The Difference between Sperm and Semen

20th Feb 2019| by Colin Katz
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They are not the same

The only similarity between the two is that they are dependent on each other for reproduction to take place.

Healthy semen is a white or greyish colour which is discharged via the urethra, through the penis when ejaculating. The seminal fluid is filled with millions of sperm, and its only purpose is to carry the sperm safely into the female reproductive tract, to fertilise the female egg.

About sperm

Sperm is only manufactured in the testicles. It takes up to 60 days for sperm to mature, and grow the tail which enables it to swim madly to get to the female egg. The sperm is located in the seminal fluid which protects and nourishes it until it is ejaculated from the body.

After ejaculation, the sperm die off quickly, and eventually only a few are left to fertilise the egg. It is just as well that a tablespoon of seminal fluid contains up to 300 million sperm, or the human race could begin to phase out.

Where is semen made?

Semen is produced from the secretions of various organs in the body.

Here are some of the organs which assist the production of the seminal fluid:

  • Testicles. The fluid (not the sperm) from the testicle secretion contains several healthy chemicals, but is particularly rich in testosterone. Supplies about 5% of semen volume.
  • Prostate gland. The secretions of the prostate include prostate specific antigen or PSA. The levels of PSA are better known for the monitoring of prostate-related problems such as cancer. However, a major function of PSA is to liquefy the clotted seminal fluid before ejaculation, so that the sperm is released to swim off and head for the egg. The prostate provides about 20% of the seminal volume ejaculated.
  • Seminal vesicles. A vesicle is a small fluid-filled sac that forms naturally during the process of secretion. The secretions are loaded with nutrients, and are especially rich in fructose, an essential nutrient for healthy sperm and semen. These vesicles also produce a substance which causes semen to become sticky after ejaculation, keeping the sperm longer in the neck of the uterus before dispersing. The vesicles provide more than 60% of the seminal fluid volume.

Research has shown that without semen, sperm cannot be transported to the penis during ejaculation, and there will then be no chance of the female egg being fertilised, or pregnancy occurring in a natural manner.

Can one get pregnant if there is no penetration?

Yes, you can – although the risk of falling pregnant is extremely low. Before a man ejaculates, a liquid known as pre-ejaculate is produced, and sometimes released early. This liquid can contain thousands of sperm, and a man has no control over its production.

If a man ejaculates only in the vicinity of the vagina, some of this fluid, including semen, may infiltrate into the uterine area. The risk is very low, but pregnancy could take place.

If you seriously want to avoid falling pregnant, the best and safest way is to use contraception, or a condom.

Is my semen normal?

Healthy semen is a greyish-white in colour with a thickish, jelly-like feel. A brown or pale red colour might indicate blood in the seminal fluid, which may give any man a bit of a scare. Fortunately, this is seldom a sign that anything is wrong. It is more likely that one of the fragile blood vessels in the seminal storage areas has burst and bled out. This is not serious and will clear up in a few days.

However, semen that is a greenish colour, which looks and smells awful, could indicate a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that should be investigated by a doctor. A course of antibiotics usually puts things right.

A good plan, even if your semen appears to be normal, is to use a condom whenever possible. This will protect you from picking up infections which could threaten your semen, sperm and fertility.

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