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What to Know About How Sperm Is Produced

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on November 11, 2022

Human reproduction requires both male and female gametes. Gametes are special sex cells that contain the genetic information necessary to create a new life.

Men produce millions of gametes called sperm. Producing sperm is the main function of the male reproductive system.

Keep reading to learn about how your body makes sperm, what it is made of, how to produce healthier sperm, and more.

What Is Sperm?

Sperm are tadpole-shaped male sex cells that carry the genetic information necessary for reproduction. They are haploid cells, meaning they only have 23 chromosomes — half the number of a typical human cell. If the sperm succeeds in fertilizing an egg, the genes it contains will help determine many of the new child's traits.

Sperm may play a big role in reproduction, but they are the smallest cells in the male body. The average length of a sperm is about 0.05 millimeters.

Men's bodies are constantly producing new sperm. A healthy adult man will put out millions of sperm in his semen every time he ejaculates.

How Is Sperm Made?

Producing sperm is the major function of the male reproductive system. The medical or scientific term for when your body makes sperm is spermatogenesis. The first step in spermatogenesis is for your body to make the necessary hormones. The three main hormones needed are:

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)
  • Testosterone

Both FSH and LH are made by your pituitary gland, located in the base of your brain. LH promotes testosterone production in the testicles, and FSH stimulates testicular growth and helps sperm mature.

Testosterone is made in your testicles and is responsible for developing and maintaining masculine characteristics. Men often have deeper voices and facial hair because of the testosterone they produce.

FSH, LH, and testosterone work together to help your body continuously produce sperm.

Once your body has made enough hormones, sperm begin to develop within a system of tiny tubes called seminiferous tubules inside your testicles. Sperm start as simple round cells that must mature and transform to their tadpole-like shape.

After the sperm have begun to transform, they move to another part of the male reproductive system called the epididymis to continue their development. The epididymis is another long tube-like structure in your scrotum, close to your testicles. Mature sperm will stay in the epididymis until they are ejaculated. 

Producing a mature sperm takes a little over 70 days from start to finish.

What Is Sperm Made Of?

Sperm might look like tiny tadpoles, but they are made of one single cell. Each sperm cell has two basic parts: the head and the tail. 

Sperm heads are oblong or oval-shaped. They contain genes to pass along to the next generation. A typical human cell has 46 chromosomes, half of which are contained in a sperm’s head, and the other half of which come from the female egg.

The sperm’s tail is much longer than the head and is powered by mitochondria. The energy from the mitochondria in a sperm’s tail allows it to swim and move through the female reproductive tract, increasing its chance of fertilizing an egg.

How Many Sperm Does a Man Have?

Male children are born with all of their reproductive organs but no mature sperm cells. In place of sperm cells, the seminiferous tubules have round, undeveloped cells in them.

During puberty, those simple cells will develop into mature sperm. Adult men will continue to produce millions of sperm every day. How much sperm your body produces can vary widely depending on your age and certain health factors.

Changes in hormones as you age or effects of health conditions like diabetes and testicular disease can prevent your body from producing as much sperm.

An average ejaculation contains around 180 million sperm, or 66 million sperm per milliliter of semen. The number of sperm might be even higher if you haven’t ejaculated recently — potentially more than 400 million.

Even men that have issues with fertility often make millions of sperm. Men are classified as clinically infertile if they are producing fewer than 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen.

How Can a Man Produce Healthier Sperm?

If you are actively trying to conceive, your sperm health will be vital to success. It only takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, but producing many healthy and active sperm increases the likelihood of conception. There are several steps you can take to help your body produce healthier sperm. 

Watch your weight. Men with higher body mass indexes (BMI) might make fewer or less active sperm than men with healthier BMIs. 

Change your diet. Eating healthy food will help your body get the nutrients it needs to function properly and make the best possible sperm. Antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables may play a role in producing and protecting healthy sperm. Be careful to avoid eating too many soy products. Some research suggests components in soy may cause damage to DNA in your sperm cells.

Exercise. Along with a proper diet, getting enough physical activity will help your body boost its level of sperm-healthy antioxidant enzymes.

Relax. Stress can affect your hormones and make it more difficult for your body to create sperm. Take some time to relax if you want to increase your sperm production.

Practice safe sex. Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea and chlamydia can harm sperm production and cause fertility problems for men. Regular testing, consistent condom use, and being in a monogamous relationship with an STI-free partner will decrease your chances of contracting a sperm-damaging disease.

Don’t smoke or drink. Men who smoke and drink alcohol frequently are more likely to have lower sperm counts and less healthy sperm than men who do not. Avoid both to have the best chance of producing healthy, active sperm.

Reduce toxic exposure. Some chemicals and heavy metals contain toxins that affect your sperm quality. If you work at a job where you have to handle toxic substances, make sure to always use appropriate safety and protective gear.

Check the temperature. There is a reason your sperm are made and stored in your scrotum, outside of your body. It helps keep your testicles cool enough to maintain an effective sperm-producing temperature. If your scrotum gets too warm, your testicles can't make as much sperm. If you want to make more sperm, wear loose-fitting underwear and pants, stay out of the sauna, and keep warm objects away from your groin as much as possible.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, et al. Molecular Biology of the Cell, 4th edition, Garland Science, 2002.
Cedars Sinai: “Optimizing Male Fertility.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Luteinizing Hormone,” “Male Reproductive System.”
Human Reproduction: “Soy food and isoflavone intake in relation to semen quality parameters among men from an infertility clinic.”
KidsHealth: “Male Reproductive System.”
Mayo Clinic: “Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility.”
Medscape: “Follicle-Stimulating Hormone Abnormalities.”
Oakland University: "Dr. Lindemann's Sperm Facts.”

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