Sperm: Everything you always wanted to know (but were afraid to ask)

Let’s talk about sperm!

Many visitors to this website land here because they googled a question about sperm. In fact, you’re probably one of them.

So we decided to put together a list of the most frequently asked questions, and answer them all in one place.

Without further ado, here’s Get Pregnant Naturally’s sperm FAQ.

How to insert sperm to get pregnant

According to our website analytics, people google this question all the time. Similar questions include “how to transfer sperm from male to female”, “how does sperm enter the female body”, and “how to know if sperm enters your body”.

We’re not quite sure what to make of this, except that sex education still has lots of room for improvement in some places, so let’s quickly review the basics to ensure we’ve got everyone on board:

  • The man inserts his penis into the woman’s vagina
  • He has an orgasm and ejaculates his sperm inside the vagina
  • The sperm cells swim through the vagina and the uterus, up into the fallopian tubes where they can meet and fertilize the egg.

If you need a more detailed explanation of the first two steps, we suggest to start with Wikipedia.

This is by far the most common way to “insert sperm into the female body”, but in fact, there is one more option (besides medical procedures, which we don’t cover here): self-insemination.

For some women, vaginal penetration is painful. For some men, it’s difficult to get an orgasm inside the woman. If for any reason vaginal intercourse isn’t working so well for your couple, you can try home self-insemination instead:

  • The man masturbates (with or without the woman’s assistance) and ejaculates into a clean glass or plastic container
  • You suck the semen sample up with a sterile 10 ml syringe (without a needle!) 
  • You insert the syringe into the vagina and push the plunger to deposit the semen inside, as deep (close to the cervix) as possible
  • You’re done! 

You can buy a complete home insemination kit if you prefer, but it’s not necessary. All you really need is a suitable container and a simple syringe. Make sure the container is big enough to comfortably collect all the semen, but not so deep that it becomes difficult to get it up with the syringe.

How close does sperm have to be to get pregnant?

As long as the man ejaculates anywhere inside the woman’s vagina, the sperm cells will find their way. (Theoretically, it’s possible to get pregnant even if semen just gets near the vaginal opening. It’s highly unlikely, but couples who do absolutely NOT want to get pregnant should avoid it.)

On average, sperm will travel 6-7 inches (15-18 cm) from the vagina to the fallopian tubes, a journey which takes them somewhere between 45 minutes and 12 hours. 

There’s no proof that ejaculating closer to the cervix improves your chances of conception, but if you still want to try, choose the missionary position or doggy style for the deepest possible penetration.

Read more: How to have sex to get pregnant

How to keep sperm inside the female body

Once the sperm is inside the woman, there’s no need to worry about it anymore. Some semen will always leak out of the vagina after sex; this is perfectly normal and won’t hinder pregnancy.

You may have read that the woman should rest on her back with her legs up for a while after sex, in order to prevent the semen from leaking out and to let gravity help the sperm cells towards their goal. It has never been proven to make any real difference, however. On the other hand, it can’t hurt, so you may as well give it a try.

Some dedicated women even insert a menstrual cup after sex in order to ensure that a maximum of sperm remains inside her, and to keep it close as possible to the cervix. (Instead of having sex, the man can also ejaculate directly into the cup before it’s inserted, as an alternative self-insemination method.)

How to keep sperm inside the female body

How do we help the sperm reach the egg?

Sperm doesn’t really need any help to reach the egg — the little swimmers know where to go, and were designed for the purpose. That said, if the woman has abundant, high-quality fertile cervical mucus, it will make the journey easier for them.

Fertile cervical mucus, which looks a lot like raw egg white, is the fluid secreted by the woman’s cervix during her fertile period. Unlike the vaginal discharge she produces at other times in the cycle, fertile cervical mucus has a sperm-friendly pH level. Its structure also forms tunnels or “swimming lanes” that help the sperm cells move towards the egg.

It’s perfectly possible to get pregnant even if you never observe any egg white-like mucus, but more and better mucus is likely to improve your chances.

Read more: 9 ways to improve your fertile cervical mucus

How much sperm must go in to get pregnant?

It takes only a single sperm cell to fertilize the egg, but for each sperm that reaches the egg, millions don’t make it.

A healthy man will release approximately 2-5 milliliter (a half to a full teaspoon) of semen per ejaculate, which typically contains somewhere between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells. 

If the sperm count is lower than 20 million sperm cells per milliliter, it can be more difficult to conceive. However, quality matters too, so a slightly lower sperm count may not be a big deal if the sperm is otherwise healthy.

You can take a simple home sperm count test to check the concentration of sperm in the semen. If the test comes out negative, you may want to ask your doctor for more thorough testing.

By the way, abstaining from ejaculation to “save up” sperm for the woman’s fertile period is a bad idea. While it will indeed increase the number of sperm cells released with the next ejaculate, the quality of the sperm will be lower. As a general rule, you should try to have sex at least every third day, preferably every other day, when you’re trying to get pregnant.

Read more: How often to have sex to get pregnant

How many days can sperm survive before ovulation?

As you may know, the egg must be fertilized within 24 hours after ovulation in order for you to get pregnant. Luckily, sperm cells can stay alive inside the woman for a few days, ready to fertilize the egg as soon as it’s released. But for how many days exactly?

Most sperm cells will survive for only a day or two. This means that in order to optimize your chances of conception, you should ideally have intercourse on the day of ovulation and/or on the two previous days.

Sperm cells can live for up to five days inside the woman, however. In ideal conditions, it might even be possible to find live sperm in the fallopian tubes seven days after intercourse, but these sperm cells will have weak motility (ability to move) and are unlikely to fertilize the egg.

Read more: Can I get pregnant 3, 4 or 5 days before ovulation?

Can you feel sperm traveling inside your body?

No, neither women nor men can feel sperm moving inside them. 

Human sperm cells are really, really tiny. They’re much smaller than anything you can see with the naked eye (about 0.002 inch or 0.05 millimeters long, from head to tail), and their movements are completely imperceptible. If you can feel something moving inside you, it’s something else!