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.
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.