What Are the Different Methods of Semen Preservation?

Erin J. Hill

Semen preservation is a relatively simple procedure and it typically involves collecting and then freezing a sample of semen taken from a male donor. This sperm can be used by the donor later to impregnate his partner, or it may be donated to a woman or couple looking to become pregnant through artificial insemination. Despite great advances in technology regarding fertility treatments, cryopreservation is still the primary option for semen preservation.

Semen will be inspected under a microscope to check for sperm motility, sperm count, and other factors during the semen preservation process.
Semen will be inspected under a microscope to check for sperm motility, sperm count, and other factors during the semen preservation process.

When a male ejaculates, a white or clear fluid is ejected from the urethra in the penis. This fluid contains millions of tiny living cells called sperm. These sperm can meet with an ovulated egg for fertilization to occur. Sperm still inside the semen can be preserved for later use in males who have concerns about future fertility, or who want to donate their sperm to be used by another couple or individual.

Sperm can be donated to a woman who is looking to become pregnant through artificial insemination.
Sperm can be donated to a woman who is looking to become pregnant through artificial insemination.

The process for semen preservation is relatively simple. A male will typically have his semen evaluated before giving a sample for storage. This is done by having the man enter a private room where he will be asked to ejaculate into a sterile cup. This cup is then labeled, and the semen is allowed to liquefy over the course of about half an hour. Once this has occurred, the semen will be inspected under a microscope to check for sperm motility, sperm count, and other factors that are important in terms of a man's fertility.

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A sperm cell.
A sperm cell.

This testing is generally performed prior to semen preservation, because the sperm quality may affect the number of samples that will need to be frozen for successful fertilization. The process of collection is the same as for a sperm evaluation, only this time the specimen is kept inside the container and frozen in liquid nitrogen. Some sperm will die during the freezing process, but many will remain intact until they are needed.

Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.
Semen is produced in the testes, which are contained in the scrotum.

Since sperm are destroyed during semen preservation, it is recommended that males undergoing this process abstain from ejaculation for at least three or more days prior to giving their samples. This will ensure a high sperm concentration in each ejaculation. Those with low sperm count or low sperm motility may need to provide more samples for successful insemination, although even smaller numbers of sperm are sufficient for many new infertility treatments.

Testing is performed prior to semen preservation, since sperm quality may affect the number of samples that need to be preserved.
Testing is performed prior to semen preservation, since sperm quality may affect the number of samples that need to be preserved.

Discussion Comments

burcidi

Semen of animals are also preserved by freezing. But I think that animals don't usually get pregnant with in vitro fertilization later. Uterine insemination is used for them which I think has less chances of success.

If we think about it, this technology is very new. So I'm sure that new methods of preservation will be developed in the future. Although freezing works perfectly well.

literally45

@ZipLine-- I had my sperm preserved with cryopreservation. The solution that the sperm are put into contains something called cyroprotectant. This removes water from sperm cells so that they don't burst and die when they are frozen. Plus, the sperm is frozen very slowly and then thawed slowly.

Of course, not everyone's semen stores well with cryopreservation. There is no guarantee that it will work. It's possible that many of the sperm will be dead when it's thawed. But that's why doctors recommend other treatment so improve the quality and number of sperm before semen is preserved.

Whether we like it or not, this is the only option we have available to us.

ZipLine

I don't understand how sperm survive freezing. Aren't sperm very sensitive to temperature changes? Is it the liquid nitrogen that's preserving them?

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