What is sperm banking?
Sperm banking is a process that collects, freezes and stores your sperm cells in a special healthcare facility (sperm bank).
Sperm cells are reproductive cells in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). Your testes (testicles) produce sperm. When you ejaculate during orgasm, you release approximately 300 million sperm cells in your semen. Semen is the whitish-gray fluid that releases from your penis when you orgasm.
Why should I bank my sperm?
Deciding to bank your sperm is very personal. You may want to use your sperm to have children in the future. However, your current situation or circumstances may not allow you to have a baby through sex (intercourse). Situations or circumstances may include:
- Health conditions. Testicular cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and leukemia have high risks of causing male infertility.
- Certain treatments. Some treatments may prevent you from achieving pregnancy (infertility). These may include chemotherapy, orchiectomy or gender affirmation surgery. After these treatments, your sperm cell numbers may decrease significantly, or you may no longer be able to make sperm.
- Age. Most men and people AMAB make millions of new sperm cells each day. However, as you age, the quality of your sperm may decrease. This generally occurs in men aged 40 and older.
- Low sperm count. You may have a low sperm count if you’re younger than 40. Even banking a low number of quality sperm can help you have children through assisted reproductive procedures. One effective procedure in vitro fertilization with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
- Frequent traveling. Many people travel a lot for work. The best time for women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) to get pregnant is during their fertile window (five days before ovulation up to one day after ovulation). If your partner ovulates while one of you is traveling, they may use your frozen sperm to become pregnant.
- Military deployment. Dangerous military employment may result in injuries to your reproductive organs.
- Vasectomy. Many people choose to have a vasectomy as a form of birth control. However, they may change their minds as they get older and wish to have children.
If you’re married or in a committed relationship, it’s best if your partner is involved in your decision. If you’re younger than 18, you should discuss your thoughts with your parents, guardians or caregivers.
When should I start banking my sperm?
You may have to decide to bank your sperm quickly, especially if you have a serious illness. It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about banking your sperm before starting treatment.
It’s usually safe to collect sperm samples during your first week of chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation may damage the genetic material in your developing sperm, but your mature sperm are resistant to damage.
Will banking sperm delay my medical treatment?
No, banking your sperm won’t delay the start of your medical treatment.
Your testicles constantly produce sperm. However, it takes time to build up (replenish) your sperm cell levels after each ejaculation. It’s best to collect a sample at least 48 hours after your last sexual activity (masturbation or intercourse) to have the greatest sperm cell level.
You may have to collect several samples. Your healthcare provider will collect other samples after another 48 hours of abstinence. However, if your treatment schedule doesn’t allow that much time, waiting 24 hours between collections is often enough.
How common is sperm banking?
Sperm banking is common. Healthcare providers first preserved semen in dry ice in 1953 and later used it to conceive a human baby. They used liquid nitrogen to preserve semen samples starting in 1963.
What happens before sperm banking?
Before you bank your sperm, your healthcare provider will test you for sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STDs and STIs), including syphilis, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV and AIDS. They’ll likely use a blood test.
During a blood test, your healthcare provider will use a thin needle (21 gauge, slightly smaller than a standard earring) to withdraw a small amount of blood from a vein in your arm. It’s not usually painful, but you’ll feel a slight pinch as the needle goes through your skin.
After your healthcare provider has taken your blood sample, they’ll send it to a laboratory (lab) for testing. Lab technicians will then examine your blood for the presence of any STDs or STIs.
What happens during sperm banking?
During sperm banking, you’ll go to a special healthcare facility called a fertility clinic. A healthcare provider will lead you to a private room and give you a special container.
The container is usually a small plastic jar with a screw-top lid. Some fertility clinics also offer collection condoms. Collection condoms are different than over-the-counter (OTC) condoms. OTC condoms can damage your sperm. Many also contain lubricants that kill sperm cells (spermicide).
In the privacy of the room, you’ll masturbate and use the special container to collect your semen.
Lubricants, including saliva, may damage or slow down your sperm. If you require a lubricant, your healthcare provider can provide an approved lubricant that’s safe for sperm.
Some people may require the use of a masturbation aid (sex toy). If you wish to use a sex toy, talk to your healthcare provider to ensure it won’t damage your sperm or limit your sample.
Masturbation is a private act. Some people have difficulty providing a semen sample outside of the comfort of their homes. If you’re not comfortable or can’t masturbate at a fertility clinic, you may be able to use a home sperm-banking kit. Your healthcare provider can discreetly mail a sperm-banking kit to your home along with detailed instructions for collecting and returning the sample for storage.
If you provide a semen sample at home, you may have to drop your semen off at the fertility clinic within a few hours. You may also have to keep it as close to your body temperature as possible to ensure your sperm’s health.
What happens after sperm banking?
After you’ve collected your semen sample and given it to your healthcare provider, they’ll carefully label and code your sample with:
- Your name.
