Sexual Health FAQs

Q. What is human sperm made up of?

A. I'll assume you are asking about sperm plus the seminal fluid (a.k.a. semen) which contains the sperm. Each sperm or spermatozoon, (spermatozoa = more than one of them) is actually made up of three parts, the head, the midpiece and the tail. One cell is called a spermatozoa.

The head contains chromosomes or genetic material (DNA) and on the outside of the head enzymes needed for the penetration and fertilization of an egg. The midpiece contains “stuff” that provides energy for the locomotion of the tail. The tail helps the sperm swim. Semen contains small amounts of more than thirty elements, including fructose, ascorbic acid, cholesterol, creatine, citric acid, lactic acid, nitrogen, vitamin B12, and various salts and enzymes.

Let’s go back to the inside of the head of the sperm. All normal cells have 46 chromosomes but sperm have half that number or, 23. If and when the sperm joins ups with the female’s, egg (ovum) which also has 23 chromosomes, together they add up to 46 chromosomes. The middle section controls the sperms activities.

The sperm or (spermatozoa -- which are the little swimming critters) make up only about 5% of what a man ejaculates each time he ejaculates. This represents about 100 to 400 million of them! Therefore, they are very, very, very tiny, in fact a single sperm is the smallest cell in the body. The rest of what a man ejaculates in his “ejaculate”, which is about a teaspoonful (5 ml), is made up of water, sugar, protein, vitamin C, zinc, and prostaglandins.

Semen or seminal fluid is the mixture of sperm and the secretions of the seminal vesicles, prostate gland, and the bulbourethral glands. For more on the sperm cell, see the sperm cell page.

Q. What do I do if I miss taking a birth control pill?

A. Okay, this is how it goes. If you miss 1 pill, take 2 the next day. If you miss 2 pills take 3 the next day. If you miss more than that, don't take any, call your health care provider and always make sure to use condoms and spermicide as backup protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases since you are no longer protected from pregnancy by the pill.

Q. When do I need to see a gynecologist?

A. Pay attention to your body. If you notice unusual gynecological symptoms, make an appointment with your health care provider at once. You might have an easy to treat infection or a maybe a more serious problem. The sooner you catch it, the better. Reasons to see your doctor or health care provider right away include:

  If you have been a victim of rape or sexual abuse
  Vaginal discharge that's heavier than usual or has a strong odor or color
   Genital lumps or sores
  Vaginal redness, itching or burning
  A breast lump, abnormal nipple discharge, pain or change in breast contour
  Abdominal pain aside from your usual cramps
   Changes in your period after you've been menstruating for more than a year
See your gynecologist for an annual Pap smear and STD tests. Early treatment can cure many STDs and reduce the impact of others.

Q. How many eggs does a woman have when she is born?

A. Unlike men, who produce new sperm cells daily throughout most of their lifetime, women are born with a finite number of undeveloped eggs; around one to two million in their ovaries.

When women reach puberty and start menstruating, only about 300,000 immature egg cells, or follicles, remain. Some of these begin to develop with each monthly cycle, but during this time, only one follicle matures into an ovum (egg) and bursts from an ovary into the fallopian tubes, initiating ovulation.

Through a process known as atresia, many of the follicles that don't develop into mature egg cells degenerate. As a result, only a few hundred remain at menopause, which usually begins at around forty-five or fifty years of age; however, because of the hormonal changes that accompany menopause, the remaining follicles are unlikely to mature and become viable eggs. But this does not mean that women going through menopause cannot get pregnant.


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