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Limitations and Pitfalls of Sperm Cryopreservation

Sperm cryopreservation limitations

Sperm cryopreservation is a common method of gathering, analyzing, freezing, and storing sperm. It may also be referred to as sperm banking or sperm freezing.

Sperm cryopreservation is an option for men who may be facing a vasectomy, cancer treatments, gender-affirming surgery, or for those who want to put off fathering children until much later in life. Frozen sperm does not have an expiry date. In fact, samples stored for 20 years have been used to produce healthy babies.

Sperm freezing is also done to preserve sperm that is being donated. Once thawed, the donor sperm is used in intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures performed at a fertility clinic. Donated sperm is regularly screened and is quarantined for up to six months.

While sperm freezing has been a go-to for many men over the last 50 years, it does have its limitations. In this article, we’ll look at the limitations and pitfalls of sperm cryopreservation.

Sperm Damage

One major disadvantage of sperm cryopreservation is the fact that sperm could incur damage during the process. While the parameters for the freezing and thawing process are strictly controlled, only about 95% of sperm survive cryopreservation.

The most common cause of damage to sperm is ice crystal formation, which can puncture the membrane surrounding the sperm. This can result in the release of enzymes that damage the cell and ultimately render it useless for fertility purposes.

Additionally, the change in temperature during the freezing and thawing process can also cause the sperm to undergo oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage. Sperm could also be damaged during the freezing and thawing process due to toxicity from solutions used during the cryopreservation process and due to the formation of intracellular or extracellular ice crystals.

To mitigate damage during the cryopreservation process, it’s important to employ proper freezing techniques and use cryoprotectants to minimize ice crystal formation. In addition, the cooling rate plays an important role. If sperm is frozen too quickly, it could cause severe intracellular ice formation and if sperm is frozen too slowly it could lead to osmotic pressure.

Cost and Accessibility

The cost of sperm cryopreservation varies across the country. Each fertility clinic, however, should provide specific information on their fees during the initial consultation.

In Ontario, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) will cover some fertility-related consultations and diagnostic tests. Ontarians may also have access to The Ontario Fertility Program. This government-funded program covers specific fertility treatments that are not covered by OHIP. There are also private insurance companies that may offer partial or full funding.

It should be noted that while there are 416 fertility clinics in Canada, the country only has one sperm bank. The Toronto Institute for Reproductive Medicine (ReproMed) is the last of the more than 40 sperm banks once established in Canada.

Another important aspect to consider is the decline in the number of sperm donors in recent years. This is believed to be due to changes in Canada’s Assisted Human Reproductive Act, which was updated 20 years ago and no longer allows sperm donors to be compensated for their donation.

Ethical Considerations

In 2024, there are still significant conversations about the ethics of sperm cryopreservation. Aside from the traditional objections to using artificial semination, the controversy tends to focus on the use of sperm banks.

The use of frozen sperm is regulated under varying federal policies and guidelines, depending on the geographic location and governing laws. In Canada, sperm donors are anonymous. This fact alone brings into question the rights of the donor and the rights of the offspring. It can be further linked to the rights of the donor posthumously by the surviving partner.

As different countries change their laws to allow for disclosure of the sperm donor’s information, it is yet to be seen what effect, if any, it will have in Canada, especially if Canadian laws change to support this endeavour. Some provinces, such as Ontario, have altered their legislation so that a person does not have automatic rights as a parent simply due to their genetic connections.

Other Limitations

While there have been several case studies focused on the initial sperm quality for successful cryopreservation, it is evident that more research is required for the long-term effects, including offspring health.

Studies have shown that sperm cryopreservation has very little impact on pregnancy success rates. In fact, the overall success rate of pregnancies using frozen sperm is around 30% to 50%, which is comparable to the success rate of fresh sperm.

Several clinical explorations are contradicting in terms of whether chromosomal abnormalities are present due to the use of frozen sperm. It has been proven that the quality of the sperm does play a role in the growth and risk of disease in an embryo. However, the latest data does not offer any solid evidence as to whether cryopreservation is associated with a decline in embryo quality and lifespan of the subsequent child.

Contact ONE Fertility Kitchener Waterloo for a Consultation on Sperm Cryopreservation

With the intricate process of embryo and sperm cryopreservation, both partners must understand the limitations and potential risks. The fertility specialists at ONE Fertility Kitchener Waterloo use science-based evidence to help customize infertility plans for all those involved.

Contact us at (519) 650-0011 or email for more information on our sperm cryopreservation services.


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Kitchener, ON
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