photograph to make the sperm stand out more clearly.]]

Semen quality refers to how well the sperm in a man's semen can fertilize a woman's ova. The better a man's semen quality, the more fertile (able to make a woman pregnant) he is. A 1992 World Health Organization book said that an ejaculation of normal human semen has:[6]

  • a volume of 2 millilitres or more;
  • a pH of 7.2 to 8.0, which means that it is alkaline;
  • 40 million or more sperm (20 million sperm in each millilitre of semen);
  • 50% or more of the sperm alive; and
  • 50% or more of the sperm able to move, or 25% or more of the sperm able to move forwards quickly within 60 minutes from the time of ejaculation.

The number of sperm in an ejaculation of semen depends on many things. There may be more sperm if:

  • the man is younger,
  • his body produces more of the hormone testosterone, which makes a person look and feel like a man,
  • his testicles are not too warm,
  • he produces more semen,
  • he has not ejaculated for some time, and
  • he has been stimulated for a longer time before ejaculation.

If there are an unusually low number of sperm in an ejaculation, this is called oligospermia. If there are no sperm at all, this is called azoospermia. A man with oligospermia or azoospermia is usually infertile, and cannot or finds it very hard to make a woman pregnant by having sex with her.



[[File:|thumb|160px|Semen ejaculated by a man inside a condom. The end of a condom has a small pouch called a reservoir, which is a space for the semen. Wearing a condom helps to stop the spread of sexually transmitted infections.]]

Studies seem to say that semen is an anti-depressant. This means that it causes women not to feel depressed or sad. The studies found that when men had sex with women without using condoms, and the men's semen was taken into the women's vaginas, the women had better moods and felt happier. Scientists do not yet know if the same thing happens when semen is swallowed after oral sex, but some of them think it may.[7]


Passing on disease

If a man has a sexually transmitted infection or STI (an infection that is passed from one person to another by sex), the germs that cause the disease can appear in his semen. If the person that the man has sex with touches the semen, he or she can become infected by the germs and pick up the disease. AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis B, herpes and syphillis are examples of STIs. One of the ways for a man to lower the chance of passing on an STI to his sexual partner is to wear a condom on his penis when having sex.

Making the immune system weaker

Some scientists think that parts of semen, such as sperm and seminal plasma, can make another person's immune system weaker. Experiments show that when substances in a man's semen enter another person's body, that person's body makes antibodies. Antibodies are large Y-shaped proteins used by the body's immune system to stop foreign objects from harming the body. However, the antibodies made in response to substances in semen attack one of the body's own cells, called T lymphocytes.[8] This weakens the body's immune system.


In a very small number of cases, people have experienced allergic reactions when they touched semen. This is called human seminal plasma hypersensitivity. The symptoms (signs of the medical problem) can either be near the part of the body which touched the semen, or all over the body. They may include itching of the vagina, redness, swelling or blisters within 30 minutes of contact. They may also include itching and hives (large, red, itchy patches) all over the body, and even difficulty breathing.[9]

The best way to test for human seminal plasma hypersensitivity is for a man to use a condom when having sex. When a condom is used, after ejaculation the man's semen stays inside the condom and does not touch the body of the person he is having sex with. If the man's sexual partner usually has allergic symptoms to semen but does not have any when a condom is used, this may show that his partner's body is extra-sensitive to semen. A person can often get over a mild semen allergy by coming into contact with semen often.[10] If the allergic reaction is very bad, the person should see a doctor, especially if she is a woman trying to get pregnant. In such cases, it may be necessary for the woman to have a baby through artificial insemination. This is a medical way of fertilizing a woman's ova using a man's sperm without the man and the woman having sexual intercourse.


File:Orchis lactea
An orchid plant (Orchis lactea) with two underground tubers. In Ancient Rome it was thought that these special roots looked like testicles. The 1 coin in front shows that this plant is quite small.
File:Statue of a
A statue of a satyr in the Athens Archaeological Museum

Many cultures around the world once thought or still think that semen has special or even magical qualities. Some examples are set out below:

  • Ancient Greece. In Ancient Greece, the philosopher Aristotle thought that if men started to take part in sexual activity when they were too young, this would cause their bodies to stop growing normally. This was because food that would otherwise make the body grow would instead be used to make semen. However, this would not happen if the body was already fully grown.[11]
  • Ancient Rome. The orchid is a type of plant with flowers. Some orchids have underground tubers, which are swollen roots used by plants for storing food. The word orchid comes from the Greek word όρχις (orchis) meaning "testicle". Ancient Romans thought that the tubers of the orchid looked like testicles, and believed the plant grew from the semen of satyrs that had fallen on the ground.[12] A satyr was thought to be a creature with the upper body of a man and the lower body of a goat, and goat's horns on its head. Satyrs were said to love drinking wine and having sex.
  • China. In Ancient China, it was believed that the precious stone jade was the dried semen of a dragon that lived in the sky.[12] Today, in traditional Chinese medicine and in qìgōng (Chinese exercises that work with or "energy" in the body), it is believed that a man's body contains sexual energy called jīng (written 精 in the Chinese language), and that he should try to make more of it and save it.[13] It is said that jīng moves into a man's sex organs when he is sexually excited, and when he ejaculates semen the energy leaves his body, which is not good for him.
  • Indonesia. In the traditions of Bali in Indonesia, when a man ejaculates semen into a woman's body, he is considered to be repaying his mother's kindness in giving him breast milk when he was a baby.[14]
  • Near Middle East. In Biblical times, the early Jews believed that when a man ejaculated semen this made him ritually unclean until evening. Any object that semen touched also became unclean, and if the man had sex with a woman she became unclean until evening.[15] People who practise certain types of Judaism still have this belief today.
  • Papua New Guinea. Among the Etoro people of Papua New Guinea it is believed that to become sexually mature men, young boys must perform oral sex on older men and swallow their semen.[16]

