Freezing and Storing Sperm

Sperm are the male contribution to fertility and pregnancy, providing the means by which the female sex cell, the egg, is fertilised to form, in due time, a new-born child. Sperm are extremely specialised cells, designed to first swim to the target egg cell, and then to penetrate and fertilise it. Only the hardiest sperm survive this ordeal to produce the best quality embryo and give a child the best genes available. Because of its integral role, sperm is often stored for a number of reasons outlined below.

Why is sperm frozen and stored?

Sperm cells respond well to freezing and can be kept for use in fertility treatments like artificial insemination, IVF, and ICSI, each of which provides couples struggling to conceive with the opportunity to give birth to their own children. Storing your own sperm means you have a source for future treatments, which can be a great option for people undergoing treatments that can severely affect their fertility. The best example of this kind of situation is cancer, where chemotherapy can leave you infertile, which is why many GPs and specialists discuss sperm storage with male cancer patients.

Sperm freezing and storage is also recommended if you are about to go ahead with a vasectomy and would like to keep some sperm for later use just in case. Else frozen sperm are extremely useful for men who struggle providing the necessary sample fresh prior to a fertility treatment, men with a low sperm count or producing poor quality sperm, and finally if you are going to donate sperm freezing keeps the sperm in quarantine for up to six months.

How are sperm frozen?

If you are choosing to freeze sperm for whatever reason, the first step is always to discuss the procedure and what is consequences can be before providing a consent form on which all the specifics of what you want done with your sperm are made official. This consent form will house written instructions on how long to keep your sperm in storage, whether you want your partner to be able to use your sperm after your death, and whether you would like your sperm donated for research, training, or another person’s fertility treatment. You can withdraw consent for the use of your sperm at any point before it is used for a treatment.

The actual procedure itself begins with a screen for any diseases that could be communicated through a semen sample, namely diseases like chlamydia, HIV, and hepatitis.  Such illnesses can have a negative effect on your health as well as the health of any children that might result from a fertility treatment. After producing a fresh sample your sperm are frozen within liquid nitrogen.

Sperm tends to be stored for around 10 years, but can be kept for as many as 55 years in certain circumstances. The limitations in and around sperm storage will be discussed with you by your clinician, and should you wish to store your sperm for more than 10 years your clinician will discuss whether it is possible and how it could be done.

What are the chances of a successful pregnancy if frozen and stored sperm are used?

Like with egg and embryo freezing and storage, some sperm cells won’t survive the freezing process, while others often endure a loss of quality. Unfortunately quality is an extremely important part of getting sperm cells to successfully fertilise an egg during artificial insemination and during IVF, and so these poorer sperm cells are often used in a technique called ICSI, which gives poorer quality sperm a chance to fertilise egg cells. ICSI essentially involves injecting a sperm cell directly into an egg cell, removing the need for it to swim to and penetrate an egg.

Are there any risks to me or my baby if I use frozen and stored sperm?

The HFEA (Human Fertility and Embryology Association) is responsible for monitoring and regulating fertility clinics and practices across the country, and has not noted or warned of any potential risks to either you or your child through the use of frozen sperm for fertility treatments. In this sense, frozen sperm is comparable to normal sperm, and only suffers in its ability to fertilise an egg and not in its genetic integrity.

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