Very many things about the male human body are a mystery. Penises, why? Those tiny nipples, what!? But dip beneath the hairy surface of a man's skin, and even more mysteries await, hiding away in his male depths.
While usually contained, safe and sound inside of the body, semen is a fluid most people eventually come into contact with, but also do not know very much about. If it weren't for Samantha Jones calling attention to the phenomenon of funky spunk in the "Easy Come, Easy Go" episode of Sex and the City in 2000, women the world over may have lived in quiet misery, forever perplexed by the unpleasantness of the male sex fluid.
To help educate the masses on the contents, and, yes, healthy range of funkiness in semen, Cosmopolitan.com spoke with a urology specialist and sexual health counselor about all things semen.
HOW SEMEN SHOULD LOOK
Aleece Fosnight, a urology physician's assistant and sex counselor with AASECT, explained that healthy semen should be a milky white or slightly grayish color. "Right after ejaculation, it's pretty thick," Fosnight said. "And 25-30 minutes later, it becomes clear and runny." The change in fluidity is to help aid in reproduction, and thin out the cervical mucous to aid in the implantation of a ~fertilized egg~.
HOW SEMEN SHOULD (GENERALLY) SMELL AND TASTE
Semen is a bodily fluid. Can you name any bodily fluids that smell like roses or taste like freshly baked cookies? No! There are none. So as a bodily fluid, you can expect semen to have a specific taste and odor that isn't necessarily going to be lovely. Just to clear that right up.
The thing to note about semen is that it's a vehicle for delivering sperm through a vagina. So everything in it is meant to aid in that process. Semen is mostly made up of sperm, proteins, fructose (to help energize the sperm for transport), and seminal fluid. Fosnight said the typical pH of semen is somewhere around 7-8, or slightly alkaline. The vagina, on the other hand, has a pH between 3-5, or slightly acidic, so the alkaline nature of semen helps keep the sperm alive in an acidic vaginal environment (are you having fun yet?).
Because of its slightly alkaline pH, Fosnight said healthy semen should have an "ammonia or bleach-like kind of a smell," and will taste a bit sweet (because of the fructose) and salty—like the perfect trail mix, in drinkable liquid form, straight out of a penis!
Something Fosnight clarified was that semen left dormant for too long will start to develop a more concentrated taste or smell. Think of it like a stagnant body of water, collecting film and attracting flies. To keep semen from developing a stronger taste or odor—and also to promote prostate health—studies have found that ejaculating at least twice a week is beneficial to a man's health.
THAT THING ABOUT FOOD CHANGING HIS TASTE IS TRUE
Remember when Samantha Jones makes the guy with the spunky funk choke down a series of wheatgrass shots in an attempt to improve his semen flavor profile? According to Fosnight, that wasn't the smartest move.
Although there’s been very little research done on the subject, health care professionals often hear anecdotally from patients that certain foods can slightly affect the taste of semen. While Fosnight said it's normal for fruits, which are high in sugar content, to change the taste of a person's semen, vegetables generally don't have much of an effect.
"Smoking can change the taste," Fosnight added. "It will have more of a bitter taste to it with smoking and with alcohol." So, no one's saying you should avoid ingesting a mouthful of piping hot semen after your partner's spent the night having too many drinks and then *whoops!* accidentally chain-smoking outside of the bar, but know that semen might taste especially bitter and, ahem, spunky after such an occasion.
WHEN THE SPUNKINESS IS TRYING TO TELL YOU SOMETHING
Though there aren't very many health issues that can be spotted based on a person's semen, there are a few things to look out for. "A lot of times guys won't notice it, so partners report if there's something wrong," Fosnight said. She also added that at her practice, they call this "when semen goes bad."
The things to look out for are changes in color. "The biggest thing is if it has a yellow or green appearance to it," Fosnight said. "Like a prominent yellow or opaque consistency." An opaque yellow or green color is typically a sign of an STI—usually gonorrhea. A guy whose semen has changed colors like this should definitely see a doctor, and avoid sex until any sort of infection is either ruled out or treated.
It doesn't happen all too often—Fosnight estimated maybe once in a lifetime for most men—but a busted blood vessel in the prostate (which is responsible for carrying semen out of the body) can cause the semen to have a red or brownish color. If that color normalizes within a few days, there's nothing really to worry about. But as with any health concern, a persistent discoloration should result in a doctor's appointment.
While not super common, blood in the semen is often indicative of a prostate injury, explained Fosnight. These can be caused by using anal toys or putting pressure on the prostate, and if the bleeding subsides and doesn't come with any other symptoms like high blood pressure, things are fine.
As long as a man is doing his due diligence by having regular STI tests, regular prostate exams when he turns 40, and just FORCING himself to ejaculate a couple times a week, semen should be pretty healthy. It may never taste like frozen yogurt, but at least it will be healthy.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.