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Many options are now available to people wanting to preserve their fertility.
Sperm freezing is an easy, effective way for men to preserve their option of having a child in the future. But how does freezing sperm work? Who should freeze their sperm? What is the cost of preserving sperm, and is it really worth it? This article explores all of those questions and more.
What is sperm freezing?
Sperm freezing, also known as sperm cryopreservation, is the process of collecting a semen sample and putting it into frozen storage—typically at a sperm bank—so that it can be used to have a child later on.
It offers individuals and couples concerned about their fertility a way to preserve the option of having a biological child in the future.
Why do people freeze sperm?
There are many reasons that people choose to freeze sperm, ranging from age or personal preference to medical conditions or treatments that may compromise fertility.
This may surprise you, but the concept of a biological clock doesn’t just apply to women—men have biological clocks, too.
Not only does the quality of your sperm eventually deteriorate with age (in terms of healthy sperm shape, amount, and mobility), but the older you are, the greater the risk that your biological child may develop a genetic condition like schizophrenia or autism (Pennings, 2021). Plus, we’ve seen decreases in overall male fertility over the last 40 years (Harris, 2011).
Because of these reasons, some people choose to freeze sperm if they know they want children late in life or simply want to avoid the possibility of age-related risks for sperm.
In preparation for medical procedures
Sperm are often frozen before a person undergoes medical treatments that would compromise fertility, such as (Peterson, 2021):
- Radiation therapy
- Hormone therapy
- Gender affirmation surgery (for male-to-female transition)
Everything you need to know about sperm
Children with medical conditions
Illnesses like Hodgkins and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bone cancer, and testicular cancer can all pose risks for children’s and teens’ fertility later on, as can certain treatments (like surgery or chemotherapy).
Fortunately, sperm freezing (or freezing of testicular tissue if the child is very young) can help preserve the option for them to start families of their own one day (Edge, 2006).
Adult medical conditions
Medical conditions like testicular cancer or prostate cancer (where treatment can include removal of the prostate or testicles) can be a good reason for men to freeze their sperm if they want the option of having a biological child.
Having a very low sperm count (a low amount of sperm in your semen) is another reason men freeze sperm. It can make more sperm available if they want to try fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
In vitro fertilization (IVF) requires a good supply of sperm to be available to create an embryo that can be implanted into a partner’s uterus.
By freezing samples of sperm in advance, a couple can make sure that the sperm used for IVF are healthy and give the best chances of successful fertilization (Jain, 2021).
One study even found that conception with IVF using frozen sperm had as good a success rate—sometimes higher—than using fresh sperm (Aizer, 2021).
Some men may want to get a vasectomy to have reliable birth control but want to preserve the possibility of having a biological child later using IVF with a frozen sperm sample.
If you plan on freezing your sperm before a vasectomy, it’s important to know that some insurance companies may not cover it because you’re not freezing your sperm for a medical reason (Pennings, 2021).
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People with physically dangerous jobs
Jobs that involve physical risk—whether it’s working with hazardous substances or being in physically dangerous environments—can be a reason to freeze sperm just in case your fertility or health is damaged.
These kinds of jobs can include certain positions in the military, jobs in the logging or agriculture industries, and other jobs involving heavy metal and chemical exposure.
Is sperm freezing effective?
Yes, sperm freezing is effective. Although the freeze-thaw process damages some sperm, overall, sperm responds well to freezing.
One study found that after thorough defrosting, sperm were still nearly 75% as mobile as before they were frozen (sperm motility being an important marker of sperm quality) (Oberoi, 2014). This means they still have a good chance of being able to fertilize an egg.
How is sperm collected and frozen?
The sperm freezing process is actually pretty simple. You can freeze sperm through at-home kits or directly with a fertility clinic. Steps for how to preserve sperm can include:
- Having a discussion with your healthcare provider or a fertility specialist. They can help you decide if sperm freezing is a good step for your fertility plans or medical situation.
- Getting screened for STIs
- Having sperm assessed. A semen analysis will help your provider know if your sperm are healthy by looking at their shape (morphology), ability to move well (motility), and number (sperm count).
