Sperm donation is a procedure in which a man donates semen — the fluid released during ejaculation — to help an individual or a couple conceive a baby.
Donated sperm can be injected into a woman's reproductive organs (intrauterine insemination) or used to fertilize mature eggs in a lab (in vitro fertilization). The use of donated sperm is known as third party reproduction.
A man who makes a sperm donation can be known or anonymous to the recipient. Sperm donations made to a known recipient are called directed donations.
You must be screened for medical conditions and other risk factors before you can make a sperm donation. It's also important to understand the possible emotional, psychological and legal issues of sperm donation.
Why it's done
Sperm donation is done to help an individual or a couple conceive a baby. You might choose to make a sperm donation to help those who are unable to conceive — such as a woman who doesn't have a male partner or a couple experiencing male infertility.
If you donate semen to a sperm bank, you'll likely be paid for each donation that passes the sperm bank's screening process. Payment is intended to compensate you for your time and any related expenses. The amount is typically low enough so that money isn't the main incentive for donating.
There are no health risks associated with sperm donation.
How you prepare
If you're considering sperm donation, consider the long-term impact of your decision.
If you're providing an anonymous donation, are you prepared to be the biological father of a child or multiple children whom you might never meet? What if children conceived with the help of your sperm donation wish to meet you one day? Will you tell your current or future family about your decision to donate sperm?
If you're providing a sperm donation to someone you know, be sure to discuss the potential legal issues. You might consider hiring a lawyer to draft a legal contract that defines your financial and parental rights and obligations.
Also, the Food and Drug Administration requires basic screening for infectious diseases and certain risk factors before a man can become a sperm donor. Some states and local governments require additional screening.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology recommend that men who want to make sperm donations — including those who are known to recipients — complete the following screenings:
- Age. Most sperm banks require donors to be between 18 and 39. Some sperm banks set an upper age limit of 34 rather than 39.
- Psychological evaluation. You'll talk with a mental health provider about the emotional and psychological issues associated with sperm donation. You'll likely be asked if you're concerned about your personal information being shared with your biological children or about future contact with them. If you have a partner, counseling might be helpful for him or her, too. If you're giving your sperm donation to someone you know — a directed donation — you'll likely be asked to talk about your relationship with the recipient.
- Semen testing. Before you can make a sperm donation, you'll need to provide several samples of your semen — each after two to five days of abstinence. The samples will be analyzed for sperm quantity, quality and movement. You're most likely to be fertile if each sample contains more than 15 million sperm per milliliter, your sperm have a normal shape and structure, and more than 40 percent of your sperm are moving.
- Medical history. A medical history that suggests the presence of a hereditary disease might disqualify you from being a sperm donor. You'll also need to provide details about the medical history of two previous generations of your family.
- Physical exam. You'll have a physical exam to confirm your health. A blood sample or other specimens, such as a urine sample, will be tested for infectious diseases, such as HIV. If you become a regular sperm donor, you'll need to have physical exams every six months that you continue to provide sperm donations. You'll be asked to report any changes in your health.
- Genetic testing. A blood sample will be analyzed to see if you're a carrier of any genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis — a life-threatening condition that causes severe lung damage. Other genetic tests might be done depending on your family history or racial or ethnic background. For instance, if you're African-American, you'll likely be screened for sickle cell anemia. Most sperm banks exclude donors who might have a higher risk of transmitting a genetic condition.
- Personal and sexual history. You'll need to provide a detailed history of your sexual activities, drug use and other personal information to show whether you have risk factors for developing an infectious disease, such as HIV. You'll be asked to share detailed information about your personal habits, education, hobbies and interests. You might also be asked to provide pictures or videos of yourself or audio recordings of your voice.
If you test positive for any medical conditions during the screening process, you'll be notified and referred to treatment or counseling. If you pass the screening process, you'll be asked to provide sample sperm donations and complete further testing.
You'll also be asked to sign a consent form, which will likely state that you deny having any risk factors for sexually transmitted infections or genetic conditions. You can also choose whether you're open to contact from any child conceived with the help of your sperm.
What you can expect
Before sperm donation, you'll likely be asked to abstain from ejaculation — either through sex or masturbation — for two to five days.
During the procedure
Sperm donation is typically done at a sperm bank. You'll provide a semen sample in a sterile cup through masturbation in a private room.
After the procedure
After you provide a sperm donation, the sample will be frozen (cryopreserved) and kept in quarantine for at least 180 days. Then you'll be tested again for infectious diseases, such as HIV.
If all of your test results come back negative, your frozen sample will be thawed and sperm quantity, quality and movement will be evaluated again. Sperm samples from some men are more susceptible to damage during the freezing process than are others. Damage caused by the freezing process can also differ among samples from the same donor.
If your sperm meet the quality standards, you'll be selected as a donor.
Keep in mind that most sperm banks limit the number of children your sperm can be used to conceive. However, specific guidelines and limits vary.
If you test positive for any medical conditions, you'll be notified and referred to treatment and counseling.