Are Virgins Any More or Less Fertile Than Other People?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 3 2011 6:03 PM

Justin Bieber's One Time

Are virgins any more or less fertile than other people?

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber

Photograph by Getty Images for CMT.

Twenty-year-old Mariah Yeater reportedly filed a paternity suit against Justin Bieber on Monday, claiming that Bieber, who was then 17 years old, had said the impregnating affair was his “first time.” Are virgins any more or less fertile than other people?

No, except insofar as virgins tend to be young, and young people are more fertile. Semen quality, a key factor in male fertility, tends to be highest in the late teens or early 20s, and then gradually declines over the rest of a man’s life. The key factors in determining the quality of an ejaculate are its sperm count, the morphology of the sperm (whether they have a normal and healthy shape and size), and whether or not the sperm are good swimmers (urologists call this motility). As men age, all three of these measures decline. Furthermore, testosterone levels, which are crucial to the production of sperm, also reach their peak among men between the ages of about 18 and 20.

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A lack of sexual experience can make a man less fertile if he has not ejaculated recently (no matter the means of stimulation). In men who have not ejaculated for a week or longer, the sperm stored in the testes begin to degrade and die out, leading to lower fertility. On the other hand, a man who has ejaculated within the last day or two might have a lower sperm count. Physicians who work at fertility clinics and sperm banks usually prefer that two to seven days have passed since the previous ejaculation, so that the sperm are healthy and plentiful. A man who has not ejaculated recently may produce a higher volume of semen, but high semen volume in itself doesn’t indicate higher fertility.

Female virgins, similarly, aren’t likely to be more or less fertile than experienced women of the same age, but age correlates even more strongly with infertility in women. Women produce their best eggs when young, and are likely to experience more miscarriages and genetic defects as they age.

The concepts of virginity and fertility are paradoxically interrelated in some cultures—but this association is usually made with female virgins rather than male ones. In ancient Greek mythology, Artemis is a virgin fertility goddess, and virgin births occur in the literature of not just Christianity, but also in Islam and versions of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism.

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Explainer thanks Joseph Alukal of New York University and Gail S. Prins of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer.