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Shooting Blanks

Updated: OCTOBER 26, 2021
Reviewed by Dr. Sunny Rodgers
on November 14, 2021

Shooting blanks is a slang term for ejaculating without viable sperm. Without the presence of viable sperm, ejaculating cannot cause pregnancy. People who are shooting blanks may have no sperm, low sperm or a problem that prevents them from ejaculating with sperm.

The term “shooting blanks” references gun culture. “Blanks” are cartridges that create a muzzle flash and loud bang, but do not produce a projectile. People shooting blanks from a gun and people shooting blanks sexually both essentially have “weapons” just for show that do not achieve their intended purpose.

In the 1930s and ’40s, the term “shooting blanks” referred to photographic failures. Around the 1950s, it took on its current meaning, but it took until the 1980s to gain widespread popularity. Over time, the meaning of the term has further evolved. While it’s most commonly associated with men who cannot get their female partners pregnant, shooting blanks can also refer to anyone who does not achieve their goals.

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People may shoot blanks because they are infertile. This can be a side effect of certain medical conditions and medications. For example, the vas deferens, which are the tubes that carry semen and sperm from the testicles to the penis for ejaculation, can become blocked. Lifestyle factors, exposure to chemicals, and sexual problems including erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation can also cause male infertility. Male infertility resulting in shooting blanks is a serious condition that may cause almost half of infertility cases. Around 7% of men suffer from this condition.

People also shoot blanks after a successful vasectomy. For these people, shooting blanks is a desired outcome to avoid pregnancy. During a vasectomy, a surgeon cuts the vas deferens so sperm cannot reach the penis.

Shooting blanks is sometimes called firing blanks. The scientific name for the condition is azoospermia.

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More About Shooting Blanks

Some people are content shooting blanks, whether they had a vasectomy or are infertile without this procedure. These people may not want a child, so knowing they are shooting blanks can provide peace of mind when they’re having sex.

Shooting blanks may cause others to feel negative emotions. Many feel disappointed because they want to become biological fathers. Feelings of shame, incompetence and emasculation are also common. If one is unhappy about shooting blanks, it’s important to determine the reasons behind this condition. A doctor can usually help to determine this. Once the root cause of the problem is known, the patient can work with health professionals to try and fix it.

People can do a few things to improve their fertility:

  • Lifestyle changes can help improve sperm quality.
  • Alcohol, nicotine and illicit drugs should be avoided.
  • Jockstraps can protect the testes.
  • The testes should be kept at a comfortable temperature, as extreme cold and heat can impact sperm quality.

Daily sexual activity can also reduce sperm count and sperm quality, so people hoping for pregnancy should avoid masturbation and be selective about when they have intercourse. Fertility trackers can help couples learn more about their cycle and make sure they have intercourse at optimal times. A fertility doctor can also offer personalized advice about the possible reasons for shooting blanks and what to do about it.

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Vasectomies are considered permanent, but they may be reversed for people who decide they no longer want to shoot blanks. This often occurs when people remarry, lose a child or simply have a change of heart. Vasectomy reversals can be anywhere from around 30% to over 90% effective. The length of time since the vasectomy, skill of the surgeon, partner’s age and other fertility issues all impact whether a vasectomy reversal is successful or not.

Some people also experience chronic testicular pain after a vasectomy. A vasectomy reversal can alleviate this pain. However, if successful, the patient will stop shooting blanks. They must take other steps, such as wearing condoms, to prevent pregnancy after their successful procedure.

People have used the term “shooting blanks” throughout history. However, it has recently been criticized for the way it portrays male infertility as something easily fixable. One can simply reload and refire a gun if its bullets are ineffectual. However, resolving fertility issues is usually much more complicated.

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