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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 a child(ren) 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 quarantined for three or six months and screened for infections before it can be used by a recipient. The length of quarantine is dependent upon the type of screening tests that your clinic carries out.

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 mixed with a special fluid (a cryoprotectant) to protect the sperm from damage during freezing. 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. The samples are then cooled slowly and plunged into liquid nitrogen.

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 (you can store your sperm for up to 55 years if you renew your consent to storage every 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 use in treatment?

If your sperm are not used immediately in treatment, you may wish to store your sperm so they can be used for treatment in the future.  To be stored sperm are frozen. You will need to think about how far in the future you might want or be able to use stored sperm and the potential costs of storing. This is something you should discuss with your clinic. 

On 1 July 2022, the rules on how long you can store eggs, sperm or embryos changed. Before 1 July 2022, most people could usually only store their embryos for up to 10 years. Only if they had premature infertility or were going to be having medical treatment which could affect their fertility, could they store for up to 55 years. 

The law now permits you to store eggs, sperm or embryos for use in treatment for any period up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the embryos are first placed in storage. However, crucially for storage to lawfully continue you will need to renew your consent every 10 years. You must give your consent on the relevant consent form.   You will be contacted by your clinic with relevant information and they should also provide you an offer of counselling before you give consent to storage of your sperm. Your clinic will contact you and provide the consent forms that you need to complete at the appropriate time. It is therefore essential that you keep your contact details up to date with your clinic as you will need to be contacted.  If your clinic is unable to contact you your sperm will be at risk of being removed from storage and disposed of.

You don’t have to match the length of storage to any contract for paying for the storage (whether you, or the NHS, is paying). However, if you don’t pay for storage as agreed, the clinic may be within its right to dispose of your sperm. Your clinic should have explained this to your clearly when you stored your sperm.

What happens if I do not renew my consent to storage at the appropriate time?

If you do not renew your consent to storage your sperm will be removed from storage and disposed of when the sperm can no longer can be lawfully stored.

If you do not wish to renew your consent to storage or to continue storing your sperm then you can withdraw your consent to storage. You will need to contact your clinic and complete the relevant withdrawal of consent form. At this point you may wish to consider donating the sperm that you do not wish to use for your own treatment for training purposes, or for use in someone else’s treatment. You would need to discuss this with your clinic and provide the additional consents where relevant. You can also consider donating your sperm for use in research, helping to increase knowledge about diseases and serious illnesses and potentially develop new treatments. Your clinic will need to give you more information about this and advise you whether this is an option for you.

I stored my sperm before 1 July 2022, what should I do?

If you stored your sperm before 1 July 2022 for up to 10 years but would like to store for longer (up to a maximum of 55 years from the date that the sperm are first placed in storage), you should contact your clinic to discuss whether this is possible and complete additional consent forms where necessary.

If you previously consented to store your sperm for longer than 10 years (up to a maximum of 55 years) because of premature infertility or because you were going to be having medical treatment which could affect your fertility you should contact your clinic as soon as possible as consent will now have to be renewed at each 10 years. You will need to complete additional consent forms in order for your clinic to legally continue to store your sperm (even if the clinic are still storing your sperm within the consent period you originally specified). Your clinic will know the date when you must complete and return the relevant consent form for storage to continue. If you do not renew your consent the sperm will be removed from storage and disposed of.

Keep your contact details up to date

Make sure you tell your clinic if any of your contact details change. Because your clinic needs to contact you about your consent to storage, you should always inform your clinic if your contact details change or if your circumstances change (eg, in the event of separation from your named partner). If your clinic is unable to contact you to obtain your consent, then your sperm will be removed from storage and disposed of when they can no longer be lawfully stored.

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 if treatment doesn’t work.

What if I don’t use all my sperm during my treatment?

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

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

Donate them to training: You may have stored sperm that you do not wish to use (for example, because the sperm are not needed, or are not suitable, for treatment). You can consent to your sperm being used and stored for potential use by designated healthcare professionals to practice the techniques involved in fertility treatment on the relevant HFEA consent form. If you give your consent to storing your sperm for training purposes, your clinic may store your sperm for these purposes for up to 55 years from the date that your sperm are first placed in storage.

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

 

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

How can I find a clinic that offers sperm freezing?

You can search for licensed UK clinics on our website here. You'll need to enter your postcode and then update your search criteria to look for clinics offering fertility preservation.

Choose a clinic

Review date: 21 July 2024