Banking fertilized eggs or embryos after IVF procedures has been de rigueur for three decades. However, freezing unfertilized eggs from the ovaries of young women to maintain fertility later in life is a relatively recent concept, but one that is now routine clinical practice and no longer experimental. Advice for surviving the upcoming fiscal cliff? Invest in commodities: save eggs not money.
What About Sperm?
If woman are now cleared for egg banking to protect their fertility, should men do the same with their sperm? Possibly, but the outlook is different with sperm. Women are born with all the eggs that they will ever have, whereas men normally make 1000 new sperm per heartbeat. Sperm are regenerated throughout a man’s life whereas eggs lie dormant in a bank that is slowly (but dramatically) losing balance and interest. If you’re wondering why so many sperm are needed, well it’s because men don’t like to ask for directions.
Reasons to Bank Sperm
Successful freezing and thawing of sperm was first reported over a hundred years ago: it is tried and true technology. Here are reasons to consider banking sperm as a young man:
- Your future fertility is threatened. Things like brittle diabetes, cancer treatments and long-term anabolic steroid use can deal serious if not lethal blows to future fertility. Sperm banking is strongly recommended in the face of these threats.
- Sperm counts decline with age. Honestly, semen quality doesn’t change all that much as men age. Semen volume and sperm motility fall, but at rates <1% annually. Not a great investment choice.
- You’re not sure that you want kids. You’re finding condoms to be “so high school” and the idea of having a vasectomy has crossed your mind. But, you don’t want to shut the door completely, in case Mrs. Right comes along. Unfortunately, there is no truly reversible male contraceptive (although vasectomy reversal comes pretty close). Banking sperm is a good investment here.
- Older sperm lead to unhealthy offspring. Now here’s a hot topic. New studies are suggesting that there are solid relationships between diseases in offspring and older paternal age. Issues like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism have all been convincingly linked to older paternal age (>50 years). In addition, offspring with chromosomal issues and single gene diseases increase with a father’s age. What’s comforting though is that these conditions in offspring are very uncommon, even with older fathers, occurring at rates much less than 5% among 70-year old fathers. Furthermore, there is no proactive testing currently recommended for older men to check for the potential of handing off these conditions. For these reasons, banking sperm for paternal age issues is a very personal decision.
Although cheaper, easier and much more fun to bank than eggs, sperm is an equally precious resource if you ask my patients. To many, in the words of Monty Python: “Every sperm is sacred.” Ponder this as you freeze your fellows.