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Sperm donation, also referred to as third-party reproduction, is used to help heterosexual couples with male infertility issues as well as couples who want to avoid passing on a genetic disease or disorder that the male carries. Sperm donation also enables a single woman, known as choice mothers, and lesbian couples to conceive children.

Considering Sperm Donation

Determining whether to use donor sperm can be an emotional yet practical option for potential parents. For couples considering this option, both individuals have to be reconciled to the fact that their child will be genetically linked to only one of the parents. Thought should also be given to whether to let family and friends know, as well as the donor-conceived child at some future point.

Finding a Donor

There are three options in finding donor sperm: a sperm bank, private donors and known donors. Sperm banks (cryobanks) are the most common place to find donor sperm. Sperm banks are responsible for screening all potential donors for genetic diseases (such as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell disease) and infectious diseases (such as HIV, STDs and hepatitis B/C). This screening process is quite stringent and is regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), the ASRM (the American Society of Reproductive Medicine), the American Association of Tissue Banks and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). Sperm banks are required to freeze and store all donor sperm for a minimum of six months so that donors can be retested for diseases.

Private or “directed” donors may be another source for donor sperm. Some recipients (and donors) choose to make private and direct arrangements. Sometimes a brokerage service is involved to facilitate the transaction and maintain each party's anonymity. Donor sperm from private donors do not need to be frozen. Private donor sperm is typically used in artificial insemination. In some private donor arrangements, natural insemination may be preferred for higher success rates and lower cost. It is still important to conduct donor screening; however, there is no sperm bank to facilitate testing.

Lastly, donor sperm can come from known donors, such as a friend or relative. Known donors may be a more attractive option for some because the biological father may be more involved in the child's life and issues dealing with medical history are more readily available. If a paternal relative is used as a sperm donor, both parents will share a biological connection with their child. Testing and screening of known donors should still be conducted.

Anonymous vs. Known Donor

With the use of sperm banks, some potential parents prefer to know the identity of their sperm donor, or at the least have the identity made known to their future child should the child wish to know or meet the biological father. Other potential parents may not feel this is a necessary option. Regardless of the case, a mutually agreed upon decision should be made between the parties involved. Many sperm banks these days prefer sperm donors who agree to be revealed to their biological child after age 18, should they want to know.

It is wise to decide first if an anonymous donor is preferred or a donor willing to reveal his identity at a later date. Additionally, check with the sperm bank's policy on anonymity.


Donated sperm may be prepare for use in intrauterine insemination (IUI) or less commonly in IVF. IVF, used typically for female infertility issues, isn't paired frequently with donor sperm since donor sperm is used as a result of male infertility issues.

Donated sperm may also be used in different surrogacy arrangements. Partial surrogacy (traditional surrogacy) involves the surrogate (the woman carrying the child) to be inseminated with donor sperm. In this arrangement, the surrogate is biologically related to the conceived child.

In full surrogacy (gestational surrogacy), the donor sperm comes from the commissioning father or from a sperm donor. Since the surrogate will have no biological ties to the conceived child, IVF is required.

Things to Think About

Using sperm donation is a very personal, private and emotional decision. Whatever the reasons are for electing sperm donation, it is important to conduct your research carefully. There is much to learn about utilizing and preparing for sperm donation, locating donors, screening requirements, identity concerns in the near and far future and fertility options through donor sperm.


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