What to Consider When Choosing A Sperm Donor

With infertility rising, the positive impact of artificial reproductive technology (ART) cannot be understated. ART is often dependent on human cell donation. Sperm, egg, and embryo donations have opened the doors for many hopeful parents. How does one choose a sperm donor, and what else should be considered?

Key takeaways:

What is a sperm donor?

A sperm donor is a fertile biological male who donates or sells his sperm to be used by a biological female or couple experiencing some form of infertility or inability to achieve a natural pregnancy.

There are three types of sperm donors:

  • Known sperm donor. Donation from a person who is a family member or friend who generally undergoes the required testing and donation process.
  • Open sperm donor. A donor who is a stranger but is willing to be known to the parent(s) and child.
  • Anonymous sperm donor. Donations are selected from a sperm bank that has no identifying information. Legislation in some states is reconsidering the legality of anonymous donations.

The FDA only requires that anonymous sperm donors undergo infectious disease screening. However, many fertility centers independently require that known and open sperm donors complete the same screening process if their sperm is to be donated.

Who uses a sperm donor?

Infertility is an increasing issue for many couples. Approximately 10–15% of couples experience difficulty becoming pregnant. Some causes of infertility include genitourinary abnormalities, infections, endometriosis, and poor semen quality. Relationship status may also require the use of ART.

A few relationship scenarios may require sperm donation to achieve a pregnancy:

Donor sperm can be used to achieve a pregnancy in two ways:

  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI). Donated sperm is placed into the biological female’s uterus at ovulation, giving the sperm a greater chance to fertilize the female egg. IUI can be used with or without fertility medications.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF). A three- to five-day-old fertilized embryo is transferred directly into a biological female’s uterus. IVF is performed with an embryo created with donated sperm and the recipient’s egg or with an embryo created with donor sperm and a donor egg.

Overview: pregnancy with sperm donation

What is the process of achieving a pregnancy with donor sperm? Your first step will be to discuss your fertility concerns with an obstetric provider. They will review your medical history and perform a basic assessment and preliminary testing. Fertility specialists may be utilized.

  1. Specialist. Visit a fertility specialist who may perform additional testing, review your history in detail, and listen to your family-building desires.
  2. Research. Review the websites of registered and approved sperm banks affiliated with your chosen fertility clinic. Hire a reproductive lawyer if you are using a known sperm donor to protect parental rights.
  3. Choose your donor sperm. Many fertility clinics have direct relationships with sperm banks that operate independently of the clinic. You will need to purchase donated sperm directly from these sperm banks. Donor sperm is directly shipped to the fertility clinic. More on what to look for in donor sperm below!
  4. Treatment. The next step is working to achieve a successful pregnancy. Your fertility provider will be able to guide you through the preparation for treatment, including medication, testing, and procedure, depending on which ART method you will be using.

What to look for in a sperm bank

Sperm bank standards differ from facility to facility. Some banks provide limited, free access to view donor profiles, while others request an initial fee to establish an account. Be sure to choose an FDA-approved bank. Some other considerations:

  1. Quality. Consider banks that utilize advanced storage technology and testing.
  2. Affordability. There are many fees associated with purchasing donated sperm. The average vial of sperm costs $1000 to $1500. Most sperm bank websites provide a detailed overview of prices and payment options. Additional shipping charges apply.
  3. Diversity of donors. For example, expanded genetic testing, ethnic background, education levels, age range at donation, and preferred hobbies.
  4. Donor testing. Many donation banks rigorously screen donor sperm for more conditions than the FDA requires.
  5. Support and resources. Some sperm banks provide online chats or personal donor selection assistants. Others may provide genetic consultations if you are interested.

What to look for in a sperm donor

Choosing a sperm donor may feel like browsing a dating website. Donor descriptions are carefully written advertisements with descriptions of physical appearance, personality traits, and individual interests or talents. Audio interviews and photos of donors are often available. The type of donor you choose open, anonymous, or known is up to you. Here are some characteristics/demographics made available by donors you should consider:

  • Height
  • Weight
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Blood type
  • Ethnicity
  • Education/occupation
  • Previous positive pregnancy
  • Genetic testing results

What else to consider when choosing a sperm donor

In addition to choosing a suitable donor for you, there are other considerations to evaluate during the entire process.

Ethical considerations

The popularity and interest in DNA testing has increased with the advancement in reproductive technology. Companies specializing in genetic and ancestry testing have identified half-sibling groups that sometimes exceed 100 people, resulting from sperm, egg, or embryo donations. These genetic relations do not have standard family boundaries and can lead to genetic variants and mutations.

These concerns have raised the question of the ethics and legality of anonymous donations. New laws are being passed around the world that limit the anonymity of donors. The consent process for the donor and the recipient are also being re-examined.

Establishment regulation

The FDA regulates donated reproductive tissue. Any human cell processing, storing, or distribution establishment must be registered with the FDA. Registered businesses are searchable on the FDA website. Sites undergo inspection to ensure safety, proper protocols, and procedures.

Donor evaluation

Donor sperm are heavily screened for communicable or transferable diseases. Before donation, the medical records of a potential sperm donor are reviewed, as well as a physical assessment, evaluation of social behavior, and current medical conditions and treatments. Once the donation tissue is collected, it must be tested for several diseases, which include:

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
  • Hepatitis B
  • Hepatitis C
  • Syphilis
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea

Available resources

Many fertility clinics can provide a mountain of resources for hopeful parents considering fertility treatments, including sperm donation. The internet can also be a valuable resource for information and support for future parents. Be mindful that you are obtaining research from reliable sources.

Growing a family is a dream for many. Modern technology has made pregnancy and children possible for parent(s) unable to conceive naturally. While there is much to consider, donor sperm can provide a positive path to parenthood.

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