- Your patient identification (ID) number.
- An internal control number (an additional unique number that ensures proper identification).
- The date.
The fertility clinic may copy your photo ID for your permanent file as an additional safety measure.
This information ensures accurate identification and confidentiality at the time of storage, during storage and at the time of release.
Your healthcare provider will collect a small amount of your semen sample for testing. They’ll divide the rest of your sample into small amounts, treat them with a special chemical that protects your sperm during the freezing process (cryopreservative) and store them in special containers called cryovials.
The freezing process starts right away. Your healthcare provider will place the samples in a freezer set to -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 degrees Celsius). This step prevents your sperm from dying due to an extreme drop in temperature.
Your healthcare provider then puts your samples in a liquid nitrogen vapor that’s -86 degrees Fahrenheit (-66 degrees Celsius) for approximately two hours.
Finally, your healthcare provider will permanently store your samples in a deep-freeze storage tank that contains liquid nitrogen. The liquid nitrogen is -321 degrees Fahrenheit (-196 degrees Celsius).
What tests are done on my sperm?
Your healthcare provider will analyze a small amount of your semen sample before freezing it. They’ll examine:
- The total number of sperm cells.
- The total number of live sperm.
- The percentage of sperm that are moving (motility).
Between 24 and 48 hours after your healthcare provider freezes your semen sample, they’ll analyze a small amount to measure the percentage of sperm that survive the freezing process. In general, sperm from a high-quality semen sample has a better recovery rate after thawing.
Based on the test results before and after freezing, your healthcare provider can recommend the optimal number of semen samples to ensure the best chance of pregnancy. They can also advise whether intrauterine insemination (artificial insemination) or in vitro fertilization is your best treatment option.
How can I withdraw my semen sample?
Notify your fertility clinic at least four weeks before you’re ready to use it for fertility treatment. You or your legally appointed executor must then fill out a release form.
Risks / Benefits
What are the advantages of sperm banking?
There are many advantages to banking your sperm, including:
- Fertility. Medical treatments and biological or environmental factors can cause male infertility. Banking your healthy sperm helps maintain your fertility or gives you the option to have biological children if circumstances in your life change.
- Health and safety. Using cryopreserved sperm doesn’t increase the risk of congenital conditions (conditions present at birth). Babies conceived with cryopreserved sperm are just as healthy as those conceived through sexual intercourse.
- Longevity. When stored correctly, semen samples don’t deteriorate even after many years of deep freezing.
What are the risks or complications of sperm banking?
Complications of sperm banking may include:
Some conditions may cause erectile dysfunction (ED), delayed ejaculation, inability to ejaculate (anejaculation) or other symptoms that may make it difficult or impossible to collect a quality semen sample through masturbation.
If you can’t produce a semen sample through masturbation, your healthcare provider may suggest surgically retrieving your sperm cells. Sperm retrieval surgeries include:
- Microscopic testicular sperm extraction (microTESE).
- Needle aspiration biopsy (NAB).
- Percutaneous epididymal sperm aspiration (PESA).
The cost of cryopreserving one semen sample is usually around $1,000. Each semen sample usually costs about $300 to store each year.
It’s a good idea to check with your insurance provider to see if they cover the costs of banking sperm.
If you wish to bank your sperm because you have cancer, you may worry about the health of your biological children.
A few types of cancer can run in families. Your healthcare provider can tell you whether your cancer is one of those types.
If you have a type of cancer or hereditary condition that runs in families, it’s a good idea to talk to a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors are healthcare providers with special training in educating people about the risks of an inherited disorder.
Recovery and Outlook
What is the recovery time of sperm banking?
It’s ideal to wait 48 hours in between providing semen samples.
There isn’t a recovery period after you’ve provide your semen sample. You can immediately return to work or school.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I see my healthcare provider?
It’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider about banking your sperm after you’ve gone through puberty, especially if any conditions, situations, or circumstances may prevent you from easily having children.
Can I bank my own sperm?
You can’t freeze your sperm at home. Banking your sperm requires a special facility and precise steps to guarantee the health of your sperm.
You may be able to use a home sperm-banking kit if you’re not comfortable or able to provide a semen sample at a fertility clinic. However, you must drop off your semen sample at a fertility clinic.
What happens to my stored sperm samples if I die?
When you bank your sperm, it’s a good idea to legally appoint a partner, family member or trusted friend as an executor (someone who can execute your will). They can withdraw your sperm samples from the sperm bank after your death. They can also order a sperm bank to destroy your samples if you wish.
Your significant other may wish to use your banked sperm to have children.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Banking your sperm is a personal decision. Some people choose to bank their sperm to have a chance of having biological children in the future. Have an open discussion with your healthcare provider so that you understand all of the steps in the sperm-banking process. You may feel self-conscious, but your healthcare provider is there to help.
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