Fertility and conception are becoming one of the major concerns of modern working men and women. Demanding careers, hectic lifestyles, and deteriorating health conditions are heralding the need for alternatives to conventional methods of reproduction. Research and invention have made it possible to preserve the male and female sex cells, i.e. sperm and egg, for the long term. This article aims to cover all aspects of sperm freezing, from the technique to its use.
What is sperm freezing?
Sperm freezing, also known as semen cryopreservation and sperm banking, is a technique used to preserve sperm cells for future use. Cryopreservation involves storing cells in optimum conditions under very low temperatures such as −80°C to −196°C, depending on the term of use. Using this technique, sperms can be stored indefinitely and used after several years without compromising their quality. There are reports of successful results obtained from cryopreserved sperms being used after 22 years.
The technique of sperm freezing
Participating men are usually requested to abstain from sex for at least 2 to 3 days before the collection day. Before undergoing the preservation process, clinicians test the sperm donor for any existing medical conditions, including HIV-I &II, hepatitis C virus, hepatitis B surface antigen, HTLV-I, and syphilis. This screening is necessary to ensure that these diseases are not passed on to the child via the sperm. Sperm collection is done through masturbation. Clinical facilities have dedicated areas for this purpose. The sample is procured in sterile phials and is tested for sperm count, mobility, and viability. The sample may be stored in a single phial or be divided into multiple phials depending on the volume and sperm count. These phials are frozen at low temperatures, and samples are thawed before use.
Who needs sperm freezing?
Sperm banking ensures the possibility of conception even at a later age. Ideally, 18 to 35 years is the recommended age for sperm freezing; however, sperms from individuals of any age can be stored after testing their quality. Individuals belonging to the following categories should opt for this technique:
- Men with a known low sperm count or deteriorating sperm quality may typically wish to store their semen for future use.
- Individuals undergoing treatment for health conditions, which may affect their fertility, are advised to avail sperm freezing. These conditions may include certain cancers treated with chemo- and radiotherapy, which may adversely affect the sperm.
- Couples undergoing in vitro fertilization may have to undergo sperm banking if the male partner is not able to produce a sample on the day of fertilisation.
- Paralysis patients incapable of natural reproduction may undergo electro ejaculation to produce semen for in vitro fertilisation.
- Men planning to undergo a vasectomy may use this technique for future reproduction.
- If the partners travel extensively for work purposes, and the couple is not able to have intercourse frequent enough, they may resort to this technique to fertilize the ovum when needed.
- Individuals intending to undergo a sex change operation may preserve their sperms for future use.
The adverse effect of sperm freezing
Sperms stored for several years have been used with successful results. No significant difference in congenital disability rates has been observed between infants born through the natural reproduction method and those born using cryopreserved sperms.
Over the years, sperm freezing has proven to be a viable technique aiding individuals wishing to enjoy parenthood.