1. Getting pregnant
  2. Trying to conceive
  3. Fertility

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How Much Sperm Does It Take to Get Pregnant? Semen Quality Explained

Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or want to avoid it, it’s helpful to know the science behind sperm and conception. Keep reading to learn all about how much sperm it takes to get pregnant, along with other characteristics of semen that are important for conceiving a baby.

Different factors determine sperm health and the chances of fertilizing an egg. Sperm quantity, concentration, motility, and shape are all factors that determine if a male is fertile. The amount of sperm and their ability to move are the most important factors for a male to be able to get a female pregnant. 

When males ejaculate, they release on average around 100 million sperm. It only takes one sperm fertilizing an egg to conceive a child. Millions of sperm die on the journey to reach the egg.

But how much sperm does it take to get pregnant? A fertile man’s ejaculation has at least 15 million sperm up to over 200 million sperm per milliliter (or two teaspoons) of semen. Each ejaculation has around 2-6 milliliters or ½-1 teaspoon of semen. If a man has under 15 million sperm per milliliter or less than 39 million total sperm in one ejaculation, he is considered to have a low sperm count. Some males have zero sperm in their semen, a condition known as azoospermia.

When there is less sperm in an ejaculation, it reduces the probability that you will get pregnant. This is simply because there are fewer sperm available to reach and fertilize the egg. While having a low sperm count makes it more difficult to conceive, it’s still possible to get pregnant.

Sperm motility is its ability to swim. In order to reach and fertilize an egg, sperm needs to move first through the cervix, then the uterus and finally the uterine tubes. If at least 40 percent of sperm are moving, a man is most likely fertile. 

The structure, or morphology, of sperm are a third factor for conception. A normal sperm is shaped with an oval head and a long tail. These elements work together to propel the sperm forward to swim and find the egg located in the uterine tubes. Having more sperm with this shape increases the chance of fertility. 

New sperm are being constantly produced in the testicles and take between 42 to 76 days to reach maturity. After sperm are ejaculated into the female reproductive tract, they stay alive for up to five days. Within this time, the sperm can fertilize an egg. If semen is preserved at freezing temperatures, sperm can live for several decades. When sperm is on a dry surface (like on the bed or clothes), they will die when the semen is dry. In water (like in a warm bath or hot tub), sperm will live longer, but it’s very unlikely that they will make their way through the uterus and result in pregnancy. 

Having a healthy sperm count is important for conception. There are a few things males can do to produce healthy sperm and boost sperm count, including maintaining a good weight and eating a healthy diet, practicing safe sex to prevent STIs, keeping stress levels low, and exercising regularly. Avoiding alcohol, smoking, toxins (pesticides, lead, etc.), lubricants during sex, certain medications (steroids, tricyclic antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, and anti-androgens), and keeping the penis cool also helps improve fertility.

Artificial insemination (AI) is when sperm is placed inside the uterus. During in vitro fertilization, eggs and sperm are combined outside of the female’s body in a lab and then the fertilized egg is returned to the womb. This can be an option for couples where the male has a slightly lower sperm count or motility and you’ve been trying to get pregnant for at least one year. 

Artificial insemination requires a minimum 6.7 million sperm per insemination to be successful. But sperm amount matters less for AI than for natural insemination. Instead, sperm motility and shape play a greater role.

Precum is pre-ejaculate fluid released from the penis during sex. There is a low probability that you will get pregnant from precum, but it’s still possible. Studies show that the majority of precum either has dead sperm or none at all, but small amounts can still be present. A 2016 study of 42 healthy males found actively mobile sperm in 16.7 percent of pre-ejaculatory fluid.

There are several factors that signal if sperm is healthy and likely to fertilize an egg, including the amount and concentration per ejaculation of semen, as well as motility and structure. Even if a male has a low sperm count, there are some things he can do to take care of his health and improve the chance of getting a female pregnant.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Healthy sperm: Improving your fertility.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 25 Apr. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/fertility/art-20047584#:~:text=Quantity.,available%20to%20fertilize%20the%20egg.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Low sperm count: Diagnosis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 30 Oct. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-sperm-count/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20374591#:~:text=You%20are%20considered%20to%20have,decreases%20with%20decreasing%20sperm%20counts.

Gargollo M.D., Patricio C. “How long do sperm live after ejaculation?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 11 Aug. 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/expert-answers/pregnancy/faq-20058504.

“Low sperm count.” NHS, 07 Aug. 2019, https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/low-sperm-count/.

Pagano MD, Trina. “Sperm FAQ.” WebMD, 24 Oct. 2020, https://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/guide/sperm-and-semen-faq#:~:text=How%20many%20sperm%20do%20you,release%20nearly%20100%20million%20sperm.

Higdon III, H.L. et al. “Minimum number of sperm needed to obtain an intrauterine insemination pregnancy.” Poster Session Sperm Preparation, vol. 90, supplement, S202, 01 Sept. 2008, American Society for Reproductive Medicine, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.07.641, https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(08)02172-9/fulltext#articleInformation

Kovavisarach, Ekachai et al. “Presence of Sperm in Pre-Ejaculatory Fluid of Healthy Males.” J Med Assoc Thai, vol. 99, no. 2, Feb. 2016, pp. 38-41, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27266214/

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