Freezing sperm is one of the most common preventive measures taken by people who are about to go through chemotherapy or other processes that may reduce their fertility. Although it’s a relatively simple process, getting used to the idea before going to the clinic may help you in deciding whether it’s the right choice for you. Here’s what you need to know.
How Does Sperm Banking Work?
Sperm banking is the process of collecting, freezing, and storing sperm for a desired amount of time. Usually done by people who find themselves in high-risk jobs or going through chemotherapy, it allows them to have children even after their reproductive capabilities are lost.
Sperm is found in semen, a whitish fluid that comes out of the penis during ejaculation. One ejaculation can release up to 500 million sperm. If semen reaches the vagina, millions of sperm travel up through the cervix. If they meet an egg, sperm may fertilize it and cause pregnancy.
However, sperm doesn’t live outside the reproductive organs for long, meaning it needs to be frozen at very low temperatures to be preserved. Sperm banks usually store it at -196 degrees Celsius until the person decides to try fertilization.
Once the person has decided that it’s time to start a family, the sperm is thawed and introduced into the female body. This can be done through two methods: intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. While pregnancy isn’t guaranteed, it can allow people who aren’t able to produce semen to have a biological child.
Sperm banking costs. While there isn’t a single universal price for sperm banking, clinics usually charge from $100 to $500 a year for keeping the samples. There may also be a cost for the initial collection and analysis of the semen.
Does Freezing Sperm Need Any Preparations?
While it depends on the clinic where the sperm will be frozen, sperm banking doesn’t usually require many preparations. Mostly, they consist of health checks to prevent specific conditions from passing to the future child or mother.
For example, most clinics will test for HIV and hepatitis before allowing a person to freeze their sperm. Doctors may also ask about certain infectious diseases like malaria, Zika, or ebola.
Once the health checks are over, there may be further tests regarding the fertility of both the man and woman. For men, these may include semen analysis to check sperm numbers and an antibody test to check for infertility. For women, tests may span from hormone profiles to ultrasound scans to check for fertility when the time arrives.
However, tests aren’t always necessary — how many will be needed (if any) depends on the details of each case. The final step will probably involve giving consent to treatment, which allows you to confirm that you understand all the implications of sperm freezing.
Naturally, the preparation for freezing sperm varies depending on the case and clinic. If you have any doubts, make sure to discuss them with a doctor during the first visit.
What Is the Usual Sperm Banking Process?
Once you’re cleared for all the necessary health checks and you’ve given your consent, you’ll be ready for freezing your sperm. While your doctor will be able to give you precise instructions about the process, it’s always a good idea to be aware of what it’ll be like. Here's a general, rough guideline of the process of freezing sperm.
First, you’ll need to obtain semen through masturbation. This may be done either at home or at the clinic itself — keep in mind that if it’s done at home, it must be taken to the lab within the first hour after leaving the body.
In the lab, the staff will analyze the semen to ensure enough quality sperm are present. Then, it’ll be divided into multiple vials and frozen at around -196 degrees Celsius. The freezing process only takes about three hours.
The following day, a single vial will be thawed to confirm that the sperm will withstand the freezing and storing process. This also helps in determining how many vials will be needed for each pregnancy attempt.
The rest of the sperm will remain frozen until it’s needed for fertilization. However, most clinics will require you to bank several samples with at least 48 hours between each ejaculation. In that case, you’ll need to repeat the process as many times as the clinic advises.
How long does frozen sperm last? Luckily, sperm can last for as long as it’s needed if frozen correctly. This means that it should be kept at extremely low temperatures (around -196 degrees Celsius) and that preventive measures must be taken before freezing it.
What Happens When Sperm Is Thawed?
If you decide that you want to start a family, the clinic will thaw the necessary amount of sperm. Based on the thawed material, doctors will let you know which method of fertilization they recommend. Mainly, these consist of two different processes:
In vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization is a technique that allows doctors to take the eggs from a woman and fertilize them with sperm outside of the body. The fertilized eggs are transferred back into the womb.
Intrauterine insemination. Intrauterine insemination consists of carefully placing the thawed sperm inside the uterus of the woman near ovulation. This should always be performed by doctors, and multiple tries may be required before pregnancy occurs.
Who Could Benefit From Sperm Banking?
Many people could benefit from sperm freezing — however, it’s more common among people who are about to go through chemotherapy, which reduces fertility. Surgery for testicular cancer may also warrant freezing sperm.
Sperm banking may also be recommended to people who are losing fertility due to age or to men who are about to get a vasectomy. Other reasons may include testosterone therapy, sickle cell therapy, or medications that may affect fertility. Also, people with high-risk jobs such as soldiers may want to freeze sperm in case anything goes wrong.
While sperm freezing is usually recommended for people who are at risk of losing their fertility, some experts recommend it for everyone as a precautionary measure. If you wonder if sperm banking is the right option for you, you can get an appointment with a nearby clinic to discuss it.