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Sperm freezing

Sperm freezing is the most successful method of preserving a man’s fertility so he can try and have children at a later date. It's also used to store sperm so it can be used in someone else's treatment. Find out more about what sperm freezing involves and how long you can store your sperm for.

What is sperm freezing?

Men are able to freeze their sperm for use in their own future treatment or to donate to someone else’s treatment. Donated sperm usually has to be stored for six months first in order to screen the donor for infections (unless the clinic uses a process called Nucleic Acid Testing [NAT], which is quicker but not recommended by professional bodies.)

Is sperm freezing right for me?

You may want to consider freezing your sperm if:

  • You have a condition, or are facing medical treatment for a condition that may affect your fertility.
  • You are about to have a vasectomy and want sperm available in case you change your mind about having (more) children.
  • You have a low sperm count or the quality of your sperm is deteriorating.
  • You have difficulty producing a sperm sample on the day of fertility treatment. 
  • You are at risk of injury or death (for example, you’re a member of the Armed Forces who is being deployed to a war zone).
  • If you're a male transitioning to a female you may want to preserve your fertility before you start hormone therapy or have reconstructive surgery. Both treatments can lead to the partial or total loss of your fertility. Read more information for Transsexual and non binary people seeking treatment.

How does sperm freezing work?

Firstly, your sperm will need to be tested for any infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. This has no bearing on whether you can freeze your sperm or not but is to ensure that affected sperm samples are stored separately to prevent contamination of other samples.

You’ll then need to give your written, informed consent to your sperm being stored and specify how long you want it to be stored for.

Find out more about giving consent

At the clinic, you’ll be asked to produce a fresh sample of sperm (if you’re able), which will be frozen and mixed with a special fluid (a cryoprotectant) to protect the sperm from damage during freezing. The samples are then cooled slowly and plunged into liquid nitrogen.

Before freezing, the sperm sample is usually divided between a number of containers called straws. This means that not all the sperm needs to be thawed at once and can be used in multiple treatments.

How safe is it?

It’s very safe – we’re not aware of any risks to patients or children from using frozen sperm. Not all sperm will survive the freezing and thawing process though.

How successful is sperm freezing?

Treatment with frozen sperm is just as successful as treatment using fresh sperm.

How much control do I have over what happens to my sperm?

You’ll need to complete consent forms before you start treatment specifying how you want your sperm to be used. This includes information on:

  • How long you want your sperm to be stored for (the standard period is 10 years).
  • What should happen to your sperm if you were to die or become unable to make decisions for yourself.
  • Whether the sperm are to be used for your own treatment only, or whether they can be donated for someone else’s treatment, or used for research or training. 
  • Any other conditions you may have for the use of your sperm. 

You can vary or withdraw consent at any time, either before treatment or before the sperm are used in research or training. If this happens, your sperm will not be used.

Find out more about giving consent

How long can my sperm be stored for?

The standard storage period for sperm is normally 10 years, although men in certain circumstances can store their sperm for up to 55 years. Your clinician will be able to explain whether you can do this.

You must let the clinic know if you change address. This is particularly important if you have decided to store your sperm for less than 10 years, as if the clinic can’t reach you, they may have to take your sperm out of storage and allow them to perish.

If you have the option to store for 55 years, you’ll need to confirm that you want to continue storing your sperm and your doctor will need to confirm that you’re eligible to do so. Again, it's vital that you stay in touch with your clinic to prevent your sperm from being discarded if your storage runs out.

What happens when I want to use my sperm?

You’ll need to have fertility treatment which may include in vitro fertilisation (IVF), intrauterine insemination (IUI) or, if the sperm you are using is not of optimum quality, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). Once your sperm have been thawed they’ll be used in exactly the same way as fresh sperm.  

What if it doesn’t work?

If none of your frozen sperm leads to a successful pregnancy, you might want to consider using donated sperm in treatment. Find out more about using donor sperm.

You might also want to explore other options for having a family, such as adoption. Find out more about coping when treatment's unsuccessful.

What if I don’t use my sperm or I have some left over?

If you have frozen sperm you don’t want to use you have a number of different options.

Donate them to research: Research on eggs, sperm and embryos is invaluable in helping scientists to understand causes of infertility and develop new treatments.

Find out more about donating to research

Donate them to training: Trainee embryologists need sperm to practice different techniques, such as injecting a single sperm into the egg during ICSI.

Donate them to someone else: You may be eligible to donate your sperm to someone else who very much wants a family.

Find out more about donating your sperm

Discard them: Some people prefer to discard their sperm. Sperm that are no longer needed are simply removed from the freezer and allowed to perish naturally in warmer temperatures.

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Review date: 9 November 2020

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