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By the 1960s, we pretty much had the process of artificial insemination down and were using it to help people conceive. But the way we stored the sperm wasn’t as advanced as it is now. So, what is a sperm bank and how exactly does it work? Let’s take a look.
Sperm bank overview
A sperm bank––also called a semen bank or cryobank––is a facility that collects, freezes, and stores sperm to help people conceive. Men who give semen to a sperm bank are sperm donors.
Semen entrusted to a sperm bank is frozen for storage using cryopreservation. It can later be thawed out and used when needed for reproductive procedures, like intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).
People who wish to use a sperm donor have the option to contact a sperm bank and buy sperm from an anonymous donor, or they can ask a friend or relative to donate.
Types of sperm banks
Sperm banks have varying policies about how much information is given about sperm donors. Some have anonymous donors whose semen is labeled with a non-identifying code like a number. Other sperm banks have open IDs so those trying to conceive can learn about the donors they’re considering.
There are also sperm banks that cater to individuals or couples who want to store sperm in case there are future fertility issues or they want to have a family later on. In this case, customers pay an annual fee to store their specimens.
How much does it cost to freeze sperm?
If you’re storing semen instead of donating it, the cost ranges from $150–450 per year. On top of that, you might have to pay fees for blood testing, sperm processing, and semen analysis (Pennings, 2021).
Health insurance may cover some of the cost of freezing your sperm if you’re doing it for medical reasons.
What is in vitro fertilization (IVF)?
How to become a sperm donor
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires you to go through a screening process at a sperm bank before you can become a donor (FDA, 2019).
To be accepted as a sperm donor, you need to test negative for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like HIV. You may be retested for STIs in six months and will be rejected if your initial negative status changes.
Why six months? Some diseases take up to six months to show up in a blood test. In the meantime, the semen sample is held in “quarantine” for that period before being used (ASRM, 2018).
Besides FDA-required screening procedures, guidelines for best practices outlined by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine include (ASRM, 2018):
- Age: Ideal donors are under 40-years-old. It’s worth noting, though, that a sperm donor’s age up to 45 doesn’t appear to negatively affect assisted reproductive outcomes (Ghuman, 2016).
- Health conditions: You may not be able to donate sperm if you have certain transmittable diseases or medical conditions, such as HIV or viral hepatitis.
- Your medical history: This may include your family history going back two generations to check for genetic disease. It also includes a personal medical and sexual history.
- Physical exam
- Blood work
Certain sperm banks also require a psychological evaluation, especially if you’re considering directed sperm donation (when the sperm recipient knows your identity). This screens for risks and potential outcomes like whether you’d eventually make contact with your biological child (ASMR, 2018).
According to the ASRM, both anonymous and known donors should undergo the same screening and testing process, regardless of whether they are intimate sexual partners of the recipient.
How do sperm banks work?
Is sperm banking worth it?
There are many reasons to utilize a sperm bank. Say you want kids but your partner is away with the military service. Or maybe you want to start a family later on in life. A lesbian couple may want to use donor sperm to have a family through assisted reproductive technologies like IVF and IUI.
Freezing sperm is also an option if you’re going through cancer treatment, which can cause male infertility. If a woman loses a male partner who had his sperm frozen, she can still have his child through cryopreservation (Vakalopoulos, 2015).
Ultimately, only you can decide if the sperm bank process is worth it. The decision may come down to how badly you want children, and that’s a question only you can answer.
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). (2018). Third-party reproduction: Sperm, egg, and embryo donation and surrogacy. Retrieved from https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/third-party-reproduction-sperm-egg-and-embryo-donation-and-surrogacy/
- Ford, W. C., North, K., Taylor, H., et al. (2000). Increasing paternal age is associated with delayed conception in a large population of fertile couples: evidence for declining fecundity in older men. The ALSPAC Study Team (Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood). Human Reproduction, 15(8), 1703–1708. doi:10.1093/humrep/15.8.1703. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10920089/
- Ghuman, N. K., Mair, E., Pearce, K., et al. (2016). Does age of the sperm donor influence live birth outcome in assisted reproduction? Human Reproduction, 31(3), 582–590. doi:10.1093/humrep/dev331. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/31/3/582/2384700
- Park, N. C. (2018). Sperm Bank: From Laboratory to Patient. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 36(2), 89–91. doi:10.5534/wjmh.182002. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5924960/#:~:text=The%201st%20sperm%20bank%20established,the%20effect%20of%20cryopreservation%20on
- 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
- Swanson, K. W. (2012). The birth of the sperm bank. The Annals of Iowa, 71(3), 241–276. doi:10.17077/0003-4827.1645. Retrieved from https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:rx914919z/fulltext.pdf
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (2019). What you should know – reproductive tissue donation. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/safety-availability-biologics/what-you-should-know-reproductive-tissue-donation
- Vakalopoulos, I., Dimou, P., Anagnostou, I., et al. (2015). Impact of cancer and cancer treatment on male fertility. Hormones, 14(4), 579–589. doi:10.14310/horm.2002.1620. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26732148/
- Vander Borght, M. & Wyns, C. (2018). Fertility and infertility: Definition and epidemiology. Clinical Biochemistry, 62, 2–10. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2018.03.012. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0009912018302200#
- Yatsenko, A. N. & Turek, P. J. (2018). Reproductive genetics and the aging male. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 35(6), 933–941. doi:10.1007/s10815-018-1148-y. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29524155/
Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.