How to Find a Sperm Donor? – Tips for Choosing the Right One

By BSc, MSc (embryologist) and BA, MA (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 01/25/2017

Finding and choosing a sperm donor is a process that takes time: it will have an influence on your family's long-term wellbeing. Although the steps followed depend on the country where it is done and the regulations governing third-party reproduction there to a large extent, recipients should consider aspects such as the race and blood type, as well as his educational level and family background.

The following is a guide to all the steps one is advised to follow when choosing a donor, especially if you want to select one with an open profile. Firstly, you will find some tips for finding a sperm bank, and then a list with the main aspects to take into consideration when picking the right donor for you. If your country only allows anonymous sperm donation, this process will be carried out by your fertility clinic.

Choosing a sperm bank or clinic

When choosing a sperm bank, many intended parents focus merely on the characteristics of the donors available. However, paying close attention to the policies of the sperm bank is crucial as well, given that they might not fit your needs or interests in terms of family building.

Before picking a sperm bank, a number of factors should be considered in advance. Do not choose one or another just because it was recommended by your physician or according to its popularity: you better focus on whether you will be happy before, during and after the process.

In order for you to make an educated and well-informed choice, the following areas should be addressed carefully, as the modus operandi of each bank might differ to a great extent:

  • Identity of the donor: Do you want a known or an anonymous/open donor?
  • Success rates: Do they reach consistently high pregnancy or live birth success rates? How do they track their outcomes?
  • Offspring limits: Have they limited the number of offspring per donor?
  • Donor screening: Do they follow a strict safety protocol to prevent disease transmission? How many tests do they perform and what's included?
  • Sperm storage: Can the sperm of the same donor be purchased and frozen to be used for a second child?

Other issues such as how long has the bank been in business are to be taken into account as well. Also, a bank which has full-time genetic counselors might be more suitable, especially because it helps patients make sure the donor's genetic background is well documented.

Some sperm banks have a registry service available for donor-conceived adults—from age 18 onwards. Thanks to it, children born by sperm donation can have access to it and find their donor's medical records or even contact him.

Anonymous sperm donor matching

In countries where the law grants access only to anonymous sperm donation, the criteria followed involves mainly matching a donor to the intended parents in terms of physical traits and Rhesus compatibility. This is the common policy in most European countries: preserving the sperm donor's right to privacy above all.

For this reason, the selection of the best donor for each recipient is done by a board of fertility specialists from a sperm bank or fertility clinic. When allocating a donor to a recipient couple, the aim is to look for the greatest possible phenotype and immunological similarities between them:

  • Phenotype characteristics: race, skin color, eye color, hair color, height, etc.
  • Immunological characteristics: blood type and Rh factor.

By no means will the intended parents be allowed to indicate their preferences or choose the physical features or personality traits of their potential sperm donor. Clinics and sperm banks should ensure the donor's right to anonymity is respected in all terms.

Only under very exceptional circumstances in which the child's health is compromised, if there is a danger to his life, or if appropriate in accordance with the existing laws and regulations, the identity of the donor might be revealed to the intended parents. It is allowed only on a restricted-access basis, though.

Open sperm donor selection process

The criteria followed for choosing a known sperm donor is different depending on the regulations of the country where it is carried out, the expectations of each family, and the policies of the facility chosen. Be it as it may, the aim is to maximize safety and minimize the risks of transmitting an infectious disease.

Some choose a person they known, e.g. a friend or family member, because they want their child to be in contact with his bio-dad, or because they want him to have an uncle-like role on the child's life. In some cases, the intended father might want his brother to be their sperm donor to still share some percentage of DNA with that of the child.

Others place special attention on the donor's academic level and talents. Most fertility clinics and sperm banks require a minimum educational background for a candidate to be eligible.

Once the sperm bank or clinic has been chosen and their policies thoroughly analyzed, the next step would lie in the hands of the patients. The following sections will provide you with advice on selection criteria such as race, anonymity or disclosure, blood type, etc.

Race and ethnicity

The racial and ethnical origin of the sperm donor matters because your decision might have an influence on your family's long-term wellbeing. Some couples wish to choose a sperm donor of a different race in order to create a transracial family, but certain aspects should be considered before making this decision.

In this sense, experts do recommend that intended parents adopt a child-based perspective above all, and set aside their own interests. In this sense, the most advisable is to select a donor who looks like the intended parents and the people that will surround the child as he grows up.

Children want to belong, and looking different from their family might become an issue in certain cases. The child's feeling of belonging as well as the donor's attachment to him may be compromised as a consequence of a decision that was taken too hastily and carelessly.

Physical features

Generally, patients look for sperm donors who have physical characteristics similar to their own, or at least similar to one of the partners. Depending on the agency or bank chosen, the options available for choosing by phenotype include:

  • Pictures: Many sperm banks offer photo files of selected donors which contain images in color or black and white of the donor as a baby, as an adult, or both. The quality varies depending on the original photo provided by the donor.
  • Full-face videos: Streaming video interviews of selected donors are very useful for those who want to find out about their potential donor's personal values, career goals, personal information, his hopes for the children born as a result of the donation, etc.

As it happens with race and ethnicity, resemblance is seen as a signal of kinship. A child who shares physical resemblance with his parents and the people surrounding him is more likely to create a feeling of connectedness instead of unfamiliarity as he grows up.

