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Outside of the body, sperm may die quickly when they’re exposed to the air. The length of time they stay alive has a lot to do with environmental factors and how fast they dry up.
If you’re having a procedure such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF), keep in mind that washed sperm can last in an incubator for up to 72 hours. Frozen sperm may last for years, provided it’s left in a properly controlled environment.
Sperm that’s been ejaculated into a woman can live inside the uterus for 5 days. That’s why it’s possible to get pregnant if you have unprotected sex while menstruating. If you ovulate shortly after you finish your period, the sperm may still be alive and can fertilize the egg.
Keep reading to learn more about the lifespan of sperm as well as sperm motility. Also find out which urban legends about sperm and pregnancy are true and which are false.
Yes, you can get pregnant if sperm is near the vagina and it hasn’t dried. You may have heard that oxygen kills sperm. This isn’t true. Sperm can move until dried.
For example, you may think you’re not at risk for pregnancy if you have unprotected anal sex. However, fresh sperm might leak and stay near the vaginal opening. If it stays moist, it could make its way up the vagina and through the cervix into the uterus to fertilize the egg.
While this scenario is possible, it isn’t likely to happen.
It’s highly unlikely that pregnancy would occur if sperm had to travel through water into a woman’s body.
In the hot tub scenario, the temperature of the water or chemicals would kill the sperm in seconds.
In a bathtub filled with plain warm water, the sperm may live up to a few minutes. Still, it would need to quickly enter the vagina after traveling through all that water. Then it would need to go through the cervix and then on into the uterus.
Getting pregnant in this case is highly unlikely to impossible.
Spermicides don’t kill sperm. Instead, they stop the semen from moving, which decreases sperm motility. The woman applies it near her cervix so the sperm can’t enter into the uterus.
When you use spermicide correctly and consistently along with male condoms, it’s 98 percent effective. With typical use, it’s 85 percent effective. Female condoms with spermicides are 70 to 90 percent effective.
Without condoms, spermicide isn’t considered an effective form of birth control since it typically fails about 28 percent of the time to prevent pregnancy. Even when used correctly and consistently, spermicide alone is only 82 percent effective.
Once ejaculation occurs during intercourse, the sperm travels from the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus. From there, contractions of your uterus help pull the sperm toward your fallopian tubes.
In order for pregnancy to occur, your cervical mucus must be favorable. Mucus that’s egg-white in consistency is best. If your cervical mucus is thick or dry, the journey is much more difficult.
The term “sperm motility” refers to the ability of the sperm to swim the right way. Motility may matter as much as sperm count when it comes to getting pregnant. If the sperm can’t make the journey to the egg, pregnancy won’t occur.
Several things may impact a man’s sperm motility, including:
- stress levels
- excessive heat
- certain medications
- poor diet
If motility is a factor in infertility, there are several options couples may explore. IUI directly places sperm inside the woman’s uterus so it doesn’t need to swim from the vagina through the cervix.
With IVF, sperm is introduced to the egg for fertilization in a lab before being placed back inside the woman’s uterus.
Sometimes doctors do what’s called an intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), where the sperm is injected into the egg as part of the IVF procedure.
You may use fresh or frozen sperm with both IUI and IVF. You may choose to use frozen sperm for these procedures for a number of reasons, including using donor sperm and preserving fertility for a male who has cancer.
According to the Sperm Bank of California, thawing sperm is as easy as waiting 30 minutes for it to reach room temperature. From there, the sperm should be warmed to body temperature either in your hand or under your arm. Once sperm is thawed, it can’t be refrozen.
While frozen sperm can last a very long time, some believe its integrity may be compromised after thawing. Studies show, though, that frozen sperm may be just as effective as fresh sperm at achieving pregnancy, at least when using IVF and ICSI.
How long sperm lives depends on the conditions it’s exposed to. Many of the myths you’ve heard about getting pregnant in hot tubs or from surfaces don’t hold up.
That said, sperm does live longer when it’s kept moist. It’s possible, but unlikely, to get pregnant even if sperm is ejaculated near the vaginal opening. If it’s ejaculated inside the vagina, it may only take a few minutes to travel to the egg.