When you hear the term "at home sperm freezing" the first question that leaps to mind is: Can you really freeze your sperm at home?!
It's true, you can. But rest assured, it's not a DIY job (well, not entirely...)
Sperm freezing at home doesn't mean you just throw a sperm sample in the freezer and hope for the best. A few specialist companies have come up with modern, temperature controlled at-home sperm freezing kits, which come with the tools to collect the sperm sample at home rather than having to go into a clinic. Preservatives in the kit protect the sperm while it is sent by courier back to the lab to be frozen and stored.
At-home sperm freezing was pioneered back in 2014 by Sppare.me, which has tested and stored the sperm of several thousand customers in that time. However, in recent years the market has expanded to include several prominent competitors and sales are reportedly surging amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Why could this be?
We look at the reasons why more men are looking to bank their frozen sperm than usual, with the help of Dr Paul Turek, a board-certified urologist at the world-renowned Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco.
1. Fever Can Damage Sperm
One big reason why men are turning to at-home sperm freezing solutions is because of the fast-spreading fears about the virus’s potential effects on male fertility.
It's widely known that experiencing a high fever can negatively impact sperm. And, one of the common symptoms of the coronavirus is a high fever.
As Dr. Turek explains: "Flus in general wreak havoc on my male fertility practice. This is due to the fevers associated with them." However, he adds: "The effect is temporary. Things usually bounce back to normal within 2-3 months."
"I expect the COVID-19 virus to affect male infertility just like the seasonal flu. There is no evidence that it affects male fertility in anything other than a temporary fashion." - Dr Paul Turek
But like many aspects of the novel coronavirus, when it comes to fertility, there are still many unknowns:
There is no clear data that the coronavirus could have an impact on long-term fertility in either men or women
There is no evidence indicating that the coronavirus can spread via sperm
There is no evidence that a pregnant woman with coronavirus would experience an increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects
That being said, Chinese scientists have speculated that COVID-19 may affect the testes. This hypothesis is based on the fact that the virus is highly expressed in cells that are present in the testes. Despite the fact that this is at this stage a purely theoretical hypothesis and not based on a formal peer reviewed study, the potential risk has compelled a growing number of men to freeze their sperm anyway.
In addition, The European Sperm Bank says:
"The sperm that is donated after the coronavirus outbreak will be frozen and quarantined and released in accordance with the guidelines from the Health Authorities."
With that said, this isn't a new precaution - the process of quarantining sperm is fairly normal practice, as many sperm banks test and quarantine sperm for several months as standard.
2. Many Fertility Clinics are Closed
Another reason at-home sperm freezing kits have seen a surge is that many bricks-and-mortar fertility clinics have hit pause on all but "non-medically urgent" treatments during the pandemic, following guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). That means at-home freezing services are in many cases the only option currently available for men who want to freeze their sperm.
3. Sperm Testing: Quality and Count
Most at-home sperm freezing kits work by sending men preservable sample collection kits with return postage. When the lab receives the sperm deposit, it runs tests on the sperm before cryogenically freezing it.
More than ever, health metrics are important to people - especially those who are planning to try to conceive in the near future, or to undergo fertility treatment. The test results received from using an at-home kit (sometimes as little as 24 hours after dispatch) can be helpful to men wanting to learn some valuable information about their sperm health at a time when sperm-damaging fevers and uncertainty abound.
What if you unknowingly have coronavirus and you freeze sperm?
Seeing as so many people can be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, there is the possibility that you could freeze semen and not even know it was potentially impacted. It's not clear whether they are able to test sperm specifically for the presence of COVID-19, but this is a question worth asking.
4. A New Sense of Urgency
It takes about three months to produce sperm, so even if a man isn't planning on trying to have a baby immediately, he may still have concerns about the health of his sperm in the year ahead, while the pandemic is potentially still circulating.
Time is of the essence for fertility patients. Men with female partners whose egg quality is declining with each month that passes may not feel like waiting three months post-fever to provide a sample is a possibility they can entertain.
