Fun_People Archive
12 Apr
Um, doing what? (not praying)

Date: Wed, 12 Apr 95 16:54:04 PDT
From: Peter Langston <psl>
To: Fun_People
Subject: Um, doing what?  (not praying)

Forwarded-by: "Linda Branagan" <>
From: cpatil@leland.Stanford.EDU (Christopher Kashinath Patil)
Subject: Re: Bio folklore about semen (yes, that's what I said)

In article <2t6rhg$>,
Wendy Toiwan Hui <> wrote:

>I pose several questions:
>	1. Can sperms survive long enough in the mouth in the first place
>	   in the presence of amylase to be seen swimming in the scope?

Amylase doesn't digest lipid or protein (the two main components of the
sperm head's membrane), so in itself it shouldn't cause degradation. The
mouth is about the same temperature as the female reproductive tract, so
the temp shouldn't kill the sperm either. It still seems pretty unlikely
that sperm would still be swimming in the mouth for any length of time,
but I can't put my finger on why exactly.

>	2. What would make semen salty? I attempted to do this in the
>	   exerpt below (a post to the folklore groups). In short,
>	   I concluded that it is probably from the mucus of the seminal
>	   fluids.

Most of the dry weight of sperm (as distinct from semen) is protein and
nucleic acid, which doesn't have a characteristic flavor. The flavor comes
from the seminal fluid, which I've not heard characterized as 'salty' so
much as 'bitter' or 'tangy'. The latter two tastes come from the high
concentrations of citric acid and ascorbate (vitamin C) found in the semen.
Interestingly, the average ejaculatory volume contains about 60 percent of
the US RDA for vitamin C.

If semen does taste salty to you, it's probably because the average
ejaculatory volume contains about half a gram of sodium chloride -- what
your grandmother would have called a "pinch", if she were whipping up a
batch of semen.

>	3. What is the molecular content of mucus? And would it confer
>	   saltiness?

Ever eaten boogers? That's mucus, and it is somewhat salty. Mucus is
composed primarily of mucopolysaccharides, which are basically starch
molecules whose sugar monomers have been aminated at specific sites.  The
big molecules soak up water, giving them their glisten, and salt follows
the water by osmosis.

For the record, mucus is present at extremely low concentrations in semen,
but it's mainly accounted for by sloughing off the seminiferous tubules. It
isn't abundant enough to result in a salty taste -- most of the salt
mentioned above is free in solution.

The viscosity of semen is mainly due to the high concentration of sugars
and the broken sperm, whose free proteins and randomly coiling nucleic acids
make the liquid flow much more slowly than water.

I don't remember my sources for this, but I wrote a column about it (a la
"Ask Doctor Science") a few years ago, and the sources I used at the time
were all in the med school library under the call number for male
reproductive biology. I wish I could remember the titles, but suffice it to
say that I trusted them at the time.

[=] © 1995 Peter Langston []