Women have been encouraged to harvest and freeze their eggs for decades now, saving young eggs for maternity at a later (thus older) date. Now, companies are introducing a lower sperm storage cost for men. This means they can freeze those youthful little swimmers for some future rainy afternoon.
Personal Sperm Savings Is Big Money
The world is experiencing a burst of personalized wellness and health technology at lower and lower price points. DNA testing kits, for instance, are now not just affordable but make great stocking stuffers for the holidays. Once you have your DNA in hand, you can farm it out to plenty of different companies (like health and fitness site DNAFit) for more personalized data.
So, why should banking sperm be any different? According to The Hustle, online startups for sperm banking are currently raking in the funding. A company called Legacy raised $1.5 million for its sperm and freezing site. Another service launched in January 2019, called Dadi, did one better: a $2 million seed round followed by a $5 million extension. Those little swimmers are valuable.
The Science Behind the Need for Freeze
While much is made of the very real female “biological clock,” men have one as well. A 2019 article by Rutgers University appeared in the journal Maturitas. The review was sweeping–analyzing over 40 years of data–and found infants born to men over 45 had increased 10 percent. These older dads led to some repercussions, both for the mothers carrying the babies and the babies themselves.
“The study found that men 45 and older can experience decreased fertility and put their partners at risk for increased pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and preterm birth. Infants born to older fathers were found to be at higher risk of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birth weight, higher incidence of newborn seizures and birth defects such as congenital heart disease and cleft palate. As they matured, these children were found to have an increased likelihood of childhood cancers, psychiatric and cognitive disorders, and autism,” reported Science Daily.
In addition to this laundry list of risks, older fathers also had infertility issues of their own, such as lower sperm counts and heredity (germline, thus heritable) mutations. Older sperm, just like older eggs, is often of riskier quality.
Recognizing these factors, businesses like Dadi and Legacy are trying to educate aging millennial men quickly, urging them to bank their younger, more vigorous sperm now for a pregnancy conceived in their future. Probably through IVF.
“Our mission at Dadi is to normalize the conversation around reproductive health,” Dadi’s founder and CEO, Tom Smith, explains to Parentology. “Historically, the concept of infertility is fairly misunderstood. Fifteen percent of couples can’t get pregnant after a year of trying.”
Smith continues, “When seeking fertility assistance, half the time the man is the root cause. Dadi has been very encouraged by helping thousands of proactive men across the country use our services over the last 7 months. We very much expect this trend to continue as men take more proactive steps to understand their fertility.”
How Does This Process Work?
Unlike when women harvest eggs, requiring drugs and invasive procedures, the online and mail-in process for sperm banking is pretty easy.
Dadi, for instance, makes the process about as easy as a home DNA test. Rather than sit in a bland little room with an over-18 magazine, men get a little FDA-licensed kit FedEx’d to their home, complete with space for a collected sample. After that work is done, it’s sealed up and shipped back to Dadi.
Within 24 hours of getting the sample, the sperm is processed and a personalized fertility report is emailed. It includes things like sperm count and motility, plus a sperm swimming video for his viewing pleasure.
Once the sperm is deemed perfect, or at least viable, the deposit is put into three different vials and frozen, providing three chances to fertilize an egg at the time of one’s choosing.
All this convenience and privacy does come at a price, although the sperm storage cost is decidedly less than at fertility clinics. Deposits are stored in a secure lab facility for a price of $9.99/month, or $99.99/year (standard clinic prices for storage can be as high as $1,000/year; Dadi claims it’s 10x more affordable). If you want to make a withdrawal, there’s a $299 withdrawal charge each time. Want to discard it? That’s another $29.99.
Dadi insists all information is confidential, and report information is shared with you and no one else. The cryopreservation of the sperm is done in a liquid nitrogen tank at -321 degrees, and identities are tracked throughout the entire process, so your deposit can’t get confused with another guy’s.
Sperm freezing has a pretty good success rate. Dadi claims that, in theory, you could freeze it up to 200 years, although the longest ever reported is over 25 years between deposit and use.
Who Might Be Interested in Sperm Banking?
New companies like Dadi and Legacy seem to be focusing their marketing to millennial men who, like their female counterparts, are putting off kids until their 40s. There’s a certain level of scare tactics involved, creating a sense of urgency where, frankly, none might really exist.
Advanced paternal age ranges from 35-45, so don’t expect to see 25-year-olds dishing out $99 a year to freeze their sperm.
However, for men looking at IVF, surrogacy, or who might be considering gender reassignment but would like their own kids, these new services are a good option. Another market for sperm banking are men about to undergo chemotherapy, which can cause permanent infertility.
These services are cheaper, more private, and keep the process in a judgment-free zone. And, given the popularity of IVF and new types of polygenic scoring for embryos, privacy might be the key to these online storage banks. Because, in a time of increasing insecurity, why leave genetics to mere chance?