Popular culture

Displaying semen in forms of popular culture such as art and movies has for a long time been taboo, that is, not generally accepted by society. However, since the late 20th century artists and moviemakers have done so more often.

Visual arts

The American photographer Andres Serrano sometimes takes photographs of body fluids and displays them as artworks. One example is Blood and Semen II (1990), which is a picture of blood and semen mixed together. Some people are shocked by such pictures and think it is wrong of him to make them, while others think that as an artist he should be free to create such works.[17] Another of Serrano's pictures, Blood and Semen III, was featured on the cover of the 1996 music album Load by the American heavy metal band Metallica.[18]

The United Kingdom-based artists Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore, better known as Gilbert and George, have also used semen and other body fluids to create artworks.[19]


Apart from pornographic movies showing people having sex, semen is usually not shown in movies as many people think that doing so is obscene (not decent). However, some movies that have shown semen are the American comedy movies There's Something about Mary (1998),[20] American Pie (1999),[21] Scary Movie (2000)[22] and Scary Movie 2 (2001).[23] In the Spanish movie Y tu mamá también (And Your Mother Too, 2001), there is a scene where two high-school boys who are friends lie on diving boards over a swimming pool and masturbate (make themselves sexually excited). Semen is later shown floating on the water.[24] Such movies are usually not thought to be suitable for children to watch.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "semen". OED Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  2. "seed, n.". OED Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 John Dean (4 October 2005). "Semen and sperm quality". Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  4. "Blood in semen". 2006. Retrieved 2008-06-16. 
  5. "Swimming toward conception: The semen analysis". American Fertility Association. Retrieved 2008-06-13. 
  6. World Health Organization (2003). WHO Laboratory Manual for the Examination of Human Semen and Semen–Cervical Mucus Interaction (4th ed. ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 60–61. ISBN 0-521-64599-9.,M1. 
  7. Raj Persaud (26 June 2002). "Semen acts as an anti-depressant". New Scientist. Retrieved 2008-07-07. 
  8. S. Mathur; J.M. Goust, H.O. Williamson, H.H. Fudenberg (1981). "Cross-reactivity of Sperm and T Lymphocyte Antigens". American Journal of Reproductive Immunology 1 (3): 113–118. 
  9. G. Guillet; G. Dagregorio, M.H. Guillet (2005). "[Vulvar Contact Dermatitis due to Seminal Allergy: 3 Cases]". Ann. Dermatol. Venereol. 132 (2): 123–125.  (In French.)
  10. S. Weidinger; J. Ring, F.M. Köhn (2005). "IgE-mediated Allergy against Human Seminal Plasma". Chem. Immunol. Allergy 88: 128–138. 
  11. Aristotle; Richard Kraut (transl.) (1997). Politics: Books VII and VIII. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 152–153. ISBN 0198751133.,M1. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Barbara G. Walker (1988). The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco. pp. 576. ISBN 0-06-250923-3. 
  13. Gary J. Clyman. "Sexual Kung Fu [ch. 8]". The Chi Kung Bible: Mastering Personal Power. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  14. Laura J. Bellows (2003). Personhood, Procreative Fluids, and Power: Re-thinking Hierarchy in Bali [Working Paper No. 9]. Canberra: Gender Relations Centre, RSPAS, Australian National University. ISSN 1447–5952 (online). 
  15. The Bible, Leviticus 15:16–18.
  16. Gilbert H. Herdt (ed.) (1984). Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08096-3. 
  17. Andrew Moscrop (December 2001). "Andres Serrano, Barbican Art Gallery, London. Until 23 December 2001". studentBMJ 9: 443–486. ISSN 0966-6494. 
  18. "A–Z of Metallica terms and names". Metallicaworld. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  19. Germaine Greer (26 February 2007). "There is only one way Gilbert and George can complete the work – by dying, in unison". The Guardian.,,2021470,00.html.  "Gilbert and George". Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  20. "There's Something about Mary". Rolling Stone. 8 December 2000. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  21. "American Pie". Plugged In Online. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  22. Beth Pratt. "Scary Movie". CommonSenseMedia. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  23. Dutin Putman (4 July 2001). "Scary Movie 2 (2001)". Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  24. Aaron Beltz (2002–2003). "Beavis y Butthead". Metaphilm. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 

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