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Science and Semen, Spirit and Sperm

It might have taken humans a while to figure out the male's contribution to procreation, but the science of it took even longer. Yet even before the Western scientific world had determined sperm's part in the happy event, Eastern cultures had defined the proper use of men's emissions for procreation and spiritual use as well as how to build and safeguard this valuable resource.

Surprisingly, Western beliefs were not so different from some of the Eastern beliefs.

Centuries of writings and teachings from China and India encouraged celibacy and emphasized the importance of conserving one's semen for spiritual reasons. This was based on the belief that sperm contained the essential Yang, or male, essence. Yang was limited, and though it increased with erotic stimulation, it was expended during ejaculation. On the other hand, Yin (female) essence also increased with sexual contact, but it was unlimited. Men could receive infusions of Yin life energy from satisfied female partners.

Taoist and Tantric writings described how to build the semen's quantity and quality. There were practices to increase its vitality and then move it into the head where the repository for spiritual energy was contained. This required complicated sexual positions that stimulated the energy centers of their bodies combined with breathing practices and specific positions of the tongue and eyes.

Indians, Chinese—and Arabs too in this case—all had suggested foods, herbs, and maximum frequency of ejaculation that would increase the quality and quantity of one's semen. When used for procreation instead of life extension or spiritual attainment—all acceptable uses of the life energy it contained —better semen created children who were healthier in every way.

Indigenous cultures, too, held a variety of beliefs concerned with the preservation and proper use of semen. Some tribes in New Guinea were reported to believe that young males needed to receive their semen from older males. Though they did not lose it once they had it, they first received it through oral or anal sex from an older male member of the tribe. In some tribes, this was the method of transfer of ancestral spirits to the younger members.

Surprisingly, Western beliefs were not so different from some of the Eastern beliefs. Aristotle taught that the sperm contained the soul of the human. It was stored in the man's head until needed, and was limited in quantity and irreplaceable. Indeed, every sperm was sacred! Since it was almost a person already, it needed the womb only as a nesting spot and source of nourishment. Aristotle compared the process with that of making cheese, with the seminal fluid as the magic element, or rennet, that caused the menstrual blood to set and become human. Thus the male supplied the life essence and the female supplied an incubator for the developing fetus.

But science and technology marched on, and in due time, the microscope was invented. Antonie van Leeuwenhoeck, using the newfangled machine in 1674, found the first microbes. As one might expect (given the tinkerings of boys with their toys), soon he was looking at semen through his microscope, and found some tadpole-looking things and named them animalcules.

It was then conjectured that sperm contained the entire tiny human, physical as well as spiritual, which could develop in the nest of a woman's womb. Further, it contained its own tiny, completely formed human, which by extension contained its own tinier human, ad infinitum like Russian nesting dolls.

Almost a century later, botanists proved that both female and male plants contributed genetic material to their offspring. This inevitably led others to consider the possibility that there were scientific reasons that some young humans looked like their mothers as well as their fathers. Finally in 1854, scientists actually witnessed the insemination of an egg by a sperm. It was a frog egg, but it still offered irrefutable evidence—women were required to create a human after all.

It wasn't until very recently that scientists in the West have started looking at the issue (no pun intended) of the prodigious amounts of sperm within each ejaculate of semen. Nature has a habit of being profuse in her abundance. Each dandelion blossom spews hundreds of seeds; each individual strawberry has hundreds; each human emission contains hundreds of millions of sperm. That's 200-500 million sperm per ejaculate! It's hard to imagine that each one is crucial when there are that many.

But the ancient Easterners have been proved right, to some extent, by Western science. Frequent ejaculation does indeed decrease both the motility and number of the sperm in semen. They have found—without relying on common sense conclusions, of course—that the quantity of sperm affects the likelihood of insemination as well. Studies are underway to determine if the vitality of a man's sperm affects the health of his children. It will be interesting to see if one day science will be able to measure life force and prove the ancient Chinese and Indians right on that as well.

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Margaret Wade
October 21st, 2009
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Margaret L. Wade is an adult educator, writer, and certified sexological bodyworker. Margaret has taught, written, and presented papers in the fields of education, computer information systems,...