What Happens to Semen in Water?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
Semen is made up of 90% water, so nothing unusual happens to semen in water.
Semen is made up of 90% water, so nothing unusual happens to semen in water.

Semen is not typically impacted by water in the short term, which is to say that sperm will generally survive, at least at first. A lot depends on temperature as well as the amount of water present. In most men semen is itself made up primarily of water. Adding more will cause the mixture to become diluted, though depending on the specifics of the encounter the semen might actually gum up or become clumped at first if the water washes away some of the proteins responsible for keeping the mixture fluid. Extended water exposure may also lead to sperm breakdown over time. Sperm already have short lifespans, though. Sometimes warm water will actually prolong their life, but cold pools and puddles often have the opposite effect.

Semen Basics

Sperm cells in water may die within a few minutes or continue living for several hours.
Sperm cells in water may die within a few minutes or continue living for several hours.

The semen of humans and most animals is made up primarily of water — up to 90% by some estimates. From this perspective, nothing unusual happens to semen in water, since in most cases it is already basically there. Human semen is typically a combination of water, sperm, and proteins, though, and one of the main impacts of added water is an upset of this balance.

Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.

Sperm generally thrive best in water that is approximately body temperature, or 98.6°F (37°C). They can survive in water that is slightly warmer or slightly colder, but not always. In these cases, though, it’s the temperature more than the water that’s killing them off.

Some men also find that their semen tends to coagulate or become almost gelatinous in the water, particularly in the shower. This is usually due to the way the water is hitting the ejaculate and the response of certain proteins. Two of the most important proteins present control coagulating and de-coagulating, often as an evolutionary protection mechanism. It isn’t true for everyone, but in many cases the de-coagulating protein will wash away first, leaving a gum-like mass behind. Over time this, too, will dissolve and wash away, but it can be unsettling to see at first.

Consequences of Mixing

Sperm usually won't survive cold water, but protection should still be used for sexual activity that takes place in water.
Sperm usually won't survive cold water, but protection should still be used for sexual activity that takes place in water.

In nearly all cases water will slowly mix and combine with any fluids added to it, and semen is not usually any sort of exception. Semen tends to be thicker than water, so this may take several minutes or even longer to occur. A small amount of semen may be seen floating on the top of water for quite some time after ejaculation, or it may sink. The ability of semen to float may be related to the diet and lifestyle of the man since eating certain foods or engaging in certain activities may impact semen's consistency.

Consistency Issues

It should be obvious that watery semen will dilute with water more quickly than will thicker semen. Thicker semen is more likely to appear white and float above the surface, while clear, thinner, semen is most likely to sink. The temperature of the water may also make a difference here, as well.

Pregnancy and Disease Concerns

Some women may become worried about pregnancy should they encounter semen in water, particularly during sexual activities performed in a bathtub or hot tub. This is not typically a concern, but if continued sexual activities are engaged in, the risk may be higher. If pregnancy is a concern, then protection should be used even when engaging in foreplay in the tub, pool, or hot tub. Although sperm won't live very long in cold water, they may survive for up to a few hours in hot or warm water since they thrive in wet and warm environments. It isn’t usually easy to become impregnanted simply by being in close proximity to semen, but a woman who is already naked and aroused may run a greater risk.

Some communicable disease-related concerns over semen in water are also common. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a major health concern, and if infected semen comes in contact with an open wound, the disease may be spread. This is generally not a problem in places like swimming pools and hot tubs if the proper chemicals are used in the water for cleaning and disinfecting. Other areas may not be as safe, although the chances of transmission from waterborne semen are still relatively small.

What Environmental Factors Impact Semen Lifespan in Water?

Several environmental factors can impact the lifespan of semen in water. The most important factor is temperature. As mentioned earlier, sperm generally thrives in body temperature water. 

Colder temperatures tend to minimize how long sperm survives in water. Herbicides are one major overlooked environmental factor that may reduce how long sperm survives in water. Herbicides behave identically to estrogens.

While both men and women have estrogen, it serves different purposes for each gender. Estrogen is needed in both for the body to function normally. Testosterone gets converted to estradiol in men to produce sperm, regulate sex drive, and enhance erections and testicular function. The key here is to maintain healthy levels. 

Healthy estradiol levels range from 10 to 50 picograms per milliliter. High levels of estrogen cause infertility, decreased mood, and even erectile dysfunction. Therefore, it's safe to say that herbicides in the water will negatively impact how long sperm survives in water.

What Lifestyle Habits Impact Semen Lifespan in Water?

The length of time semen lives in water also depends on the overall health of each individual male. For example, habits such as cigarette smoking, obesity, consumption of alcohol, and even excess caffeine intake can decrease semen quality and quantity.

Another commonly overlooked lifestyle factor that gets looked over is stress. A lack of sleep, mental and emotional trauma, and not practicing self-care can also decrease overall semen health. The habits listed above increase stress as well. 

