The Male Biological Clock

A man’s chronological age is actually a poor indicator of the status of his sexual biological clock. Some 80-year-old men have sexual and reproductive parameters similar to men 50 years their junior. And some 30-year-olds, though they appear fit and healthy, have sexual biological clocks that have been ticking along furiously and have reached a stage more typically seen in men in their 70s.

Four Key Physical Factors

So how can a man tell where his biological clock stands? Fortunately, it’s relatively simple: A man’s biological clock relates to the health status of four key physical factors:

  • Semen
  • Sperm
  • Testosterone
  • Erections

Semen

Semen is the milky-colored, somewhat gel-like liquid that spurts out of the penis during orgasm. It is produced by the walnut-sized prostate gland that sits just below the bladder, and by the seminal vesicles, two pinky-sized glands that feed into the prostate.

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Semen is a complex substance that contains nutrients to keep sperm alive after ejaculation. Semen is designed to protect sperm from the chemical environment of the vagina and special enzymes to make it liquefy about 15 minutes after ejaculation. The average volume of semen expelled by a healthy man in one ejaculation is about a teaspoon. Semen should spurt or shoot out of the penis, not dribble.

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Sperm

A teaspoon of ejaculated semen usually contains roughly 250 million sperm, the tadpole-like cells that contain a man’s genetic heritage. Healthy men produce sperm at a rate of about 60,000 every minute. Each individual sperm cell takes about three months to grow.

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Immature sperm are made in the testicles and then move slowly through a long, tightly coiled tube at the back of each testicle called the epididymis. When sperm leave the epididymis, they migrate up two thin tubes called the vas deferens. The vas deferens pass through the prostate gland and join the urethra, which is the tube that passes urine from the bladder.

Healthy sperm swim vigorously in a relatively straight line. Their tails are long and whip-like, the heads are teardrop-shaped, and the genetic information they carry is intact. Their swimming ability is key. Although it’s only a matter of inches from the back of the vagina, where semen is normally deposited during unprotected sex, to an egg in a fallopian tube, sperm are so tiny that the journey is roughly equivalent to a person running three miles. To reach their target, sperm have to swim like crazy. A sperm’s swimming ability is called “motility” and this is a key factor to examine in a good semen analysis.

A sperm’s shape is called its “morphology” and it, too, can be measured. Abnormally shaped sperm often contain genetic errors, which reduce the chances the sperm will fertilize an egg. The more normally shaped sperm in his semen, the more likely a man will be able to biologically father a healthy child.

The number, motility and shape of sperm all generally decline with age, although many other factors can speed up the biological clock governing this aspect of a man’s overall reproductive health. Heat, for example, is bad for sperm. Sperm production plummets in the days following a high fever. Anything that unnaturally warms the testicles, such as taking frequent soaks in a hot tub, will similarly hurt sperm.

The shape of sperm is an indirect measure of the quality of the genetic information they contain, but in recent years it has become possible to probe the integrity of the genetic information in individual sperm cells. 

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Testosterone

Testosterone drives the development of characteristics such as facial hair, muscle development, and interest in sex. Many other hormones play a role in male sexuality, but testosterone is by far the most prominent and the one most often adjusted with supplements of one type or another.

Erections

Male sexual health is also affected by the quality and reliability of a man’s erections. Erectile dysfunction is defined as a persistent inability to achieve or maintain an erection adequate for intercourse. It’s an enormous problem that really has only received the attention it deserves since the introduction in 1998 of the erection-enhancing drug Viagra. The largest study done to date estimates that between 20 and 30 million men in the United States experience some degree of erectile dysfunction, with the incidence increasing steadily with age. Fortunately, erectile dysfunction can almost always be successfully treated with medications or other techniques and technologies.

How to Check the Time on a Man’s Biological Clock

Nature doesn’t hand out the same clock to everyone. Aside from identical twins, every man is biologically unique. Men (and women) age at different rates due to differences in the details of their biological clocks, combined with influences such as diet, stress, exercise, injury, disease, and use of substances such as nicotine that speed aging.

The “time” shown on a man’s particular biological clock is a function of how much semen he ejaculates, how many and how healthy his sperm is, his testosterone level, and the quality and reliability of his erections. Men scoring high on these measures are biologically young regardless of their age, although some degradation in the genetic quality of sperm is unavoidable.

But even though a man’s own biological clock sets broad limits on his sexuality and fertility, there are ways to offset, reverse or overcome almost all problems in those two areas. Understanding the ways that genes, aging and lifestyle factors can erode sexual health is the first step to doing something about it.

How Men Can Improve Sperm Count and Quality

Sperm are rapidly dividing and growing populations of cells. A well-balanced diet with green leafy and brightly colored vegetables can be beneficial for DNA and sperm function. A chemical found in red meat and dairy foods, L-carnitine, may be important to sperm function as well.

Avoiding substances and conditions known to be toxic to sperm may also improve male fertility. Sperm toxins include:

Nature doesn’t hand out the same clock to everyone. Aside from identical twins, every man is biologically unique. Men (and women) age at different rates due to differences in the details of their biological clocks, combined with influences such as diet, stress, exercise, injury, disease, and use of substances such as nicotine that speed aging.

The “time” shown on a man’s particular biological clock is a function of how much semen he ejaculates, how many and how healthy his sperm is, his testosterone level, and the quality and reliability of his erections. Men scoring high on these measures are biologically young regardless of their age, although some degradation in the genetic quality of sperm is unavoidable.

But even though a man’s own biological clock sets broad limits on his sexuality and fertility, there are ways to offset, reverse or overcome almost all problems in those two areas. Understanding the ways that genes, aging and lifestyle factors can erode sexual health is the first step to doing something about it.