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Last updated October 25, 2019. 4 minute read

What is ejaculation? How does it happen?

Ejaculation has two phases: emission and expulsion. During ejaculation, the penis releases semen (also known as ejaculate, cum, jizz, etc.), which is a sticky white liquid that contains your sperm.

Dr Chimene Richa Md Written by Chimene Richa, MD
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

When you are engaging in sexual activities, you usually start with desire, then move on to arousal and erection, and finally end with ejaculation. Some common names for ejaculation are cumming, jizzing, shooting your load, and many more that can be found on the internet. Ejaculation is closely tied to the male orgasm, and usually, the two occur together (Alwaal, 2015). However, men can ejaculate without having an orgasm and vice versa. During ejaculation, the penis releases semen (also known as ejaculate, cum, jizz, etc.), which is a sticky white liquid that contains your sperm.


  • Ejaculation has two phases: emission and expulsion.
  • The emission phase is when the semen is created by combining fluids from the prostate, seminal vesicles, and vas deferens.
  • The expulsion phase is the muscular contractions that propel the semen into the urethra and out of the penis.
  • Several potential problems with ejaculation include premature, delayed, absent, or retrograde ejaculations.

How does ejaculation occur?

Ejaculation is a complex process with two phases: emission and expulsion. It involves several different parts of the male reproductive system, including:

  • Vas deferens: tubes that store and move sperm from the testes to the penis
  • Seminal vesicles: glands that make fluids that go into semen
  • Prostate: the gland that secretes fluids that feed and protect sperm
  • Urethra: the tube inside the penis by which urine and semen exit the body
  • Bladder: the organ where your urine is stored until urination

Emission is the brief phase that makes up the first part of ejaculation. This phase is triggered by the autonomic nervous system (think “fight-or-flight” response) via nerves going from the male reproductive system to the spinal cord. First, the bladder neck closes so that semen cannot travel backward into the bladder (Alwaal, 2015). Then the prostate and the seminal vesicles add their seminal fluids to the urethra. There they are joined by sperm that traveled from the testes through the vas deferens to create semen. Ejaculation is inevitable at this point.


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The next phase of ejaculation is expulsion; this is the phase where semen leaves the body. Muscles in the pelvis and penis contract several times and expel the semen through the urethra and out the penis. After ejaculation, the erection decreases, and you have a temporary period where you can’t have another erection, known as the refractory period.

What is pre-cum?

Pre-cum, also known as pre-ejaculate, is a fluid that is released when a man is sexually aroused, but before he ejaculates. You may or may not notice a small amount of fluid at the tip of your penis. This fluid is typically clear and is different from semen. It is produced by special glands in the penis called Cowper’s glands. Pre-cum acts to lubricate the penis and to help semen exit the body. The fluid also helps counteract the acidity of any residual urine in the urethra, thereby protecting the sperm in the semen. While pre-cum by itself does not contain sperm, if you have ejaculated recently, there may still be residual sperm in the urethra. It is, therefore, possible for a woman to become pregnant from pre-cum if you don’t use birth control.

What is nocturnal emission?

Nocturnal emissions (or “wet dreams”) are when you orgasm and ejaculate in your sleep. This is most common during puberty; they usually decrease as you age. These “wet dreams” cannot be controlled and are a normal aspect of your sexual health.

Potential problems with ejaculation

Satisfying sex depends on a complex interplay of many factors; sometimes, something goes wrong, and the result is not what we expected or wanted. Potential problems with ejaculation include:

  • Premature ejaculation (PE): Ejaculating earlier during sex than you or your partner intended. This condition affects a third of men aged 18 to 59. Fortunately, the American Urological Association reports that 95% of cases improve with treatment (AUA, n.d.). PE is thought to be caused by a combination of psychological and biological factors, and treatment is via behavioral and medical therapies. You can learn more about premature ejaculation by clicking here.
  • Delayed ejaculation: Ejaculation that takes longer than you (or your partner) would like is among the least understood and least common, less than 3% of men, male sexual dysfunction (Althof, 2016). Some men may need more than 20-25 minutes of stimulation to reach orgasm and ejaculate. Difficulty achieving ejaculation can sometimes result from depression, anxiety, alcohol use, medication use, or diabetes; addressing these issues may improve ejaculation.
  • Retrograde ejaculation: Sometimes referred to as a “dry orgasm,” retrograde ejaculation happens when the semen travels backward into the bladder rather than out of the penis. Men with this condition are still able to orgasm but without the accompanying ejaculation. In retrograde ejaculation, you might notice that your urine looks cloudy because of the semen mixed in, especially if you urinate right after sex. Common causes include prostate surgery, specifically transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), bladder surgery, and diabetes. 
  • Anejaculation (no ejaculation): The inability to ejaculate is rare but can be caused by multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and spinal cord injury due to surgery, trauma, etc. (Althof, 2016)
  • Painful ejaculation: This can be a sign of prostate disease like inflammation (prostatitis), enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia), or prostate cancer. 
  • Bloody ejaculation: Blood in the semen (also called hematospermia) can certainly be alarming, but is usually nothing to worry about. Especially in men younger than 40, it does not usually signify a serious problem often resolves on its own. However, in men over 40 who have multiple episodes of reddish or brownish semen, there are several potential causes, including inflammation, infection, prostate cancer, trauma, etc. (Mathers, 2017) Talk with your healthcare provider if you have blood in your semen, especially if you are over 40 or if you have any associated symptoms like pain with ejaculation or urination, pain in your groin or lower back, discharge from your penis, or if you are just concerned and would like to be evaluated.

In conclusion

Ejaculation is the peak of sexual intercourse and is vital to fertility. It is a part of your sexual health, and when it is dysfunctional, discussions with your healthcare provider can go a long way to helping you regain satisfaction with your sex life.