Semen freezing is a widespread procedure used to preserve male fertility. Once the sperm is analyzed, the sample is frozen. Thanks to sperm cryopreservation, sperm are frozen and stored in a sperm bank to be used later in Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) cycles. Moreover, it will not affect sperm quality, and they can be stored for an indefinite period of time.
The different sections of this article have been assembled into the following table of contents.
Sperm freezing helps many patients that could not become parents otherwise. It is recommended in the following cases:
Men that suffer from cancer and are set to be treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy must preserve their fertility before undertaking these treatments, in case their wish is to be a father.
Once they have overcome the disease, there is a chance the sperm alteration could be reverted. Nonetheless, if the patient’s reproductive potential is affected, these frozen samples could be used in a fertility treatment.
Some patients decide to have a vasectomy as a contraceptive measure because they don not want to have more children, but choose to save a cryopreserved semen sample as a precaution. Therefore, they still have the opportunity to become parents, either with the same partner or with a different one.
Patients with a decreased sperm quality are strongly recommended to freeze a few sperm samples prior to starting a fertility treatment. The ultimate goal is to make sure that there will be sperm available on the egg retrieval day to fertilize the eggs collected.
Some men experience difficulties when trying to ejaculate the Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) day. Sperm cryopreservation allows them to be more comfortable during the course of these treatments. For instance, it would be helpful for patients with ejaculation problems due to a mental block, or those who cannot visit the clinic because their place of residence if far from it (especially in egg donation cycles).
Moreover, thanks to it, the most valuable samples can be optimized, namely those obtained via testicular biopsy or epididymal sperm aspiration, sperm washing in HIV-positive patients, or cancer patients. It allows the samples to be dosed and used little by little, on the basis of need.
Clinics must conduct a series of tests to determine that the semen samples are healthy. The screening process must be carried out months after the donation is done, which makes it necessary for all the collected samples to be frozen beforehand. Thanks to it, specialists make sure that the samples are not affected by HIV.
Trans women who are about to undergo sex reassignment surgery can cryopreserve their sample to use it later in a gestational surrogacy process. Also, in the case of lesbian couples, they could use it to undergo a fertility treatment.
Sperm freezing is a routine, simple technique that can be done in the IVF lab.
To guarantee that the safety of the samples is not compromised when handling them in the lab, the patient must provide updated serologies before the sample is frozen.
In general, sperm cryopreservation is done following the slow freezing process. Cryoprotectants are added to the sample (some of them contain traces of egg yolk) to avoid damaging the sperm cells. Cryoprotectants dehydrate the cells to prevent that water, when freezes, breaks the membranes, which would lead to cell death.
After having added the cryoprotectants, the sample is distributed in cryotubes, which lower their temperature slowly until they are ready to be frozen in liquid nitrogen, at a temperature of -196 °C. Sperm cells can be damaged during the freezing and thawing steps. During the storage process, sperm quality is not affected.
When handling valuable samples (from cancer patients, testicular biopsy, sperm washing in HIV-positive patients…), they can be frozen in small samples to optimize their use each time they are thawed.
In recent years, a new technique for sperm freezing is being developed: sperm vitrification. It is a method that allows for ultrarrapid freezing, which reduces the duration of the procedure.
This method has been widely used for the cryopreservation of eggs and embryos, since they are more sensitive to freezing procedures than sperm. This is due to the fact that eggs and embryos contain a higher amount of water inside. However, since sperm are barely altered by the freezing process, there is no need for the vitrification procedure to be used.
What to expect
In high-quality samples, although some sperm parameters can be altered after the thawing process (such as the number of live sperm or sperm motility), in general this technique does not affect the success rates of fertility treatments.
Neither does age. According to Antonio Alcaide Raya, PhD, in the case of semen, age is not a determining factor to decide whether freezing is good or bad. The most important factor when a man is about to freeze his semen is sperm quality, namely the sperm count and sperm morphology.
