Retrograde ejaculation occurs when semen enters the bladder instead of emerging through the penis during orgasm. Although you still reach sexual climax, you may ejaculate very little or no semen. This is called a dry orgasm. Retrograde ejaculation isn't harmful, but it can cause male infertility.
Retrograde ejaculation can be caused by medications, health conditions or surgeries that affect the nerves or muscles that control the bladder opening. If retrograde ejaculation is caused by a drug you're taking, stopping the drug may be an effective treatment. For retrograde ejaculation due to a health condition or as a result of surgery, treatment with drugs may restore normal ejaculation and fertility. But treatment for retrograde ejaculation is generally only needed to restore fertility.
Retrograde ejaculation doesn't affect your ability to get an erection or have an orgasm — but when you climax, semen goes into your bladder instead of coming out of your penis. Retrograde ejaculation symptoms include:
- Dry orgasms, orgasms in which you ejaculate very little or no semen out of your penis
- Urine that is cloudy after orgasm because it contains semen
- Male infertility
When to see a doctor
Retrograde ejaculation isn't harmful and requires treatment only if you're attempting to father a child. However, if you have dry orgasms, see your doctor to be sure your condition isn't caused by an underlying problem that needs attention.
If you and your partner have had regular, unprotected intercourse for a year or longer and have been unable to conceive, see your doctor. Retrograde ejaculation may be the cause of your problem if you ejaculate very little or no semen.
During a male orgasm, sperm are released from each of the testicles. A tube called the vas deferens then transports sperm to the prostate, where they mix with other fluids to produce liquid semen (ejaculate). The muscle at the opening of the bladder (bladder neck) tightens to prevent ejaculate from entering the bladder as it passes into the tube inside the penis (urethra). This is the same muscle that holds urine in your bladder until you urinate. With retrograde ejaculation, the bladder neck muscles don't tighten properly. As a result, sperm can enter the bladder instead of being ejected out of your body through the penis.
Several conditions can cause problems with the muscle that closes the bladder during ejaculation. These include:
- Surgery, such as bladder neck surgery or prostate surgery
- Side effect of certain medications used to treat high blood pressure, prostate enlargement and mood disorders
- Nerve damage caused by a medical condition, such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord injury
A dry orgasm is the primary sign of retrograde ejaculation. But dry orgasm — the ejaculation of little or no semen — can also be caused by other conditions, including:
- Surgical removal of the prostate (prostatectomy)
- Surgical removal of the bladder (cystectomy)
- Radiation therapy to treat cancer in the pelvic area
You're at increased risk of retrograde ejaculation if:
- You have diabetes or multiple sclerosis
- You've had prostate or bladder surgery
- You take certain drugs for high blood pressure or a mood disorder
- You had a spinal cord injury
Retrograde ejaculation isn't harmful. However, potential complications include:
- Inability to get your partner pregnant (male infertility)
- Less pleasurable male orgasm due to worries about absent ejaculate
- Semen in the urine
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. Depending on the likely cause of your dry orgasms and whether you need evaluation and treatment to help you get your partner pregnant, you may need to see a urinary and reproductive specialist (urologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements that you're taking.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out.
When seeing your doctor for dry ejaculation — the primary sign of retrograde ejaculation — some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is likely causing my symptoms or condition?
- Are there other possible causes for my symptoms or condition?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Is my condition likely temporary or chronic?
- Am I at risk of complications from this condition?
- Does my condition need to be treated?
- Will I be able to conceive children?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? What websites do you recommend visiting?
If you are trying to get your partner pregnant, you may also want to ask:
- Will medications help me ejaculate normally?
- Can sperm be retrieved from my bladder and used for fertility treatment?
- Will my partner and I likely need to use assisted reproductive technology such as intrauterine insemination to achieve pregnancy?
- What's the best treatment to use to try and get my partner pregnant?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will ask you questions about your health and symptoms and may do a physical examination that includes examining your penis, testicles and rectum. Your doctor will want to determine whether your dry orgasms are retrograde ejaculation or linked to another problem that may need further evaluation.
Being ready to answer your doctor's questions may save time to go over any points you want to spend more time on. Your doctor may ask:
- Do you have cloudy urine after an orgasm?
- When did you first begin having dry orgasms?
- Do you ever ejaculate semen when you have an orgasm, or do you have a dry orgasm every time?
- What surgeries have you had?
