Most women are well aware that by age 35, their reproductive clock is ticking. If they intend to start a family but aren’t quite ready, they’re likely to consider freezing their eggs. The number of women going through the process is growing, and fertility clinics across the country have reported an increase in women freezing their eggs. But the same isn’t true of men and their sperm, even though sperm health declines with age. So why aren’t men freezing their sperm, despite the fact that they’re responsible for half of the conception equation?
Some Very Good Reasons for Freezing Sperm
When a sperm and egg get together to form an embryo, the process is a 50/50 crapshoot. Yet in many ways, society doesn’t take into account the health of half of that embryo.
Research has found that a man’s healthiest sperm comes before age 30, yet men are having kids later than ever: A 2017 study found that men over 40 fathered 9% of babies born in the U.S. in the early 2010s. Younger men may know they want to have kids someday but not now — maybe they haven’t found a partner or maybe they or their partner isn’t ready for kids — and freezing sperm allows men to have younger, healthier sperm available when they’re ready to start a family.
Part of the reason men don’t freeze their sperm is because they’re typically embarrassed to discuss reproductive issues with their doctor, says Joel Batzofin, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist with Dreams Fertility in Palm Springs, California. Not to mention that men aren’t as likely as women to go to the doctor in general, so they have fewer opportunities to ask about it. Because of this, men might not know freezing sperm is a feasible option. And even if a man’s friends are freezing their sperm, they’re not likely to discuss it with each other because it’s so taboo.
Men also don’t usually consider the age of their sperm. Although cisgender women have the automatic baby-making cutoff of menopause, cis men are physically able to make babies later in life. Charlie Chaplin famously had a baby when he was 73, Hugh Hefner when he was 65, and Anthony Quinn when he was 81.
But age is a factor. Sperm can deteriorate over time, says Barrett Cowan, M.D., a urologist with Posterity Health in Parker, Colorado. “There are some changes in sperm DNA that occur after 40 which can impact the chances of successfully fathering a child,” he says. “Age decreases both the quality and quantity of sperm, and therefore makes it harder to get pregnant.”
The risk of some conditions also increases with the father’s age. A study published in the journal Nature, for example, found that fathers over age 50 had 2.7 times the increased chance of having a child with autism, even after controlling for the mom’s maternal age. Another study published in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health found that a man’s age contributed the majority of the risk in offspring developing schizophrenia. Babies fathered by older dads may also have a higher risk of being born premature and with a low birth weight.
Freezing sperm also offers the opportunity to have children later in life for men who get a vasectomy — an option many more men are considering in light of Roe v. Wade likely being overturned. The other option for having kids after the procedure would be reversing the vasectomy, but this does come with risks. Fertility after a reversal is lower than before the snip, it can cost thousands of dollars, and side effects like infection can occur.
In addition, men should consider freezing their sperm before they have a cancer treatment. “We strongly encourage any males who are post-pubertal and of reproductive age to bank sperm before being treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy, even if fathering a child is the last thing on their mind at the time,” Cowan says.
Barriers To Freezing Sperm
It’s rather surprising that men don’t often freeze their sperm when you consider that the procedure and the price are marginal compared to that of women freezing their eggs. When a woman freezes her eggs, she must first inject hormones via a lengthy needle to stimulate the ovaries, endure an egg-retrieval process, store the eggs in a facility, then go through IVF once she’s ready to get pregnant. All of this is pricey: Many women drop upwards of $30,000 on the process.
On the other hand, freezing sperm involves a somewhat awkward clinical masturbation session and less than $1,000 for freezing and storing it for the first year. After that, there’s an annual storage fee, usually $300 or less. Yes, that does seem like a lot to store a tiny vial of your swimmers, but it’s a drop in the bucket when you consider the cost comparable to women freezing their eggs, and it may be covered by insurance if you’re storing your sperm for a medical reason.
But thus far, even though it’s cheaper and less invasive, men haven’t jumped to freeze their sperm. “It’s only recently that we’ve become aware of the issues associated with advanced paternal age,” Batzofin says.
What To Know Before You Freeze Your Sperm
By age 35, some doctors consider men to be older fathers. So if you’re going to bank your sperm, it’s best to do it before that age. “As a society, perhaps men should be encouraged to bank sperm before their 35th or, at least, their 45th birthday to decrease the increased risks on maternal and fetal and child health which have been shown to occur as a result of aging sperm,” the authors of a male fertility study told Gizmodo.
For men who don’t want to deal with the potential awkwardness of heading to their local clinic, you can have your sperm tested and frozen from the comfort of your own home. Companies like Legacy will send collection kits right to your door. “Our at-home kit allows them to test and freeze their sperm without having to go to a doctor,” says CEO Khaled Kteily. These services can also be cheaper than going into a clinic to store your sperm.