Using a Sperm Donor

Using a sperm donor overview

  • A sperm donor is a man who donates his sperm for another individual or couple to use in order to achieve pregnancy.
  • Donated sperm is used by a couple when the male partner has a genetic condition that may be inherited by the child, has low sperm count or quality, has blocked sperm ducts, or has erectile dysfunction.
  • Sperm donors can be either known to the recipient, such as a family member or close friend, or unknown, chosen anonymously through a reputable sperm bank.
  • Individuals or couples seeking a sperm donor should speak with a counselor about the life-long implications of using a sperm donor.

What is sperm donation?

A sperm donor is a man who donates his sperm so that an infertile individual or couple may use the sperm to achieve pregnancy and have a child. Artificial insemination using donor sperm has been practiced in the United States since 1884.

Couples generally use donated sperm due to the male partner’s inability to produce sperm or ability to produce sperm of adequate quality to result in pregnancy. Sperm donation is involved in the following fertility procedures:

Sperm donors can be “known” or “unknown.” A known sperm donor’s identity is not hidden. Known sperm donors can be a father, brother, uncle or friend who wants to help an individual or couple conceive a child. Often, these men have a significant role in the resulting child’s life; attending birthdays, graduations, marriages, etc. It is important that a known sperm donor go through the same medical and genetic tests that an unknown donor is required to, in order to ensure sperm health and quality.

Using a sperm bank

An unknown sperm donor remains anonymous to the recipient(s) of his sperm. Unknown sperm donors are usually found through a sperm bank. Some donors choose to always remain anonymous, while others agree to be contacted by any child conceived via their sperm when the child reaches legal age.

Sperm banks require that sperm donors:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 40
  • Be healthy
  • Be non smokers
  • Pass extensive medical and genetic screenings.

A detailed personal and sexual history is required, as are physical examinations and tests for communicable diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Donated sperm, collected from a semen sample obtained via masturbation, is then frozen and quarantined for six months so that the potential donor may be re-tested for HIV and other STDs.

The first step in using a sperm donor is choosing the donor. When a man chooses to donate sperm to a sperm bank, he must provide a photo, full medical and social histories, education level and any other information that may be helpful in the selection process by the recipients.

The background and medical information can provide clues to attributes of the resulting child. Common criteria that individuals and couples use when choosing a donor include:

  • Similar genetics to the intended father or parents (height, build, hair and eye color, etc.)
  • Academic inclinations
  • Similar interests and skills to the intended parent(s).

Donor Insemination

Once a donor is chosen and the insemination date is set, the donated semen is thawed and analyzed for any freezing/thawing damage. If the post-thaw semen meets the minimum standard it can then be used for insemination. Donor sperm is used via intrauterine insemination (IUI), intracervical insemination (ICI), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), or for in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles.

Who should consider using a sperm donor?

Couples or individuals in the following situations may consider using sperm donation:

  • Women without a male partner
  • Lesbian couples
  • A male partner with a genetic condition that could be passed to the child
  • A male partner without sufficient quantities or quality of sperm
  • A male partner who can not produce sperm due to:
  • Blocked sperm ducts
  • Retrograde ejaculation (semen backflows into the urinary tract)
  • Has had cancer treatment, trauma or childhood infections that affected sperm production
  • Has erectile dysfunction and cannot ejaculate during sex.
  • Has major spinal cord injuries

These days, the largest groups of people using sperm donors are single women and lesbian couples. A single woman may choose to become a single parent because she has not found the right partner or she is concerned about age-related fertility issues. Or she may know she never wants a relationship but would still like the chance to become a mother.

In addition to the situations listed above, another, less common, reasons for a heterosexual couple to choose sperm donation are because they have used an egg donor and want the same amount of genetic equality between the intended mother and father.

Risks of using a sperm donor

Using donated sperm can raise complex issues and emotions for the individual or couple receiving the sperm regarding genetics and parentage. It may be beneficial to speak with a counselor who specializes in third party reproduction. Our staff refers patients to such counselors, who can offer advice about long-term implications and support patients in making a decision about using donor sperm.