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June 1, 2021

Choosing & using donor sperm

Anonymous donor sperm vs. known donor sperm

If you want to start a family but you and/or your partner can’t conceive on your own, you may consider using a sperm donor. A recent study found that this practice has been increasing since the mid-2000s, with nearly half a million women using donated sperm to conceive between 2015 and 2017.

But should you use an anonymous donor (like from a sperm bank), or a donor you know? There are pros and cons to each decision — let’s take a look at factors to consider when making your choice.

Anonymous donor sperm

Anonymous donor sperm usually comes from a sperm bank. This method, which is subject to FDA regulations and should follow the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s guidelines for sperm donation, has several advantages:

  • The donor is usually young and healthy. The donor should be between 18 and 40 years old and in good health, without any genetic abnormalities. A psychological screening may also be done. They may be excluded from donating if they have risk factors for certain diseases, as indicated by their sexual or medical history.
  • The semen has been analyzed for fertility. The semen has been checked for factors including sperm quality and the total amount of moving sperm to ensure a higher chance of success.
  • The donor has been screened for infectious diseases. Before donating sperm, donors are tested for diseases and STIs including HIV, chlamydia, and syphilis. These tests should be repeated at regular intervals if the donor continues to donate sperm.
  • The donor won’t be involved, legally or emotionally. Using an anonymous sperm donor can help you avoid complicated situations where the donor decides they want to meet or be involved in raising your child. It will also let you explain your use of a donor to your child when you’re both ready.

Still, anonymity comes with downsides that are important to consider when choosing a sperm donor. These include:

  • It’s expensive. At the California Cryobank, one vial of sperm for intracervical or intrauterine insemination currently costs $945. Furthermore, one vial may not be enough; you may need several samples to get pregnant via these insemination methods.
  • It may not truly be anonymous. While clinics can conceal donors’ identities, genetic testing services like 23andMe provide information that can help people find and connect with their family members. Even if you wish to avoid knowing the identity of your child’s biological family, they may be able to find out on their own later on.
  • Your child won’t know their full family medical history. Without the knowledge of diseases or conditions present in their biological relatives, your child may lack important information about their own risk factors.

Known donor sperm

Sperm from a known donor (also called a directed donor), like a friend or relative, has its advantages and disadvantages as well. The main benefits include:

  • Your child can have a connection to their biological parent. A relationship with their biological family can give your child broader family ties and help them understand their genetic traits.
  • You can use a “fresh” sperm sample for home insemination. You may be able to use non-frozen sperm for insemination at home or in a fertility clinic. One study found that fresh sperm were more effective than frozen sperm for intrauterine insemination (IUI), with fertility rates of 21% versus approximately 16%.
  • It’s cheaper. A known donor lets you avoid expensive vials of sperm from a sperm bank. You still may have some costs, though, such as for medical testing, storing the sperm, and for the insemination procedure, plus legal assistance.

There are also drawbacks that you would be less likely to experience with sperm from an anonymous donor. Consider the following:

  • It can be legally complicated. It’s important to work with a lawyer to define what, if any, rights your sperm donor will have to your child. You should also check laws governing insemination procedures in your state and review other legal options to ensure that both you and your partner end up with full parental rights.
  • The sperm should be tested. Just like sperm from an anonymous donor, sperm from a known donor should be tested with a semen analysis to make sure it’s fertile.
  • The donor must be medically screened, and the sperm frozen and quarantined before use (if you are using a fertility clinic). Even if you know your donor, the FDA requires that they be tested for infectious diseases like HIV to avoid passing them on to the mother or child. The sperm may also need to be quarantined for 6 months if you want to use it in a fertility clinic, after which time your donor would be tested again.

Using donor sperm

Whether you choose a known sperm donor or an anonymous one, you will still need to decide how to use the sperm. There are three main methods, each with different advantages, disadvantages, and success rates. In general, women younger than 35 without known fertility issues have a higher chance of getting pregnant with these procedures.

  • At-home insemination: Typically, this involves depositing the sperm close to your cervix with a syringe, known as intracervical insemination (ICI). ICI is less expensive than other methods, but also somewhat less effective, with a 2015 study finding a 37.9% pregnancy rate after up to six treatment cycles.
  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI): With IUI, your doctor will use a catheter to place the donor sperm directly into your uterus. Because a fertility clinic prepares the sperm and performs the procedure, it’s more expensive than at-home insemination. However, it’s also slightly more effective than ICI, with the same study indicating a 40.5% pregnancy rate after six treatment cycles. Over a single cycle, the success rate typically falls between 7% and 25% depending on your age, fertility, and other factors.
  • In vitro fertilization (IVF): IVF involves extracting eggs from the ovaries, combining them with sperm in a lab, then placing the fertilized egg back in a uterus. According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the average cost of IVF in the U.S. is approximately $11,000, compared to under $2,000 for IUI. The success rate is highly dependent on age: women under age 35 have a 39.6% chance of getting pregnant through IVF, but the rate drops to 11.5% for women over 40. The CDC also offers an IVF Success Estimator, which uses a series of questions to calculate your chances of IVF helping you have a baby. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which injects a sperm directly into the egg during IVF, can increase IVF fertilization rates and potentially mean you only need one vial of donor sperm.

How Legacy can help

If you choose to use sperm from a known donor, Legacy offers at-home semen analysis and freezing services to help you meet fertility clinic requirements. With significantly lower costs than traditional methods, we’ll help you access affordable, effective ways to grow your family.

Order a Legacy kit.

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