how long will sperm wait for an egg

how long will sperm wait for an egg

how long will sperm wait for an egg

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How does sperm reach the egg after sex?

First things first: Let’s look at where (and how far) sperm need to travel in order to reach the egg.

Following ejaculation, sperm have to swim a mighty journey. They need to travel from the vagina, through the cervix, into the uterus, and finally into the correct uterine tube to locate the egg — no mean feat. All in all, this encompasses a distance of 15 to 18 cm and is, as Dr. Jones puts it, “a very long way for a sperm to swim!”

How long does it take sperm to reach the egg?

Now that we know how far they have to travel, you’re probably wondering how long it typically takes for sperm to swim the distance. Usually, the sperm reaches the egg within 15 to 45 minutes of ejaculation. However, the process could be much longer than that if you haven’t ovulated yet by the time you have sex, because sperm can live inside a reproductive tract and wait for an egg for up to five days.


While the journey to the egg is certainly long and arduous for the tiny sperm, they do have a helping hand to swim the distance. Within just eight seconds of sperm entering the vagina, the pH in the upper vagina is raised, making it a nicer environment in which to swim. Around the same time, within a minute after ejaculation, the semen becomes a gel, or coagulum. Researchers aren’t yet 100% sure why this happens, but it has been suggested that it can help to keep the sperm near the opening of the cervix. Then, around 30 to 60 minutes later, the gel degrades, and the sperm can begin to swim again.

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how long will sperm wait for an egg
how long will sperm wait for an egg

How many sperm reach the egg, and where does fertilization take place?

Only a very small fraction of ejaculated sperm actually make it all the way to the egg. Around 300 million sperm are typically released during sex, but only about 200 sperm will reach the egg. This is still a pretty big number since we only need one sperm to fertilize an egg.

Not only do these sperm have to swim a great length to reach your egg, but there are also a number of “booby traps,” as Dr. Jones calls them, encountered along the way. Think of these as your body’s natural defenses to make sure only the best sperm reach your egg.

First, sperm that reach the cervix will encounter cervical mucus, which can “bind” and trap the sperm. If you’re trying to conceive, don’t worry. During ovulation, this mucus becomes more watery to allow more sperm to pass through.

Next, sperm that make it through the cervix will then travel to either the left or right uterine tube. This gives them a 50/50 chance of finding an egg, as we ovulate in either our left or right uterine tube each month. Dr. Jones adds that “not all of the sperm will go in the right direction.” It’s estimated that only around 10,000 sperm will actually enter the correct tube.

To make matters even more complicated, the uterine tubes also have “very narrow” openings on the uterus side, once more reducing the number that will successfully reach their destination. However, this is the last hurdle, as fertilization then typically takes place in the uterine tube.

how long will sperm wait for an egg
how long will sperm wait for an egg

Why doesn’t pregnancy occur every time you have sex during ovulation?

So far, the math doesn’t quite seem to add up: Around 200 sperm from each ejaculation can be expected to reach the egg, yet conception only happens between 10% and 33% of the time when unprotected sex occurs during a fertile window. So the question remains: Why doesn’t pregnancy occur every time we have unprotected sex during ovulation?

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There are a number of reasons, according to Dr. Jones. “Not every sperm is capable of fertilizing an egg due to the shape of its head or other defects it may have that don’t facilitate it in penetrating the egg’s shell,” she explains. “Also, as women age, the outer shell of the egg may thicken and harden, making it harder to fertilize.”

This mismatch doesn’t only occur in the body. Dr. Jones adds, “Even in IVF [in vitro fertilization], if an egg and sperm are placed in a dish together (conventional insemination), you can get failed fertilization.”

Sperm Should Be Waiting For The Egg

Myths about the best timing and frequency of sex when trying to get pregnant can lead to unnecessary stress. Even when a couple is trying to conceive, they do not need to have sex every day and there is no need to drop everything and rush into bed at the exact moment of ovulation.

Since sperm lives about two to three days inside the female reproductive tract, having sex two to three times a week is enough to result in pregnancy for most couples.

For couples who prefer not to have intercourse that often, the key is to have the sperm waiting for the egg. Women with 28 to 30 day menstrual cycles typically ovulate around the twelfth or fourteenth day of the cycle. Upon ovulation, the egg is released from the surface of the ovary and is then captured by one of the fallopian tubes. The egg has a 24-hour lifespan during which it can be penetrated or fertilized by sperm.

how long will sperm wait for an egg
how long will sperm wait for an egg

Research studies have shown that sex on the days just before ovulation most often lead to pregnancy. Highest pregnancy rates were seen if sex occurred on the day before ovulation (the day of the LH surge detected by over the counter ovulation predictor kits).

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Sex as early as six days before ovulation also had a chance of pregnancy, but it was much smaller. If the only time sex occurred was after ovulation, there were no pregnancies. This is how we know that the sperm should be waiting for the egg.

What Happens During Fertilization Time?

After ejaculation, the sperms enter the female reproductive system where they compete for their chance to fertilize the egg. The sperm travels roughly about 15 to 18 cm where they seem to be competing against each other to reach the egg.

sperm and egg
sperm and egg

What Happens to Sperm Inside a Woman?

Once the sperm enters the reproductive system, it can take about 30-45 minutes to reach the egg. For this, it is important to have a healthy sperm which has the right kind of motility to reach the egg and fertilize it.

Once inside the body of a woman, a healthy sperm can live up to 2-5 days. Once the sperm reaches the released egg, it does not mean that it is capable of fertilizing it immediately. The sperm will then undergo a process called capacitation in the reproductive tract. This process will take about 10 hours.

It is safe to say that the fertilization time is appropriately about 24 hours. When the sperm penetrates the egg, the surface of the egg changes and blocks the entry of other sperms. The genetic makeup of the baby is complete at the moment of fertilization.

The fertilized egg then starts dividing frequently into many cells. Once the fertilization process is over, the fertilized egg will travel through the fallopian tube, enters the uterus in another 3-4 days, and attaches itself to the lining of the uterus, and slowly grow to become the baby.


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