Sperm donors aren’t the only ones who bank their sperm. People with no plans to donate do it too, especially if they’re not ready to have a baby just yet but know they want to one day.
The process of sperm banking, otherwise known as sperm freezing or cryopreservation, is a great way for couples (or single folks) to preserve their chances of conceiving a biological baby in the future — especially if the partner with testes is in a high-risk profession or about to undergo certain medical procedures or treatments.
If you think this might be something you’re interested in, we’re here to break down everything you need to know about the procedure.
People with cancer
If you’ve been diagnosed with testicular or prostate cancer, you may have been told that treatment can involve surgeries that remove one or both testicles.
And actually, anyone with testicles who has cancer — including adolescents — might want to freeze their sperm if they’re about to undergo treatment. Cancer treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation, can cause a decline in sperm quality or cause infertility.
Unfortunately, in an older 2002 study of oncology staff physicians and fellows, 48 percent of respondents reported that they never brought up the option of sperm banking or mentioned it to less than a quarter of eligible people.
Even though sperm freezing is more widely recognized as an option today, it’s still important to advocate for yourself if you’re interested in it.
If you’re approaching older adulthood, you might choose to freeze your sperm to preserve your chances of having children. Semen quality decreases with age because sperm concentration, morphology (size and shape), and mobility all decline, per a
Not only do the risks for autism, schizophrenia, and other conditions increase with age, there’s also evidence that seminal volume declines. In fact, some people simply become infertile.
People with hazardous jobs
If you work at hazardous worksites or are deployed in the military, you may opt to bank your sperm, just in case of accidents or chemical exposures that could damage sperm or fertility.
Some people freeze their sperm if they’re going to be traveling to areas of the world with Zika, a virus that can be passed to someone else via semen.
Those undergoing surgeries or medical procedures
If you’re undergoing certain surgeries — such as gender confirmation — you might decide to do this to preserve your chances of having a biological child.
In addition, you may decide to bank your sperm if you’re getting a vasectomy in case you change your mind about having children in the future.
Some medical procedures can also impact the ability to ejaculate, so sperm banking is often offered before those procedures are scheduled.
People with other reasons
Other people who might consider freezing their sperm include:
- those beginning testosterone replacement therapy
- couples undergoing in vitro fertilization or other fertility treatments
- people with low sperm counts for intracytoplasmic sperm injection
“The best place to freeze sperm is at a sperm bank or fertility clinic,” says Dr. Juan Alvarez, board certified reproductive endocrinologist with Fertility Centers of Illinois.
This is because, he explains, “sperm should be processed within 1 to 2 hours of collecting a sample.”
You can also use an at-home banking kit, such as Legacy or Dadi. These kits allow you to collect your sperm at home and ship it in special containers to a lab for testing and freezing.
However, Alvarez says, he only advises using those if there are no sperm banks or fertility clinics nearby. This is because he thinks it’s important to talk with a fertility doctor if you’re deciding to freeze sperm.
“Based on the reason for pursuing a sperm freeze, a physician can help you determine how much and when to complete a freeze,” he explains.
Before banking your sperm, you’ll give blood so you can be screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You’ll also fill out a lot of paperwork, including a questionnaire, contract, and legal forms.
Before depositing a sample, you’ll be asked to abstain from sex for 2 to 3 days.
If you feel comfortable, you’ll give your sample in a private room at the fertility clinic or sperm bank.
This allows the sperm to be frozen when it’s freshest. (Within minutes of ejaculation, the number of living sperm cells and activity begins to drop off.)
You’ll deposit your sample in a sterile cup after masturbation. Some places allow your partner to assist.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing this at a clinic or bank, you can collect your sample at home. Just know that the sample will need to be brought to the clinic within an hour.
Samples are analyzed for sperm quantity, shape, and movement, which will help determine how many more samples are needed. In general, about three to six specimens are collected for each desired pregnancy, but it’ll depend on the quality of your sperm.
The samples are then separated into multiple vials and frozen by a lab technician who specializes in cryoprotectant agents to protect the sperm cells.
If sperm aren’t present in the sample or if you aren’t able to ejaculate, it’s possible to have a surgical retrieval. In this case, a healthcare professional will remove sperm directly from the testicle.
Sometimes, sperm freezing is covered by insurance if you’re doing it for a medical reason.
Otherwise, “the cost is usually less than $1,000 and that includes all required testing and freezing for the first year,” says Alvarez. Afterward, he says, “annual cryopreservation costs for sperm are roughly $150 to $300.”
Sperm freezing has been done successfully since 1953. It’s a highly effective process for people looking to preserve their fertility.
Of course, some sperm don’t survive the freezing process.
“The thaw survival of sperm is over 50 percent,” Alvarez says.
If the sample is of high quality, this reduction isn’t an issue for successfully conceiving a healthy baby. This is because the average sperm count ranges from 15 million to more than 200 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
“In terms of sperm quantity, we only need 10 million motile sperm for inseminations and one sperm for each egg in IVF [in vitro fertilization],” Alvarez explains.
Plus, he says, “sperm does not lose its effectiveness with a freeze/thaw and it has the same fertilization capacity as fresh sperm [and] there is no difference in fertilization between frozen and fresh sperm.”
There’s also no evidence that using frozen sperm increases the risk of health issues in babies.
In theory, sperm could probably be frozen indefinitely — as long as it’s stored correctly inside liquid nitrogen and it was a high-quality sample to begin with.
“Frozen sperm doesn’t have a definitive end date,” Alvarez explains. “Due to modern cryopreservation techniques being so advanced, the health and integrity of sperm is maintained in the process.”
“There has been success with sperm that has been frozen for over 20 years,” he adds.
The short answer is yes.
When you sign up to freeze your sperm, you’ll sign legal paperwork that will determine what happens to your sperm if you don’t pay your storage fees, for example. You’ll also set up the rules for how you or your partner can use (or discard) the sample, including in the event of your death.
For example, you can sign an agreement that either terminates your agreement if you die or allows a legally authorized representative (like your spouse) to use or terminate it.
Some clinics may require you to get a witness or have a notary public watch you sign the form.
Sperm freezing — if you have the financial means to do it — can be a great option if you’re looking to preserve your chances of having a biological child.
This is especially true if you’re:
- getting older
- working a dangerous job
- undergoing certain surgeries or treatments
- considering IVF
The process is highly effective and carries few risks. Talk with a fertility expert if you think it might be a good option for you or your family.