The stress of living through COVID-19 has rearranged many priorities, including family planning discussions about when to have your first child or more children. If you’re postponing having a family for now, there’s another topic that needs to be discussed: Freezing sperm.
Simply wanting or being ready to have a baby isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have one. Like most important things in life, fertility is complicated and requires a bit of strategy — and freezing sperm is one way to ensure you’ll be able to conceive a child when you’re ready. But this comes with a number of questions: How does the process of freezing sperm work? Do I need to undergo sperm testing first? How much does it cost to freeze sperm? Since we’re in the midst of a pandemic, can I freeze sperm at home?
Fortunately, you have options. According to Rachel A. McConnell, MD, Fertility Specialist at Columbia University Fertility Center, many health care systems offer safe, virtual options for testing and freezing sperm. There are even direct-to-consumer sperm testing kits that could also be a viable choice. Here’s everything you need to know about freezing sperm.
So, How Does Freezing Sperm Work?
Freezing sperm is a multi-step process that usually begins with a consultation with your healthcare provider. As with many routine medical appointments, McConnell says some components of fertility care can take place through tele-health. Start by making an appointment with a fertility specialist or urologist to test your sperm.
Why? The answer is simple. Before you freeze your sperm, you’ll want to make sure it’s healthy. Generally, fertility clinics have men collect sperm samples in the clinic. But during the pandemic, McConnell says you may have the option to collect at home. Just make sure to follow your provider’s instructions about how and when to ejaculate. To ensure the best sample possible, you might need to abstain from ejaculating for up to seven days beforehand.
Once you drop the sample off at your clinic (or mail it in), your involvement is done. After analyzing the quality and quantity of sperm in your sample, McConnell says your provider will likely freeze it temporarily.
“Typically we’d do an analysis of that sample and freeze it so we can provide feedback on how the sperm sample survived the thaw,” she says. “If you plan to freeze, you want to make sure it still functions after thawing.”
Finally, you and your doctor will discuss freezing your sperm. Many health care systems have their own cryopreservation facilities, where patients pay an annual fee to freeze their sperm until they’re ready to conceive through artificial insemination.
How Much Does it Cost to Freeze Sperm?
Typically, the process of freezing sperm costs no more than $1,000. Sperm banks do charge a yearly fee for storage and upkeep of frozen samples. However, the payment is minimal: On average, that fee is $300 or less. The more samples you’re freezing, the higher the cost. There are, however, times when a reduced rate will apply. Some sperm banks, for instance, provide a discount to those who are freezing sperm before such procedures as chemotherapy.
What About Direct-to-Consumer Sperm Freezing Kits?
If you’d rather not go through your healthcare provider, or your insurance doesn’t cover it, you may consider a direct-to-consumer sperm testing and sperm freezing kit as an alternative. Khaled Kteily, founder and CEO of Legacy, a direct-to-consumer sperm testing and storage company, says at-home tests are generally less costly and sometimes even more reliable than clinic-provided tests.
Depending on your insurance, Kteily says fertility clinic testing can cost between two and five times the cost of doing it yourself. Legacy’s kit costs $195, and along with added discretion, it comes with professional guidance about next steps for boosting your fertility — and the option to freeze your sperm at Legacy’s facilities.
As with a clinic-provided analysis, you collect your sample at home. But instead of dropping it off at the clinic, you overnight it to Legacy, who releases your analysis within a day of receiving it. You can opt to discuss your results with a medical provider on staff, who can give personalized recommendations about your next steps.
If you choose to freeze your sperm, you might pay less with a private company. Legacy’s cryopreservation rates start at $100 a year, compared to thousands of dollars annually through medical facilities.
McConnell says she’s seen comparable sperm analysis results with clinic-provided tests and direct-to-consumer kits. “At-home sperm kits can help patients get an idea of their sperm analysis, and so far, the quality of the analysis seems to be pretty good compared to an in-office sample,” she says.
Who Should Consider Sperm Freezing?
Freezing sperm is a way of preserving your ability to have kids in the future. Some men freeze their sperm if they plan to get a vasectomy but may still want to conceive down the road. “Even if you’re getting a vasectomy, it’s not a bad idea to want to freeze just to make sure you’re taking care of that potential option for life changes,” McConnell says.
Men undergoing chemo or radiation, which can decrease sperm count, may also consider preserving sperm. Patients with other health conditions — like diabetes, which can cause sperm to deteriorate over time — may also opt to cryopreserve as a protective measure.
Another common reason men choose to freeze their sperm is that they’re getting older but aren’t ready to have kids. According to McConnell, sperm quality and quantity can decline as a man ages, especially after age 35. So freezing sperm when you’re young and healthy can improve your chances of conception.
The Big Picture
There are, of course, many reasons to consider freezing sperm that are not listed above. The pandemic threw a curve ball for many men. Compared to early 2020, Legacy’s average order volume is six times higher. Part of the increase, Kteily says, is the closure of fertility clinics; other men want to preserve their sperm in case getting sick with COVID-19 has a long-term impact on their fertility. Plus, people are at home more thinking about their health.
“It’s natural for people to think about their legacies and plan families during a global health pandemic,” he says.
No matter which route you choose, Kteily encourages men not to drop the fertility conversation just because you’re not ready to become a dad during a global pandemic. “It’s important to know this about yourself, since fertility can be such an important part of your overall health,” he says. “And you’re not just doing it for you, but for your partner.”