Should 18 Year-Old Men Bank Their Sperm?

While some experts say it will help preserve the health of a country’s population, others call it unethical. 


Young man in superman underwear.
18 is the age of peak fertility for men. But few are ready to start a family at that age.

Many young, career-minded women today, who still want to have a family in the future, are freezing their eggs. Peak fertility for women is between the ages of 23 and 31. After age 35, it begins to decline. But due to the fact that Millennials are delaying children to focus on their career, today many more women are freezing their eggs, in hopes that it will give them the option when they are ready. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ARSM) approved the procedure in 2012. Some 5,000 babies have been born from frozen eggs, since.

Freezing one’s eggs is not a guarantee of future fertility. The procedure currently has a two to 12% success rate. That hasn’t stopped companies, like EggBanxx and the Shady Grove Fertility Center, from hosting "egg freezing parties,” where wine is served, mingling occurs, and questions are answered.

This procedure is becoming more and more commonplace for women, despite the expense. So much so that Apple and Facebook recently announced kicking in $10,000 for female employees who wanted to undergo it. Now, a bioethicist in the UK is suggesting that young men bank their sperm in order to ensure a better chance at healthy offspring, should they decide to start a family later in life. Not only that, he proposes that the National Health Service (NHS) pay for it.

Past age 35 sperm degrades. More mutations are present and the chances of disorders increase.

It was once thought that the age of the father was inconsequential. In the last five years, more and more research lends to the idea that men have a biological clock, and that male fertility drops significantly after age 35. Older sperm are more likely to carry mutations. This can lead to miscarriage and a higher chance of the child developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, obesity, and more. Yet, the reasons why sperm declines with age are not well known.

Dr. Kevin Smith of Abertay University in Dundee, Scotland believes that someday, young men banking sperm will be considered normal. Though on a personal level, an older father has a small chance of causing complications to his offspring, statistically over an entire population, such as the UK, such issues become more likely, Dr. Smith argues in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

In his plan, 18 year-old men would bank their sperm en masse, to be used during in vitro fertilization (IVF) later on in life. The service comes at a cost of £150-200 ($187-249) annually. In America, the same service is around $400 per year. Say a man in America banks his sperm at 18 and makes a “withdrawal” at age 32. Over those 14 years, he’s spent $5,600 for something he may never use.  

The plan has other criticisms beyond cost. Andrology professor Allan Pacey at the University of Sheffield called the suggestion ridiculous. Among the reasons, sperm doesn’t do well once frozen, which is why sperm banks are in constant need of donors. Another thing is that for each individual, the risks are statistically too small to make much of a difference.

Will humanity begin to rely on IVF for reproduction? If so, what are the repercussions?

Chairman of the British Fertility Society, Professor Adam Balen said the plan gave young men a false sense of security. “Technology does not guarantee a baby,” he said. While embryologist Stephen Harbottle at Cambridge University called the idea, “unnecessary scaremongering.” After all, no specific evidence points to a need for such a program. He also called it ethically and morally unacceptable. Dystopian sci-fi works, such as The Matrix and Brave new World, have long warned that artificial means of human reproduction can be used as a way to exercise control.  

These concerns haven’t stemmed an increase in young men banking their sperm, however. In fact, the option is gaining. Scott Brown is the director of communications for the California Cryobank. He told the website Fusion that they’ve seen a slight uptick in younger men banking their sperm. Grace Centola of the New England Cryogenic Center told the Boston Globe that she has seen an increase among men in their 20s and early to mid-30s.

Medical ethicists, reproductive specialists, and others will continue to debate whether young men banking their sperm is a good idea. Meanwhile, a growing number of fertility experts today are calling for people who desire to have a family to consider fertility when planning out their life goals. Others are calling for systemic change in the worksphere and policies pertaining to it, and more resources and programs for family leave and childcare, to support new parents and allow those who want to have a family better support.

To learn more click here: 

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo

Keep reading Show less

Humans evolved for punching, study confirms

University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.

Image source: durantelallera/Shutterstock
Surprising Science
  • With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
  • The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
  • If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less

Study: Private prisons result in more inmates, longer sentences

The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • After adopting strict sentencing laws in the '80s and '90s, many states have turned to for-profit prisons to handle growing prison populations.
  • A new study in Labour Economics found that privately-run prisons correlate with a rise in incarceration rates and sentence lengths.
  • While evidence is mixed, private prisons do not appear to improve recidivism or cost less than state-run facilities.
  • Keep reading Show less

    The art of asking the right questions

    What exactly does "questions are the new answers" mean?

    Scroll down to load more…