- Choosing a site (a fertility clinic or an at-home kit)
- Filling out paperwork
- Giving a sperm sample. If you’re using a fertility clinic, a sample donation can be done on-site or brought from home within an hour. If you’re using an at-home kit, you can put the sample right in the kit and put it in the mail. The sperm sample can come from masturbation, or a healthcare provider can directly extract it from the testes, which would happen in a clinic.
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Where is frozen sperm stored?
Once you provide your sperm sample, it gets mixed with a special substance called a cryoprotectant, which helps avoid damage during freezing. Then, it’s quickly frozen and stored at a cryopreservation site (like a sperm bank or some fertility clinics) using liquid nitrogen.
Can I freeze my sperm at home?
Yes, several services allow you to do the entire process from home, although none of them involve your kitchen freezer. With these home-based approaches, you typically sign up for the service, receive a test kit, ejaculate at home to get a sperm sample, and send it for testing and freezing using an innovative device that will temporarily freeze and store your sample for transport.
But again, it’s crucial to use the freezing system sent by the service you’ve signed up for—your home freezer won’t do the job.
How long does sperm last frozen?
Sperm lasts for a very long time frozen—sometimes decades. Recent data on frozen sperm quality shows that semen samples frozen 15 years ago have a survival rate of 74% (Huang, 2019). That means that most sperm survive the freezing process and can potentially be used to fertilize an egg.
How much does it cost to freeze your sperm?
Some insurance companies will cover the cost of freezing sperm if it’s done for medical purposes, like if you’ll be undergoing cancer treatment or if you have sperm health issues. In other cases (for age-related purposes or before getting a vasectomy, for instance), you may have to pay out of pocket.
Out-of-pocket costs for sperm freezing are generally a few hundred dollars for every sample you freeze. Aside from the initial freezing process, storing these sperm samples tends to cost a few hundred dollars per year.
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Do I need to freeze my sperm?
Freezing sperm for fertility preservation is a reasonable choice for many men worried about infertility.
If you’re considering having a child late in life, have a medical condition that could affect fertility, are considering gender-affirming surgery to transition from male to female, or work in a dangerous job, you may want to consider sperm freezing if there’s a possibility you want biological children in the future.
The decision is ultimately up to you, and you can always reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance.
- Aizer, A., Dratviman-Storobinsky, O., Noach-Hirsh, M., et al. (2021). Testicular sperm retrieval: What should we expect from the fresh and subsequent cryopreserved sperm injection? Andrologia, 53(1), e13849. doi:10.1111/and.13849. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33070352/
- Edge, B., Holmes, D., & Makin, G. (2006). Sperm banking in adolescent cancer patients. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 91(2), 149–152. doi:10.1136/adc.2005.075242. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2082672/
- Harris, I. D., Fronczak, C., Roth, L., et al. (2011). Fertility and the aging male. Reviews in Urology, 13(4), e184–e190. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3253726/
- Huang, C., Lei, L., Wu, H., et. al. (2019). Long-term cryostorage of semen in a human sperm bank does not affect clinical outcomes. Fertility and Sterility, 112(4), 663–669. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2019.06.008. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31371041/
- Jain, M. (2021). Assisted reproductive technology (ART) techniques. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 15, 2022 from https://www.statpearls.com/ArticleLibrary/viewarticle/136062
- Oberoi, B., Kumar, S., & Talwar, P. (2014). Study of human sperm motility post cryopreservation. Medical Journal, Armed Forces India, 70(4), 349–353. doi:10.1016/j.mjafi.2014.09.006. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4223196/
- Pennings, G., Couture, V., & Ombelet, W. (2021). Social sperm freezing. Human Reproduction, 36(4), 833–839. doi:10.1093/humrep/deaa373. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/36/4/833/6104812?login=true
- Peterson, A. M. & Singh, M. (2021). Fertility preservation in benign and malignant conditions. StatPearls. Retrieved on April 16, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK576435/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.