Shifty shades of semen


Dear Dr G,

I am in my late twenties and sexually active.

My girlfriend recently commented on the texture and the colour of my semen. She said although it was white in most instances, there were several occasions where she noticed a slight yellow tinge.

I confess that in my younger days, I once noticed blood in my semen after an episode of vigorous masturbation.

The bleeding subsequently stopped, but the colour of my ejaculate changed from bright red to light brown over a course of three months.

I hope you can explain the reasons behind this situation.

First of all, what makes up semen and what is its normal colour?

Are there different colours and what is its significance?

Can the general state of health and diet influence the colour of the ejaculate?

I also noticed the texture of my semen changes regularly. Is that normal or this is due to vigorous or too much sex?

Yours truly,

Shady Shaun

Semen, or seminal fluid, predominantly comes from seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. It is an organic liquid that assists the passage of sperm to fertilise the female ovum.

Contrary to common belief, the main constituent of semen is not predominantly spermatozoon. Semen has to function as a lubricant, nutrient and energy supplier as well as the defender of any "hostility" in the vagina. Seminal fluid also contains proteolytic enzymes, lactic acid and fibrinolysin to deal with the hostility, glucose, fructose and citrate to provide nutrition for sperm, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, sodium and calcium help to point the sperm in the right direction. With such luscious "ingredients", the texture and colour of semen can undoubtedly vary.

A 1992 World Health Organization report stated that a normal human ejaculation is 2ml in volume or greater. It is typically translucent with a tinge of white. However, there is often variation with slight tints of grey or yellow. Obviously, one's general state of health, dietary intake, frequency and intensity of ejaculation can influence both its colour and texture.

The most common discolouration is a yellowish tinge. As semen passing through the urethra can get mixed with leftover urine, this can give it a yellowish tint especially when ejaculating shortly after urination.

The other reason for a yellowish stain is jaundice. This is a medical condition associated with liver dysfunction, resulting in the build-up of bilirubin - a yellow pigment left behind after red blood cells break down. Although this yellow pigment commonly ends up and is seen in the skin and eyes, it can also give ejaculate an alarming yellow stain. Lastly, foods such as garlic and onions with high sulphur content can also result in a yellowish ejaculation.

Blood in the semen is also known as hematospermia and it is also a common and alarming discolouration of semen. That said, serious conditions such as prostate cancer resulting in blood in the semen is quite rare. Apart from bright red ejaculate, pinkish orange or a brownish dusky tinge are typical signs of old blood in the semen. The common causes of blood in the semen may be associated with prostate operations, prostatitis, and sexually transmitted infections. A prostate biopsy, which involves multiple samplings of the prostate, can cause persistent bleeding even up to three months. An enlarged prostate with chronic inflammation can also cause bleeding due to rupture of the blood vessels. Finally, sexually transmitted infections such as herpes, chlamydia and gonorrhoea commonly result in blood in the ejaculate. Such changes can cause semen to change in colour, ranging from bright scarlet red to a murky green.

The consistency and viscosity of the ejaculate is another issue that gets some men paranoid, especially without any opportunity to compare it with one's peers. Healthy semen is generally described as viscous and jelly-like. Needless to say, such texture varies depending on diet, level of physical activity and consumption of alcohol. In general thickened semen is a sign of severe dehydration, testosterone deficiency or infection. On the other hand, watery semen may be associated with vitamin or mineral deficiency and infertility.

Frequent or vigorous ejaculation is commonly reported to cause discolouration and changes in the texture of semen. Ironically, it is also well recognised that sexual abstinence for long periods can result in disruption of the vessels, causing blood in the ejaculate. Many men (and their partners) concerned about too much (or too little) ejaculation resulting in the changing spectrum (and shades) of the semen often put Dr G on the spot for an explanation. His view since "you are damned if you do and damned if you don't" you might as well switch off the lights during bedroom activities and enjoy the sex, regardless of any shades of climax!

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