As individuals and couples begin their journey towards becoming parents, they may have very specific ideas about how that journey will unfold. For some, the trip is smooth sailing, but others may encounter bumps in the road.
There are LOTS of ways to become a parent. With 15% of couples experiencing infertility, many will become parents in ways they never imagined. Some will use assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive with their own sperm and egg. Others will pursue a variety of avenues such as sperm donation, egg donation, embryo donation, surrogacy, or adoption.
No matter how we get there, being a parent is all about…being a parent! It means loving your child unconditionally, helping them to grow, and sharing their ups and downs along the way. Here, we’ll discuss just one of the many paths towards parenthood: sperm donation.
Who might be interested in conceiving with donor sperm?
Sperm donation is a good choice for couples and individuals in a variety of circumstances.(1)
Men with no or very few sperm in the ejaculate: When the male partner has azoospermia (no sperm in the ejaculate), severe oligozoospermia (very few sperm in the ejaculate), or other abnormalities of the sperm or seminal fluid, donor sperm may be a good option. While many couples in these scenarios will attempt to use treatments such as sperm extraction and in vitro fertilization, donor sperm should be considered if these approaches fail.
Men with specific genetic abnormalities or sexually transmitted infections that cannot be eradicated: If there is concern that a male partner will pass along genetic abnormalities or infectious diseases to his offspring through his sperm, donor sperm can be considered in order to avoid passing along these health issues to future offspring.
Females without male partners: Female same sex couples or women without a male partner who are interested in conceiving and carrying a child will require donor sperm.
How does sperm donation work?
Sperm donation is when a fertile man who is not the recipient’s partner provides the sperm for conception. Couples or individuals interested in donor sperm will need to follow a number of steps on the pathway to using donor sperm.
Step 1: See your reproductive specialist. Any female who is considering use of donor sperm should have a thorough evaluation, including physical examination, by a physician specializing in fertility treatment. Your doctor may also recommend consultation with a mental health professional to help address the psychological aspects of preparing to become a donor sperm recipient. Together, the medical team will perform any necessary testing and help to determine the best approach for how to use donor sperm (intrauterine insemination or IVF).
Step 2: Find a sperm donor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined specific requirements for the screening and testing of sperm donors, and in certain states, there may be additional criteria. Most couples or individuals will choose a sperm donor from an established sperm bank for a fee. Your fertility doctor can direct you to a variety of sperm banks and help you to navigate choosing a sperm donor.
In some cases, the recipient may choose a directed donor, i.e. a person known to the recipient. These donors should have the same rigorous testing as any other anonymous sperm donor.
Step 3: Treatment. Once a donor has been selected, your fertility doctor will help to coordinate delivery of the specimen. Depending upon the recipient’s reproductive health and ovulatory cycle, she may require medication or even a procedure (for example, egg retrieval for IVF) prior to use of the donor sperm.
Disclosure of Donor Sperm Use and Sperm Donor Anonymity
The decision to disclose the use of donor sperm to children conceived in this manner is ultimately the choice of the donor recipient parents, though the American Society for Reproductive Medicine strongly encourages disclosure.(2) Even if parents choose not to disclose the use of donor sperm, the proliferation of websites such as Ancestry.com has made it easier than ever for children to discover their true heritage.(3) As the importance of social media and interconnectivity will likely continue to increase over the coming years, it is conceivable that sperm donor anonymity will become virtually impossible. It is important for couples or individuals considering use of donor sperm to understand these considerations before proceeding.
What if I am interested in becoming a sperm donor?
Men interested in becoming sperm donors should be of legal age and less than 40 years old. Potential donors should undergo a medical evaluation and wide range of testing for genetic diseases, infectious diseases, and other potential health risks to future offspring. Once the evaluation is complete, donors are ready to provide a semen sample for cryopreservation.
It is important to remember that sperm donation may have legal implications for the donor.(4) Typically, sperm donors relinquish all legal rights to the donor sperm, nor do they have any legal obligations to any resulting children. Before sperm donation, be sure to understand these legal considerations.
For more information:
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine: https://www.asrm.org/topics/topics-index/sperm-donation/
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/safety-availability-biologics/what-you-should-know-reproductive-tissue-donation
- Practice Committee of American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Practice Committee of Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Recommendations for gamete and embryo donation: a committee opinion. Fertil Steril. 2013 Jan;99(1):47–62.
- Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Informing offspring of their conception by gamete or embryo donation: an Ethics Committee opinion. Fertil Steril. 2018 Mar 28;109(4):601–605.
- McGovern PG, Schlaff WD. Sperm donor anonymity: a concept rendered obsolete by modern technology. Fertil Steril. 2018 Jan 11;109(2):230–231.
- Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Electronic address: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Interests, obligations, and rights in gamete and embryo donation: an Ethics Committee opinion. Fertil Steril. 2019 Apr;111(4):664–670.