By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 09/11/2015

Artificial insemination (AI) or intrauterine insemination (IUI) is an assisted reproductive technology where a semen sample is obtained in order to be inserted into the woman’s womb through cannula transfer.

Two basic requirements should be met for it to be feasible:

  • Permeability of the fallopian tubes
  • Absence of ovulation irregularities

In addition, semen quality should be adequate, especially in terms of sperm count, motility, and morphology, since sperm have to reach the Fallopian tubes by themselves despite being inserted artificially into the uterine cavity. Once in the Fallopian tubes, they will find one or two eggs, depending on the amount of ovarian hyperstimulation received, waiting to be fertilized.

If the man has poor-quality sperm but the woman has no fertility problem (permeable tubes, regular menstrual cycles, normal anatomy…), performing an AI using donor sperm is possible. Nevertheless, resorting to more sophisticated fertility procedures such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) is another option, either using donor sperm or the partner’s own sperm.

IUI using donor sperm is used basically in the following cases:

  • Poor-quality sperm
  • Genetic disorders likely to be inherited by the man’s offspring
  • Absence of a male partner, i.e. single women or lesbian couples desiring to be on motherhood

Becoming a mother without a male partner

A single woman desiring to be a mother has no choice but to resort to donor insemination (DI). And the same problem applies to lesbian couples.

Regarding lesbian couples, egg donation in the US can be an “known” process, that is to say, the egg donor can be chosen by the intended parents/mothers. Bearing this in mind, there is the chance that one of the members of the couple can become an egg donor and the other can be the recipient and pregnant woman from donor sperm.

Known or anonymous donation

In the US, both anonymous donation and known donation (i.e. using a known donor) are allowed. The former type is that in which it is the agency or fertility clinic who chooses and allocates de donor. This means the intended parents do not get any information about the donor, but they can inform the clinic about which their preferences are.

There are also sperm banks or agencies offering a sort of “intermediate” option: the so-called semi-known donation. In this case, the intended parents can get non-identifiable information about the donor such as physical features (eye and hair color, height, weight…), intellectual skills, medical history, etc. Some agencies offer the possibility of even seeing a picture of the sperm donor as a child.

As regards known donation, intended parents are allowed in some states to choose themselves who they want to be their sperm donor. Typically, a friend, relative or acquaintance is the one selected. It should be clear though that the potential donor chosen by the parents has to undergo the same medical and psychological assessments as the potential anonymous donor.

Finally, there is a variety of known donation in which the intended parents can choose the sperm donor after personally interviewing the potential donor themselves.

Getting to know your donor

Numerous sperm banks can be found within the USA where semen samples can be requested in case you want to undergo donor insemination. Likewise, fertility clinics are able to provide the semen from their sperm donor database.

Some of these sperm banks offer an identity-release program where the donor-conceived individual, either born from an anonymous or known donor, has the chance to get personal and contact information about his donor. This arrangement is known as open donation.

In case the 18-year-old donor-conceived individual asks the sperm bank to get info about his donor, such personal and contact information will be given in case it was allowed by the donor. Information shall be provided only to the donor-conceived individual and not to his relatives or friends under no circumstances. The purpose of this arrangement is just that the adult donor child is able to get to know his biological origin, with no establishment of a family connection.

Open donation is considered to be a variety of anonymous donation since, after all, the selection of the donor was indeed anonymous.

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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
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    1. osly

      I don’t understand your comment, Josh. I’d like to know why you’ve been rejected as a donor, because I find it hard to believe it is just because of your skin color or your physical appearance. Can you share it with us?

      We did a donor insemination two years ago and we are a black couple. Of course, the sperm donor was also a black man (we chose known donation BTW and he was my neighbor).

      Thanks for listening!

    2. Josh

      Hi there. I’m from Seattle, WA and I’m still trying to figure out why I have been rejected as a potential sperm donor in my own country. I’m not the perfect guy, I mean, I am healthy but I am a human being. I’m kinda frustrated since I find donor insemination is a very discriminatory process, at least here within the US -—I don’t know too much about other countries, but I will. If the tendency of using DI keeps on growing, in 5 or 10 years forward everyone will be what we understand as a “white” person, with blue eyes, blonde hair, and so on.