Storing now might potentially mean starting fertility treatment as soon as clinics re-open, rather than making the tough decision to wait if he recently experienced a fever.
5. It's Cheaper
Another reason for the surge in popularity of at-home kits may be the economic disruption the virus has brought about.
With the austerity mindset it's not surprising that people are seeking out cheaper alternatives to products - and at-home kits can represent a significant saving. Sperm freezing at a fertility clinic can cost in the region of $1,000. Meanwhile, at-home sperm freezing kits usually run a lot cheaper.
A basic kit from New York based sperm storage solution Dadi, for instance, costs just $199, which includes a lab-tested fertility report and year of storage fees. But we've partnered up with them to make it even cheaper:
6. Health is a Top Priority
For the same reason that people in the army opt to freeze their eggs or sperm before being deployed to war zones, now people working on the frontlines - such as healthcare workers and grocery store clerks - are faced with an immediate, tangible threat to their health and fear the impact it may have on their future fertility.
And while in good times people under 45 spend money on experiences like travel and eating out, now that those things aren't even possible (let alone desirable!), some dollars earmarked for other things are now being funnelled into health.
A health crisis puts many things into perspective. It makes people consider the rest of their lives and what it is that really matters to them.
"Given the stay-at-home restrictions worldwide, this pandemic may even be a boost for human fertility," says Dr. Turek. "Leading to a whole new batch of next-gen “coronials!”
And even if someone doesn't want kids any time soon, they may want to secure the option for the future, and feel that's worth the investment.
7. A Cultural Shift Towards the Importance of Male Fertility
A final reason for the surge in at-home sperm kit purchases is that there is a general trend towards taking male fertility more seriously.
"I have definitely seen men take an increasing interest in their reproductive health." - Dr. Paul Turek.
Infertility has typically been pigeonholed as a women's health issue. Increasingly, though, society is waking up to the other 50% of the equation: sperm quality.
It's only half the story to talk about men fathering children into their seventies and eighties with no problem. It's not as simple as that. After age 40, sperm count decreases, and a man becomes more likely to pass on birth defects, neuro-cognitive disorders like autism, and to increase the risk of miscarriage in his partner.
The number of women freezing their eggs in order to preserve future fertility has been gaining in popularity for a number of years. Women over 30 have been culturally conditioned to be concerned about declining fertility, and now? The global pandemic is accelerating the rate at which men are catching up and wanting to take control of their own fertility, too.
"Whether this is a response to women freezing their eggs, the idea that sperm counts are falling, or the effect of a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic on clarifying what really matters in this world, is food for debate," says Dr. Turek. "Regardless, this trend warms my heart, because reproductive health is a biomarker of overall health. So, the best way to stay reproductively healthy is to take great care of yourself. And thats the best way to live longer too."
Should Men Freeze Their Sperm "At-Home" During COVID-19?
"At-home sperm banking is a great way for men to better "own" their reproductive timeline, similar to women banking eggs," says Dr. Turek. "However, now is not a great time to bank sperm (at home or at a sperm bank)." Here are Dr. Turek's reasons why you should not sperm freeze at home right now:
It's cold and flu season and the quality of banked sperm will be impaired if you have had the flu.
We're in the middle of a pandemic and as a bunch of shut-ins, we may not be taking the best care of ourselves as we would normally (rest, exercise, diet) and this may also impair banked sperm quality.
The implications of banking sperm if you are COVID-19 positive are as yet undefined. Will banked sperm infect a partner later on? Who knows.
"My advice is to get through this, get healthy, take a male prenatal vitamin for several months and then bank the healthiest sperm you possibly can."
Dr. Paul Turek MD, FACS, FRSM
Board Certified Urologist and Microsurgical Specialist
Internationally recognized as the authority on Male Fertility and Sexual Health, Dr. Turek is the Founder and Director of the Turek Clinic in Beverly Hills and San Francisco, CA.