By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 12/30/2015

Artificial insemination is a fertility treatment that consists of inserting an amount of semen—previously prepared by means of sperm capacitation—into the woman’s uterus, aiming at achieving pregnancy.

Even though ideally everybody would like to use the sperm of the father-to-be, unfortunately this is not always possible. That is why sometimes success cannot be achieved with the husband’s or partner’s own sperm and using donor sperm becomes necessary.

Also single women and lesbian couples have no choice but to resort to artificial insemination by donor (AID) to achieve motherhood despite the absence of a male partner.

Law on Assisted Human Reproduction Techniques

Spanish Law concerning the application of Assisted Human Reproduction Techniques establishes that sperm donation must be done in accordance to:

  • Anonymity: confidentiality on behalf of the sperm donor identity must be guaranteed.
  • Altruism: it cannot become a commercial donation; however, donors will be given an economic compensation due to any physical inconvenience, travel expense, and lost work time derived from the sperm donation process.
  • Maximum number of live births per donor: in Spain, the number of live births per sperm is limited to six.
  • Eligibility for sperm donation: candidates must be at least 18 years old and in good physical and mental health, as well as have full capacity to act.

This law also defines sperm donation as a free, formal, and confidential contract between the sperm donor and the fertility clinic, only revocable in case the man needs to use his own sperm in the future as long as the samples are still available by the time he requests them.

Even though it is not addressed by law, assisted reproduction clinics do not usually accept prospective sperm donors older than 35-40, since it is a fact that sperm quality is slightly poorer at that age.

Artificial insemination by donor

Sperm freezing is the only difference that can be found between artificial insemination by donor (AID) and artificial insemination by husband (AIH) (a.k.a. artificial insemination by partner), since in the latter case we can choose to use a fresh semen sample instead of a frozen one.

In every sperm donation procedure, donors keep on delivering semen samples throughout a period of time that takes between three and six months, at a rate of one sample per week. At the beginning of the process and again after 6 months, a blood test will also be done to the donor in order to verify that he is free from the HIV infection and any other viral infection.

Throughout this time, the collected semen samples the donor provides weekly will be analyzed and then frozen (sperm cryopreservation), ready to be used later.

The survival rate of sperm after cryopreservation can vary depending on sperm quality and how the thawing process is carried out.

The steps involved in the process of donor sperm insemination (DI) are as follows:

  • Mild ovarian stimulation
  • Triggering ovulation
  • Sperm thawing procedure
  • Insemination: the cannula containing sperm is inserted into the female genital tract in order to place it inside the uterus; this is done while the woman is on her fertile window—before 36 hours after the intake of ovulation enhancing drugs.
  • Quantitative hCG blood test approximately 15 days post intrauterine insemination to diagnose whether pregnancy has occurred or not.

Given that artificial insemination is a low-complexity procedure, neither surgery nor specific surgical instruments are necessary.

Who can use donor sperm?

Artificial insemination by donor is increasingly becoming the most advisable fertility treatment for women who decide to become single mothers by choice. It is also indicated to same-sex female couples as well as homosexual couples.

As for heterosexual couples, sperm donation is indicated when there is a severe male factor such as no sperm count, genetic diseases likely to be inherited by offspring, or extremely poor sperm quality.

Regardless of the family type, for the performance of an artificial insemination by donor, it is necessary that the woman has both regular menstrual cycles and tubal patency.

Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Bachelor's Degree in Biotechnology from the Polytechnic University of Valencia. Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia along with the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Postgraduate course in Medical Genetics. More information