Sperm Life Cycle
Sperm are produced by a male organ called the testicle. It takes a testicle 90 days to create a sperm; however, these sperm are immature and are stored, after production, in an organ called the epididymis. Sperm remain in the epididymis until they are ejaculated—at which time, they finish the maturation cycle and develop the ability to swim. It is unknown how long a sperm cell can survive in the epididymis; however, the semen specimens with the highest concentration of healthy sperm are obtained from men whose ejaculations occur every 48 to 72 hours.
Sperm Survival in a Female
Dr. Roger W. Harms, an obstetrician with the Mayo Clinic, says that sperm that are ejaculated directly into a woman’s vagina can fertilize an egg for up to five days, if the sperm cells are nourished by the woman’s cervical mucus. Women produce hormones that aid sperm survival; however, in cases where a female is less sexually receptive, most sperm will survive for fewer than three days.
Sperm Survival in General
Sperm that are not nourished in cervical mucus have much shorter survival durations. Under ideal conditions—in a sterile container—sperm can survive for up to four hours, but their ability to fertilize an egg drops off after one hour. Sperm exposed to air quickly lose their ability to swim. In general, sperm may survive as long as semen remains moist; when the semen dries, the sperm are dead, according to YourTotalHealth.
· Sperm can be stored indefinitely under the right conditions—in most fertility clinics, semen samples are kept in liquid nitrogen at -196 Celsius. According to the Sperm Bank of California, up to 80 percent of sperm are killed within 48 hours of being frozen; however, the sperm that survive the process can be kept alive for 50 or more years.
Spermicide & Health Issues
Spermicides work by blocking sperm’s access to the cervix from the vagina, and by attacking a sperm cell’s motility (ability to move). Spermicides come in multiple forms, including foams and gels. By blocking access to the cervix, these chemicals severely reduce a sperm cell’s life. If a woman always uses a spermicide as directed, Planned Parenthood estimates that this mode of birth control is 85 percent effective.
In addition, both men and women can be afflicted by a host of conditions that affect the quality of sperm (volume and motility) and a female’s ability to nourish sperm in the cervix. These conditions directly affect sperm’s survivability after ejaculation.