- Have you had cancer?
- Do you have diabetes or any other chronic health problems?
- What medications or herbal remedies do you take?
- Do you and your partner want to have a baby? If so, how long have you been trying to conceive?
Tests and diagnosis
When you see the doctor, he or she will probably:
- Ask you a number of questions about your symptoms and how long you've had them. Your doctor may also ask about any health problems, surgeries or cancers you've had and what medications you take.
- Do a physical examination, which will likely include a full exam of your penis, testicles and rectum.
- Examine your urine for the presence of semen after you have an orgasm. This procedure is usually done at the doctor's office. Your doctor will ask you to empty your bladder, masturbate to climax, and then provide a urine sample for laboratory analysis. If a high volume of sperm is found in your urine, you have retrograde ejaculation.
If you have dry orgasms, but your doctor doesn't find semen in your bladder, you may have a problem with semen production. This can be caused by damage to the prostate or semen-producing glands as a result of surgery or radiation treatment for cancer in the pelvic area. If your doctor suspects your dry orgasm is something other than retrograde ejaculation, you may need further tests or a referral to a specialist to find the cause.
Treatments and drugs
Retrograde ejaculation typically doesn't require treatment unless it interferes with fertility. In such cases, treatment depends on the underlying cause. Drugs may work for retrograde ejaculation caused by certain conditions.
- Drugs generally won't help if retrograde ejaculation is due to surgery that causes permanent physical changes of your anatomy. Examples include bladder neck surgery and transurethral resection of the prostate.
- Drugs may work if retrograde ejaculation is due to nerve damage. This can be caused by diabetes, multiple sclerosis, certain surgeries, and other conditions and treatments.
If your doctor thinks drugs you are taking may be affecting your ability to ejaculate normally, he or she may have you stop taking them for a period of time. Drugs that can cause retrograde ejaculation include certain medications for mood disorders and alpha blockers — drugs used to treat high blood pressure and some prostate conditions.
Drugs to treat retrograde ejaculation are drugs primarily used to treat other conditions. They include:
- Imipramine (Tofranil), a tricyclic antidepressant
- Chlorpheniramine and brompheniramine, antihistamines sometimes used to treat cold symptoms
- Ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine, used in decongestant medications such as Silfedrine, Sudafed and others
These medications help keep the bladder neck muscle closed during ejaculation. While they're often an effective treatment for retrograde ejaculation, all of these medications can cause side effects. Some of the side effects are minor, but others can be more serious.
- Some medications used to treat retrograde ejaculation can cause serious reactions when combined with other medications.
- Certain medications used to treat retrograde ejaculation can increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which can be dangerous if you have high blood pressure or heart disease.
If you have retrograde ejaculation, you'll likely need treatment to get your partner pregnant. In order to get your partner pregnant, you need to ejaculate enough semen to carry your sperm into your partner's vagina and into her uterus.
If medication doesn't allow you to ejaculate semen, you will likely need infertility procedures known as assisted reproductive technology (ART) to get your partner pregnant. With ART, sperm can be recovered from the bladder, processed in the laboratory and used to inseminate your partner (intrauterine insemination). Occasionally, more advanced assisted reproductive techniques may be needed. Many men with retrograde ejaculation are able to get their partners pregnant once they seek treatment.
Coping and support
Retrograde ejaculation can be a challenge if you and your partner want to conceive a child. While most men can get their partners pregnant with infertility treatment, it can be costly and require stressful medical procedures for both you and your partner.
Understanding all of your options and communicating with your doctor and partner can help.
- Know what it will cost. Your insurance may or may not cover the costs necessary for sperm retrieval and artificial insemination of your partner.
- Talk to your doctor. Ask about all your options. You'll need to meet with a urologist who specializes in male infertility.
- Communicate with your partner. Make sure you and your partner both understand your options and potential risks of fertility procedures. You should both attend every consultation appointment.
If you need to have surgery that may affect the bladder neck muscle, such as prostate or bladder surgery, or if you have a spinal injury, there's little you can do to prevent retrograde ejaculation. However, there are things you can do to prevent retrograde ejaculation caused by nerve damage from diabetes or the use of certain medications.
- If you have diabetes, work with your doctor to keep your blood sugar under control.
- If you're taking medications for high blood pressure or a mood disorder, ask your doctor if they may cause retrograde ejaculation. You may be able to take another medication instead or change doses.