However, if sperm quality is bad, the severity of sperm disorders will be higher. For this reason, to carry out a technique that requires a greater sperm count (e.g. IUI), the results may be affected.
The cost of sperm freezing, though similar, varies from country to country, as one shall see in the following sections:
Cost in the USA
In the United States, the process can be divided into several phases. First, the initial visit consultation, which can cost $150. Second, the blood panel (minimum infectious disease testing), which cost is $140. Third, the semen specimen analysis and the semen specimen release (about $500 approximately).
Cost in the UK
The process in UK fertility clinics is similar to the one followed in the USA, and includes these phases:
- Semen freezing: £300
- Subsequent semen samples: £200
- Multiple sample package: £850
Cost in Canada
The total cost of freezing sperm in Canada can be $600 CAD. Firstly, a fertility clinic can charge you for a counseling or orientation session up to $250 CAD. Then, the semen preparation process can run you about $200 CAD. Finally, the cost of storing the sperm is usually $200 CAD per year.
If you are considering freezing your sperm to have a child in the future, we recommend that you start by creating a Fertility Report. In 3 simple steps, it will show you a list of clinics that fit your preferences and meet our strict quality criteria. Moreover, you will receive a report via email with useful tips to visit a fertility clinic for the first time.
FAQs from users
Should men freeze their sperm to preserve their fertility?
Although there exists different studies that relate an advanced age with fertility problems, actually it is still unclear.
In the testicle, sperm production is a permanent process, contrary to what happens in with egg production in females. This is the reason why, freezing sperm as a preventive measure is not so useful as in the case of egg freezing, since egg quality and quantity decreases from age 35 onwards.
Unless there exists a disorder that affects sperm production, in the case of cancer patients who are going to undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy, or if the man undergoes some kind of surgery (such as in the case of vasectomy), freezing sperm for the future is not required.
There exist different fertility preservation options for males who have been diagnosed with cancer. What method is being currently used before undergoing a cancer treatment?
Different to what happens with women, fertility preservation in males is quite simple, since it just involves collecting one or two semen samples. It is crucial that is is done before receiving the first chemotherapy or radiotherapy session. Otherwise, the quality of the sample would be too low. In pre-adolescent boys, a testicular biopsy could be a good option, although it is a highly controversial topic for the moment.
How long can frozen sperm be stored?
The time during which the sample remains frozen does not affect sperm quality, which means that we can have the sample frozen for as long as we wish. In fact, there are cases of samples who have been frozen for 22 years and have led to pregnancy, without causing any problem in offspring.
Is there an age limit for men to be able to freeze sperm?
Age does not affect the results of sperm cryopreservation. As explained earlier, the most important factor when it comes to predicting the success of sperm freezing is sperm quality.
Suggested for you
As we have already seen, sperm freezing allows males to preserve their fertility after having received a cancer diagnosis. If you wish to get more details about this option, visit this post: Fertility Preservation – Cost & Options for Retaining Your Fertility.
To get more information about the egg cryopreservation process, click here: What Is Egg Vitrification? – Advantages Over Freezing.
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WHO Manual for standardized investigation and diagnosis and management of the infertile male. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Kvist U, Björndahl L. ESHRE Monographs: Manual on Basic Semen Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Reproducción Asistida ORG. Video: Congelación de semen (Sperm freezing), by Antonio Alcaide Raya, PhD, Jan 7, 2016. [See original video in Spanish].
Sigman M, Zini A. (2009). Semen analysis and sperm function assays: what do they mean? Semin Reprod Med; 27: 115-123
Sociedad Española de Fertilidad (SEF) (febrero de 2012). “Saber más sobre fertilidad y reproducción asistida”. En colaboración con el Ministerio de Sanidad, Política Social e Igualdad del Gobierno de España y el Plan de Calidad para el Sistema Nacional de Salud.
Sociedad Española de Fertilidad (SEF) (2011). Manual de Andrología. Coordinador: Mario Brassesco. EdikaMed, S.L. ISBN: 978-84-7877.