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The color and consistency of your semen say a lot about your health. When is it time to contact a doctor about abnormal sperm?

What should healthy semen look like? What are the signs that something is wrong with your semen, and you ought to see a doctor? As always, we're here to help you out. 

Semen: The Basics

Semen — also often referred to as "sperm", or "cum" — is the stuff that males expel from their penises during ejaculation. "Fun facts" you may or may not be familiar with include:

  • Semen, or seminal fluid, is made up of secretions made by rather a few different organs. The testes produce sperm cells, of course, about 200 to 500 million per ejaculate, and the seminal vesicles, prostate, and Cowper's glands all play a role as well. Semen contains protein and fructose (a sugar) as well as catecholamines, such as adrenaline and dopamine. All these components play a role in fertility. [1]
  • Semen samples "created" for lab samples by means of masturbation can be of a lower quality than those retrieved from spermicide-free condoms after intercourse. Something to think about, if you're going to be tested! [1]
  • Men begin ejaculating semen after the first or second penile contraction following orgasm. Men experience an average of seven "spurts" of ejaculation, with the first or second usually containing about 40 percent of the total semen volume [2]. The volume of an ejaculate ranges from 0.1 to 11.0 ml [3]. 

Is My Semen Normal And Healthy?

I paired with Dr Sasa Milosevic, SteadyHealth's very own "in-house physician" — and, perhaps notably, a man, unlike me — to give you the very best information. Dr Milosevic brings you the following signs of healthy, normal, semen:

  1. Your semen should have a white-grey color
  2. Your semen should either have no noticeable smell or a slight chlorine-like smell
  3. Your semen should have a thick, sticky consistency (be viscous) immediately upon ejaculation. It should liquefy after around 15 to 20 minutes. 
  4. If you have abstained from sex for two to seven days, your semen should have a volume of between two and six ml
  5. Your semen should have a homogenous, even appearance
  6. Your semen should not contain any visible particles
  7. Your semen should not contain any blood
  8. Your semen should be slightly alkaline with a pH level of between 7.2 and 8.2. Yes, you can buy pH test strips online rather easily if you're into "science experiments". [4]

Help! My Semen Doesn't Meet Those Characteristics!

Have you recently noticed changes in the color or consistency of your ejaculate, or has your sperm and the stuff it swims in never met the characteristics of healthy semen described above? You're right to have noticed, and you may need to seek medical attention. Here's some troubleshooting. 

My Semen Isn't White-Grey

Though white-grey is considered the default healthy color of normal semen, some guys have slightly yellow semen. This is usually absolutely nothing to worry about. If your semen is really quite yellow and also smells bad, however, you may be dealing with a bacterial infection (bacteriospermia). Nasties like Enterococcus faecalis, Staphylococcus aureus, or E. Coli might be to blame. See a doctor. [5]

Is your semen brown? This phenomenon has, interestingly, been observed in guys with a spinal cord injury during assisted ejaculation. While the cause is unclear, it may have something to do with seminal-vesicle dysfunction. While you may think that brown semen contains blood by definition, since dried-up blood often takes on that color, this isn't always the case either. [6]

Hematospermia, or blood in the semen, may give your ejaculate a red, pink, or brown color. These colors may be streaked, rather than uniform. It's probably not necessary to point out that blood in your ejaculate is never normal, but while blood in your semen requires medical attention, it is most often benign and something that goes away on its own, especially in men under 40. The cause frequently remains idiopathic (undetermined — a mystery) as well. Where the cause of hematospermia is determined, infectious causes are the most common culprit. Things like benign or malign growths, liver dysfunction, and malignant hypertension can also be to blame, however. [7]

My Semen Has An Abnormal Consistency

Normal semen should, as we've already seen, be quite thick upon ejaculation, and then become more liquid after 15 to 20 minutes. You may notice that your semen does not become more liquid, in which case it's medically referred to as "nonliquefied". You may also notice that your semen comes out in thick strands, something some guys describe as "stringy sperm". 

While the implications of semen with a strange consistency aren't quite clear at the moment, semen that doesn't become liquid after two hours may be an indication that your prostate isn't producing certain enzymes adequately. If your semen doesn't coagulate and is unusually liquid, you may, on the other hand, be dealing with an obstruction along the way. It is also possible that there is a problem with your seminal vesicles. [8]

The cause of your problem may also, on the other hand, be much simpler. Dr Milosevic says:

"Proper hydration is crucial for semen production. In case of significant dehydration, the semen will have higher than normal viscosity. Furthermore, the seminal vesicles and the prostate will produce a lower amount of semen constituents, resulting in a lower volume of ejaculated sperm. To keep the quality of your semen optimal, consume plenty of water and avoid dehydration."

Nutritional deficiencies may also be to blame for changes in the appearance of your semen, he adds:

"Semen contains all three types of major nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, and fat). Proteins and fats are particularly important for maturation and function of sperm cells, as well as for the secretory activity of the prostate. Therefore, fasting and imbalanced diet plans can negatively affect semen quality. Semen production also requires vitamins and micronutrients, so be sure to take food rich in vitamin B12, iron, zinc, magnesium, chlorine, and potassium. These include vegetables, meat, and fish."

Semen Abnormalities That Are Harder To Spot With The Naked Eye

Aspermia is a condition in which no sperm is present in your ejaculate — rendering you infertile. Hypospermia, meanwhile, means your ejaculate has a volume of less than 0.5 ml. An unusually low ejaculate volume may be a clue that points you to conditions such as hypogonadism (a hormonal problem), retrograde ejaculation, or obstruction of the lower urinary tract, so it's good to inform your doctor if you think your semen volume has drastically gone down. [8]

An unusually high semen volume may, on the other hand, point to excessive secretion from some of the accessory sex glands we mentioned above, or it could just be a sign that you haven't had sex in a while. [8]

Dr Sasa Milosevic warns that acidic semen with a pH value of less than 7.2 could point to a low sperm count, while alkaline pH levels of greater than 8.2 could indicate an infection. (It is, however, not like you know the pH value of your semen just by looking at it!)

In Conclusion

If you've noticed that your semen just isn't what it used to be, it doesn't necessarily mean that you suffer from anything that warrants medical attention. Dr Milosevic says:

"The properties of semen, such as color, viscosity, and volume can slightly vary among different men. Furthermore, they can vary in one person, depending on nutrition and level of hydration. Smoking and alcohol abuse can also affect these variations."

Nothing may be wrong, in other words, and all you may need to do is examine your lifestyle a little more closely — quitting smoking, eating more healthily, cutting down on the booze, and drinking more water are always good, if any of these things apply to you. 

What if you're not engaging in any unhealthy lifestyle choices and you really think something is off about your ejaculate, though? Dr Milosevic advises:

"If the changes are substantial, such as the appearance of blood in your semen, very liquid semen for a longer period of time, and a noticeably lower amount of semen, you should contact your doctor. However, significant changes in semen properties will almost never occur without other accompanying symptoms of an underlying disorder."

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