What your semen says about your health

It’s actually quite a good indicator of what’s going on inside your body

By Jenny Cook

Your health is probably one of the last things you’re thinking about during ejaculation, but the look, consistency and smell of your semen can actually help you keep track of your health.

Your finished product only contains up to 10% of sperm. The rest consists of enzymes, vitamin C, calcium, protein, sodium, zinc and fructose sugar, all of which go a long way in telling you what’s going on inside your body. Consultant urological surgeon and advisor to Dr Morton’s, the medical helpline, Mr John Davies, gave us the low-down on what your semen can say about you, and any warning signs you should be looking out for.

What’s normal

Semen is usually a cloudy white or grey fluid with a jelly-like consistency and a chlorine-like smell (although this can vary slightly between individuals).

“It is a complex liquid usually white or grey in colour, sometimes yellowish and has a bleach like smell due to its content of alkaline substances. These are important to enable sperms to combat the acidic nature of the female genital tract. Approximately 200 to 500 million sperms are released each ejaculation but this can also vary.”

The average volume of semen produced in a single ejaculation varies from 2 to 5ml, which is roughly a teaspoonful of liquid.

If your semen has a red or brown appearance, it is probably due to a burst blood vessel and, though undoubtedly worrying, is usually nothing to worry about.

“Blood in the semen (otherwise known as haematospermia) is an alarming symptom for any man. However, it is rare for there to be a serious underlying condition. Common causes include leak of blood from fragile blood vessels within the semen storage areas, which are called the vesicles.”

This is totally normal and, within a day or two, semen should return to its normal colour. However, if the discolouration continues for longer than a few days, this may be a result of infection, trauma or (rarely) cancer, and you should visit your GP!

When to worry

A pronounced yellow or green colour may indicate something sinister – most likely a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

“The occurrence of a seminal infection can result in yellow-green semen that looks and smells offensive. Such infection should always be investigated by specialists to determine or exclude any underlying causes, and a long course of antibiotics is usually prescribed”

Other symptoms of STIs in men include sores or blisters on the penis, pain or burning during urination, itching and swelling. However, it is often the way with STIs that they don’t present any symptoms at all, so it’s important you use a condom and get yourself checked regularly even if your downstairs department isn’t giving you a reason to worry.

When there’s no semen at all

A ‘dry orgasm‘ – when a man reaches a sexual climax but does not ejaculate – can be extremely unnerving. In most young men it isn’t a problem, and is usually just a result of repeated orgasm, whereby the genitals simply ‘run out’ of seminal fluid, and therefore no liquid is produced.

However, in middle-aged or older men who have undergone prostate surgery, radiotherapy or other treatments in the prostatic area, this could be a sign of retrograde ejaculation.

“As men age, seminal fluid volume and the power of ejaculation can fall as the prostate gland slowly enlarges, causing a change in passing urine due to obstruction. Men can be prescribed drugs to alleviate urinary obstruction however they can reduce the power of ejaculation and in some circumstances alter ejaculation so that semen is not expressed through the penis but back into the bladder. This is known as retrograde ejaculation.”

It may sound drastic, but it’s pretty much just down to a realignment of ‘male plumbing’ and shouldn’t cause any damage. The only change you’ll notice (other than the lack of ejaculation, obviously) is that your urine will appear cloudy, and climaxes may not feel as intense.

When it comes to semen, you are your best judge. If you have a gut feeling that things aren’t quite right, chances are they probably aren’t. If you have any concerns whatsoever, you should go and see your GP.

Your lifestyle’s impact on your sperm

The ‘you are what you eat / drink / smoke’ idiom really does ring true when it comes to semen. A 2014 study, published on Fertility and Sterility, revealed that men whose overall health scored lowest were more likely to have lower levels of semen and sperm quality.

“Men continue to make semen into old age and can remain fertile provided sperm production by the testicles continues. However, excess alcohol and smoking can damage sperm production, causing men to become less fertile. Obesity can also cause problems as obese men produce more oestrogens from fat, inhibiting sperm production. Steroid usage as part of excessive exercise plans can also produce sperm activity.”

That means it’s not just the woman’s diet that is important when you’re trying to conceive. Maintaining a balanced and healthy diet (antioxidants are particularly good for fertility) will keep your sperm looking good, while habitual alcohol consumption and smoking can damage the quality of your swimmers. However, the good news is these effects are reversible, so start cutting down now.

Additionally, research shows that obesity can lower the quality and quantity of a man’s sperm by up to a quarter, so it’s worth losing some weight before trying for a baby. Even if you aren’t significantly overweight, a healthy amount of exercise is still a good idea as it can actively boost your fertility by increasing sperm concentration. Indeed, a 2013 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that men who spent more than an hour and a half each week engaging in physical activity outdoors had a 42% higher sperm concentration then those who spent no time outdoors

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