Stress can occur with or without other factors, making it necessary to manage. If these habits aren't addressed or managed, they can be passed down through generations. At the same time, making healthy lifestyle adjustments can enhance semen quality and lengthen the time semen can survive in water. 

Keep in mind that how semen reacts to water does not entirely determine its overall health or the man’s overall health because of outside unknown environmental factors in play.

What Proteins Cause Semen To Form Gel?

Semengelins I and II are the major proteins that create the jelly consistency of semen. Both semengelins come together to make the liquid jelly that forms during ejaculation. It takes between five and 20 minutes for the liquid to form. 

Semengelins contain an 80 percent amino acid profile. Therefore, scientists believe these proteins play a significant role in fertilizing the egg in the creation of an active pregnancy. 

The unique thing about semengelins is that these proteins serve multiple purposes in overall male health. They are also found in the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and the trachea. Semengelins also play a pivotal role in regulating how enzymes get processed in the prostate. 

Can You Identify the Concentration, Motility, and Morphology of Sperm if it Floats in Water?

Sperm concentration is the density or how many sperm cells are in a milliliter of semen. It is considered normal if ejaculation contains 15 million or more cells per milliliter.

Sperm motility, on the other hand, refers to the number of sperm that are mobile. In a normal ejaculation, a little over 40 percent of sperm move forward in a straight line.

The morphology of sperm looks at the appearance of the sperm. What is the size and shape of the cells? Normal sperm has an oval head with a long tail. Abnormal sperm have crooked or even multiple tails. 

In other cases, the head is abnormally large or not perfectly round. These defects can impact fertility. They are also normal. Studies show that roughly 10 percent of semen looks normal through a microscope.

The only thing one can tell by looking at sperm in water is if it floats or how much gelly it contains. One will also notice the color of the sperm, whether it be clear or white. Therefore, one cannot fully identify sperm concentration, motility, or morphology based on whether or not it floats in water. Nor can one tell if the sperm will lead to pregnancy or not. 

The best way to avoid unintended pregnancy is to use protection. If you are concerned about the quality of your sperm, contact your physician to schedule a semen analysis. It will provide volume, pH, sperm count, motility, and morphology.

Discussion Comments

anon1006170

Erin J. Hill, you have neither the intelligence nor the Medical Knowledge base to be writing about semen and sperm. Your statement that sperm live very well in water has no basis in fact. Sperm require a narrow temperature range and a alkaline environment to stay viable. That is why only the sperm that make it into the inner cervix where they are then protected by the pH of the cervical mucosa remain viable, the same with the sperm that make it into the Uterine Canal and fallopian tubes. They can stay viable for up to 5 days. The pH of the vagina is too acidic to allow them to stay viable. And sperm will not stay viable in cold pool water or the high temps of a whirlpool.

Please stick to writing cat stories.

Fa5t3r

This is such a weird thing for people to be worried about. Although I guess some couples like doing it in the hot tub and it would be difficult to practice safe sex in there.

If the pill isn't an option, you might want to look into other forms of birth control. I suspect if people are worried that semen is going into water, should also be cautious about it going elsewhere, since it obviously isn't going into a condom.

indigomoth

@pastanaga - It probably depends on the situation. I mean, if it is a spa pool and the temperature is just right, I think it's much more likely. And, when it comes down to it, I think the risk of disease is much more dangerous, so it seems like the kind of thing you'd want to prevent if you can.

The whole thing just seems quite gross to me, to be honest. But anyone who has ever worked at a public pool has got to know those things are usually more bacteria than water, especially if kids play in them. I don't think they are dangerous, since there is so much chlorine, but it isn't nice to think about.

pastanaga

I've heard all kinds of urban legends about this, where someone manages to become pregnant from a spa or swimming pool. It's usually either a family member's baby (which is completely sick, but urban legends usually are) or it happens at the local swimming pool and there's no way to know who the father is.

I don't believe that this has ever happened though. I mean, the odds of a sperm cell surviving long enough to make it to a woman and somehow managing to make it to an egg cell as well, even though they usually don't make it even when people are trying to get pregnant, just seem too impossible.

Maybe it's possible, but I doubt it has ever happened. If anyone claims otherwise I suspect they have a reason to lie about it.

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Semen is made up of 90% water, so nothing unusual happens to semen in water.
      By: nito
      Semen is made up of 90% water, so nothing unusual happens to semen in water.
    • Sperm cells in water may die within a few minutes or continue living for several hours.
      By: fotoliaxrender
      Sperm cells in water may die within a few minutes or continue living for several hours.
    • Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
      By: kocakayaali
      Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
    • Sperm usually won't survive cold water, but protection should still be used for sexual activity that takes place in water.
      By: Grafvision
      Sperm usually won't survive cold water, but protection should still be used for sexual activity that takes place in water.