Urine is naturally acidic, and some of that acidity lingers in the urethra even after you've passed urine. The problem is that sperm cells are sensitive to pH levels, and the acidity of urine can kill sperm cells. The alkaline mucus of pre-ejaculate neutralizes the pathway so that sperm can have a “clean” pathway out.
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Many types of chemicals can kill sperm. For example, hand sanitizer contains ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol, glycerin, and other harsh compounds. In a similar way that hand sanitizer kills germs, it kills sperm as well. Hand sanitizer may reduce the movement of the sperm cells or kill them on contact.
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What is Precum?
Precum (pre-ejaculate) fluid comes from the Cowper’s glands. The Cowper’s glands are two pea-sized glands that sit beneath the prostate gland on either side of the most internal end of the penis.
The glands are slightly less than a half-inch in diameter and they produce an alkaline mucus. From each gland are tiny ducts leading to different sections of the urethra.
It’s through these ducts that the glands send precum during sexual arousal but before actual ejaculation. There are two primary purposes of pre-ejaculate.
Roles of Pre-Ejaculate
. Neutralize acidity of urethra tract
. Provide lubricant for sexual intercourse
One role is to neutralize the acidity of the urethra tract. The urethra serves both as a pathway for urine and also a pathway for ejaculation. Urine is naturally acidic, and some of that acidity lingers in the urethra even after you’ve passed urine.
The problem is that sperm cells are sensitive to pH levels, and the acidity of urine can kill sperm cells. The alkaline mucus of pre-ejaculate neutralizes the pathway so that sperm can have a “clean” pathway out.
The second purpose of pre-ejaculate is to serve as lubrication for sexual intercourse. There are actually glands that serve a similar purpose in women, called the Bartholin's glands.
The two pea-sized glands sit on either side of the vaginal opening. Bartholin's glands also secrete an alkaline mucus that provides lubrication for intercourse.
Do sperm live inside Precum?
Cowper’s glands do not produce or hold any sperm cells, which is why it was once commonly thought that pre-ejaculate had no sperm cells. However, this assumption is incorrect.
There may be living sperm cells in precum. This does not always occur and when it does, there are not very many sperm cells; however, it is still possible.
Though the chances are low, the sperm cells inside of precum could potentially cause pregnancy. One study found that in precum samples taken from 42 men, approximately 17% of the samples contained moving sperm cells.
In another study, out of 40 pre-ejaculate samples (taken from 27 men), 41% of the samples had sperm cells present, and in 37% of these samples, the sperm were motile and alive.
Since the sperm cells in pre-ejaculate do not come from the Cowper’s glands, how do they get inside precum? Research is not conclusive, but it is currently assumed that some men leak sperm cells into their pre-ejaculatory fluid, and these sperm cells come from the seminal vesicle (where they are stored prior to ejaculation).
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Can you get pregnant from Precum?
The odds of getting pregnant from precum are very small. It’s estimated that 4 in 100 women will get pregnant using the withdrawal method correctly.
Even if the man pulls out and ejaculates away from the vagina or vulva area, there is a 4% chance that pregnancy may result. These pregnancies are due to those few sperm cells in precum.
If a man never inserts his penis into your vagina, and only the tip of his penis (with precum) comes into contact with the outside of your vulva, it's extremely unlikely that precum on the outside of the vagina will lead to pregnancy.
However, the odds are not guaranteed. It is still theoretically possible for pregnancy to occur.
How long can sperm survive after ejaculation?
Outside of the body, sperm may die quickly when they’re exposed to the air. The length of time they stay alive has a lot to do with environmental factors and how fast they dry up.
If you’re having a procedure such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF), keep in mind that washed sperm can last in an incubator for up to 72 hours. Frozen sperm may last for years, provided it’s left in a properly controlled environment.
Sperm that’s been ejaculated into a woman can live inside the uterus for 5 days. That’s why it’s possible to get pregnant if you have unprotected sex while menstruating. If you ovulate shortly after you finish your period, the sperm may still be alive and can fertilize the egg.
Can you get pregnant if there’s semen near the vagina?
Yes, you can get pregnant if sperm is near the vagina and it hasn’t dried. You may have heard that oxygen kills sperm. This isn’t true. Sperm can move until dried.
For example, you may think you’re not at risk for pregnancy if you have unprotected anal sex. However, fresh sperm might leak and stay near the vaginal opening. If it stays moist, it could make its way up the vagina and through the cervix into the uterus to fertilize the egg.
While this scenario is possible, it isn’t likely to happen.
Can you get pregnant if a man ejaculates in a hot tub or bathtub?
It’s highly unlikely that pregnancy would occur if sperm had to travel through water into a woman’s body.
In the hot tub scenario, the temperature of the water or chemicals would kill the sperm in seconds.
In a bathtub filled with plain warm water, the sperm may live up to a few minutes. Still, it would need to quickly enter the vagina after traveling through all that water. Then it would need to go through the cervix and then on into the uterus.
Getting pregnant in this case is highly unlikely to impossible.
Does spermicide kill sperm?
Spermicides are a type of birth control you can use with or without condoms. They come in many different forms, including:
Spermicides don’t kill sperm. Instead, they stop the semen from moving, which decreases sperm motility. The woman applies it near her cervix so the sperm can’t enter into the uterus.
When you use spermicide correctly and consistently along with male condoms, it’s 98 percent effective. With typical use, it’s 85 percent effective. Female condoms with spermicides are 70 to 90 percent effective.
Without condoms, spermicide isn’t considered an effective form of birth control since it typically fails about 28 percent of the time to prevent pregnancy. Even when used correctly and consistently, spermicide alone is only 82 percent effective.
What role does sperm motility play in pregnancy?
Once ejaculation occurs during intercourse, the sperm travels from the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus. From there, contractions of your uterus help pull the sperm toward your fallopian tubes.
The first of the sperm may enter your tubes in just minutes. The closer you are to ovulation, the easier the journey becomes for the sperm.
In order for pregnancy to occur, your cervical mucus must be favorable. Mucus that’s egg-white in consistency is best. If your cervical mucus is thick or dry, the journey is much more difficult.
Many couples worry about sperm count when trying to conceive, but that’s only part of the male fertility equation.
The term “sperm motility” refers to the ability of the sperm to swim the right way. Motility may matter as much as sperm count when it comes to getting pregnant. If the sperm can’t make the journey to the egg, pregnancy won’t occur.
Several things may impact a man’s sperm motility, including:
. Stress levels
. Excessive heat
. Certain medications
. Poor diet
If motility is a factor in infertility, there are several options couples may explore. IUI directly places sperm inside the woman’s uterus so it doesn’t need to swim from the vagina through the cervix.
With IVF, sperm is introduced to the egg for fertilization in a lab before being placed back inside the woman’s uterus.
What’s the role of frozen sperm in IUI and IVF?
You may use fresh or frozen sperm with both IUI and IVF. You may choose to use frozen sperm for these procedures for a number of reasons, including using donor sperm and preserving fertility for a male who has cancer.
According to the Sperm Bank of California, thawing sperm is as easy as waiting 30 minutes for it to reach room temperature. From there, the sperm should be warmed to body temperature either in your hand or under your arm. Once sperm is thawed, it can’t be refrozen.
While frozen sperm can last a very long time, some believe its integrity may be compromised after thawing. Studies show, though, that frozen sperm may be just as effective as fresh sperm at achieving pregnancy, at least when using IVF and ICSI
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