Social Sperm Freezing

Guido Pennings; Vincent Couture; Willem Ombelet

Disclosures

Hum Reprod. 2021;36(4):833-839. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Increased paternal age has been associated with lower fertility and higher genetic risk for the offspring. One way to prevent these consequences is to freeze sperm at a young age. Social sperm freezing could be developed in a way similar to social oocyte freezing. The main difference between freezing oocytes and sperm is that social sperm freezing is much less focussed on fertility preservation and much more on avoiding increased genetic risk. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, sperm freezing is more complicated than it looks at first sight. This article considers three practical aspects: freezing, storage and testing. It is concluded that the remedy (cryopreservation) may itself cause damage to the quality of the spermatozoon and to its genetic integrity, thus undoing the possible benefits in terms of fertility and health of offspring.

Introduction

Men tend to postpone family building. Over the last 45 years, the mean age of first time fathers has increased in the USA from 27.4 to 30.9 (Khandwala et al., 2017). The postponement of the family project has been linked to a series of changes: the increased status of women, greater gender equity, the rise of individualism as opposed to traditional family norms and the importance of higher education especially for women (Couture et al., 2020). Economic factors such as the lack of supportive family–work balance policies and the inaccessibility of the housing market for young couples may also play a role. The latter factors are related to individual and interpersonal dynamics. Men, like women, may also postpone family building until they feel that their social, psychological and material situation is stable (Thompson and Lee, 2011).

Several possible reactions to this trend are possible. One could start campaigns to make men aware of their 'biological clock' or introduce changes in society to facilitate the combination of private life and work. One solution that has attracted attention was to bank sperm at a young age for use at a more advanced age (Gromoll, 2015; Hudson, 2015; Smith, 2015; Hens, 2017; Jennings et al., 2017; Phillips et al., 2019). This solution can, analogous to the trend in women, be called 'social sperm freezing'.

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