Many people use the terms sperm and semen interchangeably. However, sperm and semen are actually two different bodily products, though both are related to male reproduction.
In this article, I’ll cover the differences between sperm and semen and answer the questions “what does sperm look like” and “what does semen look like.” I’ll also talk about how you can tell if your sperm and semen are healthy.
Feature image: Jchoi30/Wikimedia
Sperm vs. Semen
Sperm and semen are both related to human reproduction. Men produce semen, which contains sperm. Semen (also known as seminal fluid) is a greyish white bodily fluid secreted by the gonads of men during ejaculation. Sperm is the male reproductive cell, which is what actually fertilizes a female egg.
Semen’s job is to protect sperm and help it get into the female body. Semen is alkaline, so it protects sperm from the acidity of the female reproductive fluid. Semen also contains fructose, which sperm use for energy as they swim up through the female reproductive system searching for an egg to fertilize. Healthy semen is viscous, grey-white in color, and easy to see with the naked eye.
Sperm, on the other hand, is tiny. From head to tail, sperm cells are about 50 micrometers long – much too small to see with the naked eye. Sperm cells are made of three basic parts: the head (which holds genetic material), the middle part (which provides energy), and the tail (the flagellum). Sperm are carried in semen and then swim (at a rate of about 8 inches per hour) in search of egg cells after ejaculation. Sperm cells actually contain the genetic material to fertilize an egg.
What Does Sperm Look Like?
What does sperm look like?
Sperm cells are tiny – much too small to be seen by the human eye. Sperm have an egg-shaped head, with smooth edges, that’s between 2-4 microns long. The sperm’s neck and tail together are about 45 microns long.
Sperm thrive in wet and warm environments, so they’ll die immediately after semen dries on a surface like bedding or clothing. They can live for a longer time in an environment such as a warm bath and can survive for up to five days in a woman’s body.
Men produce a ton of sperm – and they release a lot of them during ejaculation. It’s estimated that around 100 million sperm are released in an average ejaculation, and only one of those is needed to fertilize an egg.
What Does Semen Look Like?
What does semen look like?
Semen is the grey-white liquid released during ejaculation. One millimeter of semen normally contains millions of sperm cells. However, the majority of semen is made up of glands secretions, which protect the sperm from the acidity of the female body and give the sperm cells energy for their arduous search for the female egg.
Semen is first ejaculated as a gel and liquefies later. Semen begins as gel and takes up to 60 minutes to turn liquid. If your semen doesn’t clot and then liquify, it’s a sign there may be something wrong with your reproductive system.
3 Signs Your Semen Isn’t Healthy
What does healthy sperm look like versus what does unhealthy sperm look like?
Worried that there’s something wrong with your semen? Here are three signs that something may be wrong with your semen.As always, if you’re concerned about your health, you should visit a doctor, who can help diagnose and treat different problems.
#1: Problems With Ejaculation
Problems with ejaculation are one of the leading signs that something may be wrong with your reproductive system.
The basic way to tell that you’re having problems with ejaculation is if ejaculation isn’t normal for you – e.g., you have a hard time ejaculating or, when you do ejaculate, you can only produce a small amount of fluid.
Problems ejaculating can be caused by a number of things, such as retrograde ejaculation (when semen goes back into the bladder), or medication (some anti-psychotics can cause ejaculation disorders). Regardless of the suspected cause, you should always visit a doctor if you’re having problems ejaculating.
#2: Discolored Semen
Semen should be grey-white in color. Any changes to the coloration of your semen can be an indication that something is wrong.
Yellow or green semen can be an indication of an infection, such as an STI. Red or brown semen can be an indication of blood in your prostate or other part of your body. Both conditions are serious and should be checked out.
#3: Swelling of the Testicles
If you notice a lump or swelling of your testicles, you may have a problem that affects your semen, and, by extension, your fertility. Swelling and lumps in the testicles can be caused by everything from a blocked tube in the testicles to cancer, so it’s important that you visit a doctor as soon as possible to find out the cause and seek treatment.
What Does Sperm Look Like: The Bottom Line
Sperm and semen are both related to human reproduction.
What does healthy sperm look like? Sperm are the egg-shaped swimmers that fertilize eggs. What does semen look like? Semen is the viscous grey-white fluid that protects sperm on its long swim.
While sperm can’t be seen with the naked eye, any changes or discolorations to your semen production can be a sign of an underlying health issue and should be checked out by a medical professional.