Sperm freezing can help men with reduced fertility (due to age or health issues) conceive biological children. It can also be used to assist infertile couples or lesbians with conceiving a child. When a man’s semen is frozen, it can be used at a later date through either intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. Frozen sperm can also be used for male partners of women who are undergoing hormone replacement therapy or reconstructive surgery (to avoid loss of fertility).
The sperm freezing process is safe and standardized. A specialized fluid called cryoprotectant is added to the sample before freezing. The sample is divided into straws or cryotubes and then plunged into liquid nitrogen at -196oC. This slow freeze ensures that sperm cells do not damage during the process. When ready to use, the sperm is thawed and washed prior to insemination or IVF.
Once thawed, frozen sperm can be used in conjunction with insemination or IVF for the conception of a healthy baby. A study of sperm samples that were frozen and then thawed showed that they remained viable for decades and continued to result in pregnancy or live birth through intracytoplasmic sperm injection.
The first step in the process involves a health check up for both the man and woman, including tests for infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis. Those who are interested in freezing their sperm will need to give their written consent. Some men may require additional testing to determine if they have enough motile sperm, such as semen analysis or an in vitro fertilization test. This is particularly important if the man is being treated for cancer, as some treatments can reduce his fertility.