What is sperm freezing and storage?
Sperm can be frozen for future use in fertility treatments, to be donated or for preservation of fertility. Donated sperm has to be stored for six months before it can be used in treatment, in order to screen the donor for infections. Sperm cells have been frozen and thawed successfully for more than 40 years, and healthy children born from fertility treatments where sperm has been frozen for over 20 years.
Is sperm freezing and storage for me?
By storing your sperm, you may be able to use them for treatment in the future. You may want to discuss freezing your sperm with your GP or clinician if:
- you are facing medical treatment that may affect your fertility, for example, some forms of cancer treatment
- you are about to undergo a vasectomy
- you have a low sperm count or are producing sperm that are deteriorating in quality over time
- you have difficulty producing a sample on the day of fertility treatment
- your sperm is going to be used for donation, in which case freezing allows the sperm to be quarantined for six months.
What happens when sperm are frozen?
Step 1. Before you agree to the freezing and storage of your sperm, your clinician and a member of the laboratory team will explain the process involved.
Step 2. You will be screened for infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C.
Step 3. You will need to give written consent for your sperm to be stored.
Step 4. At the clinic, you produce a fresh sample of sperm.
Step 5. The sperm are frozen and then stored in a storage tank containing liquid nitrogen.
How much control do I have over what happens to my sperm?
When you first freeze your sperm, the clinic will ask you to fill out consent forms. The forms allow you to specify:
- what will happen to your sperm should you become unable to make decisions for yourself or die
- how long you want to store your sperm (the standard storage period is 10 years)
- whether your partner (if you have one) can use the sperm later to create a family and whether you wish to be recorded as the father of any child born as a result of fertility treatment after your death
- whether your sperm can be used in research or donated for use in someone else’s treatment
- any other conditions you may have for the use of your sperm.
You can vary or withdraw your consent at any time, either before treatment or before the sperm are used in research.
What happens when sperm are stored?
When you store sperm, make sure you understand the limits on the storage time and keep in contact with the clinic.
The standard storage period for sperm is normally 10 years. This period can be exceeded only in certain circumstances. Your clinician will be able to explain whether you can do this, and how long you may be able to store your sperm.
Sperm can be stored for up to 55 years (this is the legal limit).You must let the clinic know if you change address. This is so they can contact you when the storage period is coming to an end. If they cannot contact you when the storage period ends, they will take your sperm out of storage and allow them to perish.
What is my chance of having a baby with stored sperm?
Some sperm do not survive or are damaged during freezing. This means that after freezing there may be a reduction in quality. Some frozen sperm samples that are of poor quality can only be used for Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
What are the risks of freezing and storing sperm?
It is not thought that there any additional risks to patients or children from using frozen sperm.