Anonymous on September 30, 2011

Why would my new partner’s semen smell so...pungent?

I’m in a new relationship with a man and we recently slept together for the first time. My question is: why would a man's semen have an unusually "pungent" taste and odor? I usually enjoy oral sex, but cannot bring myself to do it with him.

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on September 30, 2011

Thanks for your question. The good news is that semen scent probably isn’t related to an infection, and probably has more to do with his diet. That said, it’s still a good idea for you to help your new partner know that something might be amiss and he could benefit from a trip to his doctor’s office for a full exam. 

With that in mind, here are a few possible reasons for unusually pungent semen... 

Men may be able to influence the way their semen smells depending on what they eat. As with overall health, semen scent can also likely be improved by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. If you’d like to nudge your new partner into having better smelling semen, you might also encourage him to gobble down healthy foods...and leave the heavy, fatty and salty foods for another time. 

That said, there are some other issues that may be at play... 

Is your partner uncircumcised? Some men who aren’t circumcised can develop a build-up of skin cells, skin oils and sweat under the foreskin. If the foreskin isn’t withdrawn and cleaned on a regular basis, bacteria can also accumulate and cause a pungent smell. 

Dried sweat and urine can also sometimes cause an off-smell in a man’s genital area. If your new partner is somewhat lax in hygiene, this could be the cause of odor as well. You may be able to overcome this issue if you encourage a quick wash or shower ahead of oral sex...

You also mentioned that this is a new relationship. Unless you are in a mutually monogamous relationship and you know each other’s sexual histories, I encourage you to use latex condoms and dental dams during all sexual activity…including oral, vaginal and anal sex, as well as genital rubbing. 

And remember, you can’t tell if someone has an STD just by looking. Most STDs don’t show obvious signs or symptoms for a long time. So the only way for you and your partner to know each other’s STD statuses is to get tested for common STDs (e.g. chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and syphilis). 

Testing is especially important for your partner as the symptoms you describe could also indicate the presence of a sexually transmitted infection, like chlamydia or gonorrhea. If, after testing, he does have one of these STDs, you can both be treated together. And keep in mind that both chlamydia and gonorrhea can potentially infect the throat. So you may want to talk to your doctor, also, about a throat culture to test for these STDs...just to be on the safe side. 

For more detailed information about STD symptoms, risk factors and prevention, see our Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Thanks again for contacting us, and I wish you and your partner the best of health.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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