Sperm cryopreservation offers individuals a way to collect and store their sperm for later use. Though originally developed for people undergoing cancer treatment, preservation can benefit several different groups.

Preserving sperm allows a person to use it at a later date in order to get a partner pregnant. The process involves collecting, preparing, and then freezing sperm samples.

When a person is ready to use the sperm, the storage facility thaws it and readies it for artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

This article discusses what sperm cryopreservation is, how it works, costs, effectiveness, and more.

Laboratory assistant storing samples in a cryopreservation chamberShare on Pinterest
Medical-laboratory assistant Raphaele Kuerten stores sperm samples in a cryopreservation container at minus 170 degrees centigrade at the Centre for Reproductive Medicine in Muenster, Germany, 06 February 2013. Image credit: Picture alliance/Getty Images

Sperm cryopreservation is the process of collecting, freezing, and storing sperm for later use.

Researchers originally developed the procedure for use in people who planned to undergo cancer treatment that might affect their fertility. In recent years, the ability to freeze sperm has opened up to others who may be interested in the process.

Several people may be eligible to have their sperm frozen for future fertility treatments.

People with cancer

The most common reason a person may have their sperm preserved is cancer treatments. Certain tumors and cancers pose a higher risk to fertility. High risk cancers include:

A person will typically need to collect and store their sperm prior to treatments starting.

Teens who undergo treatment for similar cancer treatments may also be able to store their sperm for later use.

Older adults

As individuals age, their sperm quality tends to diminish. A person who is starting to age may want to preserve some of their sperm to maintain the ability to have children later on.

People undergoing surgery or medical procedures

A person may want to preserve their sperm prior to either a vasectomy or gender affirming surgery.

Following a vasectomy, a person may change their mind about having children or may start a new relationship where they wish to have children with their new partner. Preserving sperm prior to the procedure can help them achieve pregnancy with their partner without reversing the vasectomy.

It is important to remember that this may not be covered by insurance and may come with a significant cost.

People interested in gender affirming procedures may also wish to preserve their sperm. This can allow them to have children with their partner at a later point.

Other reasons

Certain other groups of people may wish to have their sperm preserved. Some other possible reasons include:

  • Occupational risk: This may include exposure to certain chemicals or high risk jobs, like military deployment
  • Posthumous: Some people may want to have their sperm preserved following brain death and can write it into their will.
  • Donations: Sperm banks collect specimens from donors for people to use if they have difficulty becoming pregnant, are in a same-sex relationship, or wish to become pregnant without a partner.

Sperm cryopreservation involves collecting a sample of sperm, preparing it for freezing, and then freezing it. When requested, the sperm gets thawed out for use in artificial insemination or IVF.

A person will typically need to have blood drawn prior to collection. A lab will check for the presence of a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Prior to providing the sample, an individual will typically need to abstain from sex for 2–3 days, though this timeframe can vary.

Several collection methods exist, including:

  • Masturbation: Masturbation is a quick and effective method.
  • Vibratory penile stimulation devices: These devices stimulate the penis to cause ejaculation.
  • Electroejaculation: This requires general anesthesia and is often performed on individuals with disruptions to their ejaculation process, such as those with spinal cord injuries and the recently deceased.
  • Surgical removal: Testicular sperm extraction and testicular sperm aspiration may be used if electroejaculation is not available or poor sperm output is produced.

A person can choose to provide a sample in a clinical setting. This allows the facility to freeze the sperm when it is freshest. In some facilities, a partner can assist in getting the sample, though an individual should check with the facility first.

The sample gets collected in a sterile cup. If allowed to do it at home, a person will need to bring the sample in within an hour.

Some labs recommend collecting at least two samples. However, a person should consider discussing their needs with a doctor. They may require more samples based on their sperm quality as well as the number of children that a person may want in the future.

Labs can typically determine the overall quality, motility, and viability of the sample before the freezing process. Some labs will also thaw a sample of sperm shortly after the freezing process. This can help show them how much of the sperm survived, the quality, and the counts of sperm in each sample.

If quality or count is not sufficient, a facility may suggest alternative collection methods.

Costs for freezing sperm can vary due to differences in location as well as the fees a facility charges.

According to Livestrong, the average cost of analysis and freezing is $1,000, followed by $300–500 per year for storage.

Other facilities may vary in price and what they offer. A person should consider discussing costs in advance so they know what to expect.

Sperm cryopreservation is highly effective, with a track record dating back to the 1950s. Some sperm will die during the freezing and unfreezing process.

However, due to differences between people and samples, results are never guaranteed. This is part of the reason facilities suggest storing more than one sample.

Still, doctors regularly use poor quality or low counts of sperm to perform IVF.

A person will need to fill out a lot of paperwork prior to providing a sample for storage.

Storage facilities often need additional paperwork and orders from a doctor before releasing the sperm. They will likely check that retrieved sperm is handled properly.

A person should check with the facility storing their sperm to ask about the retrieval procedure.

The following sections provide answers to frequently asked questions about sperm cryopreservation.

Where can someone bank their sperm?

Sperm storage facilities — known as sperm banks, semen banks, or cryobanks — freeze and store semen. They can typically store the sperm indefinitely as long as the person continues to pay for yearly storage costs.

How long does frozen sperm last?

Frozen sperm can last forever. Once a person is ready to use the sperm, it is carefully thawed for use.

What is the success rate of IVF from frozen sperm?

The use of frozen or fresh sperm in IVF has little difference. The success rate is about the same using either type. The success rate of pregnancy through IVF is an average of 32%.

Sperm cryopreservation keeps sperm safe for later use. Often, people about to undergo cancer treatment and those who may have fertility concerns use storage facilities to keep sperm safe until ready to use.

Once frozen, a person will need to continue to pay storage fees until they no longer wish to store the sperm. When ready, facilities often require a doctor’s approval. The sperm will then be safely delivered to a facility providing IVF or other fertility methods.