Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Sperm Banks

A sperm lab technician places a specimen in a tank in a New York City bank.
A sperm lab technician places a specimen in a tank in a New York City bank.
Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Sperm banks focus primarily on the collection, screening and supplying of sperm. They also provide a selection process for potential donor recipients. Once a sperm donor is accepted into a program, that donor regularly provides samples. Samples are collected frequently -- every few days to once a week. Donors are asked to abstain from ejaculation -- like they were in the screening process -- for two to seven days for an optimal sperm specimen [source: Virginia IVF and Andrology Center].

Specimen collection takes place either at the sperm bank's laboratory or via a Priority Male Overnight Collection Kit. On-site collection typically happens during the sperm bank's normal business hours. Donors are shown to a private room where they masturbate into a clean, dry container. Priority Male kits include a special sterile container for transport and a pre-paid FedEx shipment label. The donor prepares his specimen and sends the kit to the laboratory with overnight air transportation. Several of the top sperm banks in association with Cryogenic Laboratories Inc. (CLI) use such kits.

Samples and donors are screened continually for sexually transmitted diseases and genetic issues. Additionally, all donors are screened for cystic fibrosis and undergo chromosome analysis (karyotyping).

Donors of specific ancestries may be screened for:

  • Tay Sachs disease
  • Canavan disease
  • Gaucher disease
  • Bloom syndrome
  • Fanconi-Amemia Type-C
  • Niemann-Pick Type A
  • Mucolipidosis Type IV
  • Familial Dysautonomia
  • Breast and Ovarian Cancer (BRCA-1 and 2) gene mutations
  • Thalassemia
  • Sickle Cell disease and other hemoglobinopathies [source: Fairfax Cryobank]

Since the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, artificial donor insemination has been performed exclusively with frozen and quarantined sperm. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) recommend that sperm be quarantined for at least six months and retested before use. In order to comply with federal tissue bank licensing regulations, banks don't accept donors who have been exposed to or infected with HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HTLV, syphilis, genital herpes, or genital warts [source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine].

There is a set procedure for a recipient who wishes to withdraw specimens from a sperm bank. The recipient should first select a physician familiar with the donor insemination processes. Withdrawals are sent to the designated physician. Fairfax Cryobanks, one of the largest commercial sperm banks in the country, recommends two weeks' notice for ordering a specimen.

For men who choose to bank sperm for future use, costs for storage vary from one bank to another. Storage fees are determined by the number of samples and the length of time banked. Fees can run from hundreds to thousands of dollars and it's important to review all costs before working with any sperm bank, whether donating, storing or selecting.

Is the freezing process harmful to sperm? Next,we'll learn about the pre and post thawing process.