The freezing and storage of a semen sample, often referred to as sperm banking or cryopreservation, is the most common way for men to preserve their fertility. Unlike the process women undergo to freeze eggs or embryos, sperm freezing is quick and easy, widely available, and relatively inexpensive.
There are many reasons you may want to consider freezing sperm. One is age. Because men experience more fertility problems after the age of 40, sperm freezing may be a good idea if you’re growing older and are:
- Undecided about future children
- Currently focused on other life events
- Still searching for the right partner
- Aware that your sperm count is low
- Aware that your sperm quality is decreasing
You may consider freezing your sperm for other reasons, too, including if you are:
- Undergoing surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy
- Having a vasectomy and could change your mind
- Unable to produce a sample at the time of fertility treatment
- Being deployed overseas in the US military
- Surgically transitioning from male to female
Possible side effects
There are no side effects for men, although not all sperm will survive the freezing and thawing process.
Using frozen sperm for fertility treatment has been shown to be just as successful as using fresh sperm in IVF cycles. Frozen sperm may actually be more convenient for IVF cycles, since it allows a male partner to produce a sperm sample prior to egg retrieval.
Starting the process
Your first step is to make an appointment with a sperm bank—called a cryobank. There, a specialist will help you understand the sperm freezing process, including any risks to your sample.
What to expect
You’ll be asked to masturbate into a sterile container provided by the clinic or sperm bank. If this is done at home rather than at the facility, you’ll usually have an hour to deliver your sample to the lab.
Your semen will be washed and analyzed to ensure that it contains living sperm. Sperm count, motility (the sperm’s ability to swim), and shape will be recorded. You may also be tested for infectious diseases.
Prior to freezing, your sperm will be mixed with a special fluid to protect it from damage, and divided between several containers. This will allow you to thaw smaller batches of sperm at different times in the future.
Your samples will be frozen for future use in a liquid nitrogen storage tank. The length of time a clinic will store your sperm varies, and sperm stored for more than 20 years has been used successfully. You and your doctor will discuss storage time and plans should you elect not to use your samples.
Know that there are many things that can affect sperm production. Your cryobank may recommend you provide more than one sample to improve your chances of having a child in the future.
Understand the fertility preservation process, how cryopreservation works, and your options for payment.