Sperm have always been a precious commodity, given the critical role they play in generating new life. Even a relatively small change in the typical sperm count has a substantial impact on the percentage of men who will be classified as infertile or subfertile. It’s not just about sperm count, however; certain qualities, including movement patterns, are also essential for them to swim upstream to meet the egg of their dreams.
After a man starts producing sperm during early adolescence, he’s at continuous risk for potential harm to his swimmers, a vulnerability that lasts the rest of his life. Spermatogenesis (production of sperm) starts in early puberty and continues throughout his life.
In a healthy, fertile man, the testicles produce 200-300 million sperm cells per day, only ~50% become viable.
It takes 65-75 days for sperm to mature, and a new cycle of sperm production starts ~ every 16 days.
On average, each time a man ejaculates, he releases 2-6 ml (about a teaspoon) of semen, which contains as many as 100 million sperm.
Even male sperm don’t ask for directions, so a small percentage swim in the right direction, toward the beckoning egg. If the man doesn’t ejaculate, the sperm will die and get reabsorbed by the body. Sperm live fast and die young.
Despite being microscopic in size, sperm are mighty and resilient swimmers. These tadpole-like cells are able to recover from numerous forms of environmental assault, dodge and weave their way through various obstacles (cervical mucus), survive arduous treks through the male and the female reproductive tracts, and exert powerful genetic influences on the developing embryo. Yet, they’re surprisingly vulnerable, particularly during critical periods in a male’s development.
These risky periods occur when the germ cells, or sperm themselves, are rapidly dividing, proliferating, or differentiating.
Insert Monty Python’s “Every Sperm Is Sacred” song here.
info x Shanna H. Swan, PhD, author of Count Down
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