With Roe v. Wade — the landmark ruling that made safe, legal abortion a constitutional right — potentially set to be overturned, many people in the U.S. are scrambling to think of alternatives to forced births. Among the possibilities are contraceptives, community support networks, decades-old underground procedures and sterilization. Now, to go alongside the latter, an increasing amount of people with penises are looking into freezing their sperm — according to the experts (and Google Trends), anyway.
“We’re certainly seeing an increase in inquiries about freezing sperm,” says a spokesperson for Legacy, an organization that offers sperm testing and freezing. “Family planning and reproductive rights are on the minds of Americans right now. The fertility burden so often lies with the female partner, and we want to help lift that burden at Legacy by providing options to test, analyze and freeze sperm.”
Most people typically freeze their sperm before getting a vasectomy — as a kind of insurance policy for if you ever change your mind about having kids, or if you just want to decide on your own terms when to have them. “If you get a vasectomy, then you’re reducing the odds of an unexpected child to close to zero,” the spokesperson explains. “With sperm freezing, you then can choose how and when you want to have a child. This is very closely aligned with our mission of helping build families on their own terms.”
In this way, freezing your sperm is a kind of a legal workaround for a post-Roe v. Wade world (in which several states would enact near-total bans on abortion), preventing unwanted pregnancies, but still allowing people with sperm to possibly have children later in life. The spokesperson says freezing sperm can also “provide assurance for those who work in high-risk environments, and provide more options for transgender women before they undergo gender affirmation therapy or surgery.”
So, how does it work? The procedure’s scientific name is cryopreservation, and, as the Legacy spokesperson tells me, it’s “accomplished using liquid nitrogen to reduce the temperature of sperm to -196 degrees Celsius.” Once the sperm is frozen, it can be stored indefinitely. And, the spokesperson adds, research shows that sperm freezing “doesn’t affect sperm quality or chance of pregnancy when using it later on.”
Anybody producing sperm can freeze it, but the amount you decide to freeze depends on “your family goals, sperm count and the quality of your sperm after it’s thawed,” explains the spokesperson. Those looking to have several children should preserve more sperm samples, likewise for people with a low quality or count of sperm. Legacy recommends making multiple “deposits,” as sperm quality can be variable — that way, if you’ve frozen multiple samples, you can use your “best” one in the future (though you don’t have to thaw it all at once).
Experts confirm that there are no medical risks associated with freezing your sperm or using frozen sperm in treatment. To ensure that someone’s sperm will be usable in the future, Legacy conducts a post-thaw analysis on a small portion of each sample. This enables the organization to measure sperm quality and see if the sperm in a person’s sample is viable after thawing.
All sounds great, right? The only problem is that the cost could be a barrier for many. According to the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, the average cost for sperm collection, testing and freezing is under $1,000, though the number of samples will influence the cost, as will storage fees, which typically add $150 to $300 a year. However, sometimes longer-term storage is offered at a reduced rate, and certain people, like cancer patients, can be offered discounts. Sperm freezing is also covered by some health insurers if you’re doing it for a medical reason.
At Legacy, the cost of two semen analyses, one DNA fragmentation analysis, five years of storage and two free calls with the organization’s fertility nurses will set you back $995. When it comes to lifetime storage — plus one additional semen analysis, DNA analysis and phone call — you’re looking at $3,995. You can pay in installments, but that’s still a hefty fee for many.
Plus, that doesn’t take into account the IVF treatment you’ll need when you eventually decide to use the sperm — which will cost you more than $12,000 for a single round (it may take more than one try for you to get pregnant, raising the cost even further). Still, as the New York Times reports, there are several ways to reduce the cost of procedures like IVF, including applying for grants, participating in research studies, starting a social media campaign or negotiating with a clinic.
Besides, not everyone who freezes their sperm will end up using it — as the Legacy spokesperson says, it can just “help provide peace of mind that no matter what happens in the future, you have a plan B you can count on.”