Why Does Semen Color Vary?

Semen is a fluid that is ejaculated from the urethra by men after reaching climax during a sexual intercourse. This ejaculate is normally grayish-white in color. However, sometimes, people complain of a change in the color and texture of the semen.  This can partly be due to the food that they have eaten at that time or the time lapse since they last ejaculated.  However, sometimes, the color of the semen tends to become red, pink, brown, yellow or green which may be unrelated to the situations mentioned above[1, 2].

Generally a change in color of the semen is not a cause for concern but if someone observes it persistently then it is not a bad idea to visit a physician and get to the bottom of the cause, especially if it is followed by other symptoms like fever, chills, pain, and swelling around the penile region.  The treatment for change in the color of the semen depends on what is exactly causing it. As an example if an infection of the prostate gland or an STI is believed to be the cause then antibiotics are good enough to treat the primary infection and return the normal color to the semen[1, 2].

Another reason for a man to consider visiting a physician is when he notices a foul odor coming from semen aside from a change in color[1, 2].  This article highlights some of the reasons as to why there is a change in color of the semen.

Why Does Semen Color Vary?

Semen forms a vital part of the male reproductive system. It is this fluid that contains sperm which eventually fertilizes the egg present in a female. Aside from sperms, the semen contains other nutrients that protect the sperms and allow it to grow. These nutrients include vitamins, enzymes, minerals, proteins, sugars, and various antioxidants[2].

Normal and healthy semen is whitish gray in color and is like a jelly in texture. It has an alkaline odor to it.  However, certain factors can cause a change in the color and texture of semen. Some of the different colors that semen may have and the reasons for it include[2]:

1. Red or Pink Colored Semen: This generally happens when the semen gets mixed with blood. This in medical term is called as hematospermia.  There can be numerous causes to this but most of them are quite benign.  There can also be some medical conditions that may cause the color of the semen to become red or pink.  This includes [2]:

  • Blood Vessel Rupture: A rupture of the blood vessel may allow some blood to get mixed with semen making it red or pink. If the blood is old then the color may also appear brownish. This can happen as a result of injury, forceful or vigorous sexual activity, or repeated masturbation. It is a relatively benign condition as long as there are no other associated symptoms which may suggest a sexually transmitted disease[2].
  • Infection: Some infections may cause the color of the semen to become red or pink. However, with any infection there will be additional signs of fever, chills, and fatigue which should be looked at[2].
  • Prostate Problems: Conditions like prostatitis, prostate surgery, prostate biopsy, or prostate cancer all can allow blood to get mixed with semen making the color of it red or pink[2].
  • Hypertension: This condition may affect may body systems including the reproductive system. Persistent uncontrolled hypertension may allow blood to get mixed with semen making the color of it red or pink[2].

2. Brown or Black Semen: This color signifies that blood present in the body for long periods of time has mixed with the semen. This is usually caused by the following

  • Trauma: A spinal cord injury or trauma to the genital area is the primary cause for the color of the semen to become dark brown or black[2].
  • Metals: Excessive levels of heavy metals in the body like manganese, nickel, or lead can also cause the color of the semen to become black or brown. This can happen when an individual gets exposed to contaminated food, water, and other external environmental factors[2].

3. Yellow and Green Semen: The color of the semen can become yellow or green due to the following reasons.

  • Infection: There are some infections like a UTI or STI like chlamydia that can change the color of the semen to green or yellow. It may also cause the semen to have a foul odor[2].
  • Infrequent Ejaculation: This is also one of the common reasons for a person to have green or yellow colored semen. This is because the semen stays within the body and has enough time to mix with other compounds present[2].
  • Dietary Changes: There may also be a change in the color of semen as a result of medications or certain dietary changes. If it is not followed by any other symptoms then it is not a cause of worry and should get back to normal with time.  Certain foods with color in them also at times change the color of semen.  Foods containing garlic, onions, or broccoli often at times change the color of semen[2].
  • Urine: If semen gets mixed with urine then the color of it may change to yellow. This usually occurs in the urethra.  It is again not a cause for concern and should resolve on its own[2].
  • Jaundice: People with liver problems who suffer from jaundice have increased levels of bilirubin in them. This increase may also change the color of semen to yellow[2].
  • Elevated White Blood Cells: Sometimes, elevated levels of WBCs in the body also change the color of semen to yellow. It is generally due to some other medical condition affecting the levels of EBCs in the body like UTI, STD, or prostatitis[2].

In summary, a change in the color of the semen does not always require any medical attention.  However, if the color does not normalize in a few days then it is best to consult a physician, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms as detailed above[1, 2].

Additionally, if the change in the color of the semen is followed by symptoms indicative of a prostate problem then also it is necessary to consult with a physician to get to the bottom of the cause and start treatment for it.  Early detection and treatment is the key to bringing the color of the semen back to normal and treat any underlying condition if required[1, 2].

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