The lifespan of sperm can be a matter of significant concern for couples attempting to conceive. Depending on the environmental factors involved, sperm can survive and remain viable for varying lengths of time. Sperm must first mature inside the father’s body in the testicles before becoming viable; this process requires about two and a half months, after which time the mature sperm are typically released into the ducts prior to ejaculation. The seminal vesicles provide secretions that help to nourish the spermatozoa while they remain inside the body, and the length of time that mature sperm can survive during this time depends on a number of factors including the viability of the sperm, environmental conditions that may cause DNA breakdown or other damage, the temperature of the testicles, and the overall health and diet of the male in question.
The Outside World
Once released, sperm live only for about twenty minutes to an hour if not introduced into a warm, wet environment quickly. Spermatozoa die if they dry out and can begin to lose potency and mobility as soon as they are exposed to the air, so time is of the essence when sperm are released for purposes of conception.
Inside The Vagina
A viable sperm has a powerful tail called a flagellum that propels it through fluids easily within the body; this allows it to swim up the vagina and unite with an egg in order to conceive a child. Depending on the chemical makeup of the fluids within the vagina, sperm can sometimes live for as long as seven days inside the woman’s body; however, the quality of sperm tends to deteriorate quickly in this unfamiliar environment. Millions of sperm are released in every ejaculation, so the time each sperm can survive will vary depending on its overall viability and the environmental conditions inside the vagina and fallopian tubes.
Sperm can remain viable for a much longer time if they are frozen soon after they are released from the man’s body. Spermatozoa used for donations are typically processed in a laboratory in order to separate seminal fluid from viable sperm and frozen nearly immediately to preserve viability; this can allow sperm to be saved until needed for in vitro fertilization or other artificial insemination techniques. If properly processed and frozen, sperm can live indefinitely in a suspended state in a storage facility, allowing repeated attempts at fertilization for many years in the future.