Blood type and Rh factor

The sperm donor's blood type might be a medically important issue is the mother is Rh negative (Rh-), as she can develop antibodies to a fetus that is Rh positive. For more information, do not miss the following article: Isoimmunization and Rh incompatibility.

Nevertheless, it is important to mention that children do not always inherit the blood type of their biological parents. Here is an example to improve basic understanding: imagine a couple with blood types A and B respectively. Their offspring can have any of the four blood types, that is: A, B, 0, or AB.

Using the chart below can be helpful as a blood type predictor tool:

In any other case, paying attention to the donor's blood type is not medically significant. For some couples who are still undecided if they want to tell the child about his biological origin, choosing the sperm donor's blood type may be very important. Those who want to keep it a secret, choose a donor what matches the male partner biologically.

Sperm quality

As for sperm quality, parameters such as sperm concentration, sperm morphology and sperm motility are analyzed. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) criteria, a man can be accepted as a sperm donor as long as the quality of the sperm he produces is above the normal values:

  • Sperm concentration is above 50 to 90 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate
  • Sperm motility is progressive in at least 50% of the sperms produced
  • The volume of the ejaculate is above 2 ml
  • Sperm morphology follows the requirements established by the WHO

When using donor sperm, frozen semen samples are always used. Donor vials should be cryopreserved for 6 months after collection, which means all samples are tested twice: right before being collected, and then again after this time period. Only if screening tests are negative, the sample will be made available for use.

This is the reason why choosing a "natural" sperm donor for natural insemination (i.e. having sexual intercourse with a man who agrees to do so) is totally unadvisable. Keep in mind that private sperm donors, even though they might be willing to do it for free, have not been screened and the quality of the semen they produce may be too low for a pregnancy to be achieved.

Genetic inheritance and family history

Each gamete (egg and sperm cell) contains half the genes of the respective parent, which means the child genetic code is 50% his father's, 50% his mother's. If donor sperm is used, half the genetic material of your child will be that of the donor you choose.

The donor's family background should be carefully examined in order for the presence of genetic diseases likely to be transmitted to offspring to be discarded. Even if this step is taken, the risk of genetic disease transmission can never be totally excluded, but at least we will be minimizing the chances.

When picking a sperm donor through a sperm bank or fertility clinic, look for a facility that has full-time medical geneticists and genetic counsellors. By doing this, potential donors will be properly screened for any family history or clinical manifestations of genetic abnormalities or illnesses.

FAQs from users

How much does getting a sperm donor cost?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

It depends on whether you want an anonymous or an open donor, and the type of profile (extended or basic, long or brief, etc.).

Although it depends on the country, the cost of IUI with an anonymous sperm donor ranges from €800 to €1,500. To this we should add the fertility medications for mildly stimulating the recipient's cycle: about €300 on average. In the case of donor-sperm IVF, the average cost is €3,000 to €5,000, which increases to €7,000 or more if donor eggs are needed too.

Anonymous donors are cheaper than known donors, mainly because getting an open donor involves that the intended parents are the ones paying for the donor to be screened and tested. Anyway, it depends on the fertility clinic or sperm bank chosen.

We recommend you to visit the following section to find the center that best fits your needs by country: Clinic Directory.

Can you choose a sperm donor online?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Yes, it is possible to choose a sperm donor online from a sperm bank's donor book/catalogue and have it shipped home for DIY artificial insemination or at-home artificial insemination. Firstly, you choose the best donor for you by just carrying out a search. Most sperm banks allow you to limit the search according to your needs and the type of donor profile you wish to look for.

How can I find a sperm donor in the UK?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

The NHS allows three main routes for finding a sperm donor in the United Kingdom:

  1. Anonymous sperm donors by visiting a fertility clinics.
  2. Known sperm donors, say a friend or someone you've met online. Fresh sperm donors are allowed, too.
  3. Going abroad for IVF or IUI with donor sperm.

If you choose the first option, there exist numerous HFEA-licensed clinics and sperm banks across the country. They all have to follow strict criteria in order for qualifying a candidate as eligible.

How should you go about getting a sperm donor?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

When a couple has been trying to conceive for a long time without luck, they should undergo fertility testing in order to find out whether it is a case of male infertility, female infertility, or both. If it is a male factor, sperm donation might become the only solution in the most severe cases.

Also, in the case of lesbian couples and single females (single mothers by choice or SMC), the absence of a male partner leaves them no alternative but to use donor sperm. In these cases, and especially among heterosexual couples, accepting the fact that the baby will not share his genetic material with that of the intended father becomes hard for some couples.

However, having a child is not only about sharing your DNA with that of your child, but also about bringing him up, and seeing him grow up in a loving environment. Keeping this in mind, the process for finding and choosing a sperm donor may be easier to cope with.

How can you find your biological father if he was a sperm donor?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Finding the identity of an anonymous sperm donor is possible only if it was an open sperm donation. If this was the case, the donor-conceived person will be able to find his or her bio-dad. In those countries where this option is allowed, the person is allowed to find out about the donor once he or she turns 18, and not earlier.

How long does it take to find a sperm donor?

By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).

It varies depending on whether it is a known or an anonymous donor. In the latter case, it depends on the phenotype characteristics of the recipient: the more common they are, the easier for the clinic to proceed with the matching process.

If you choose a known donor, the process may take longer. Most sperm banks require recipients to pre-register with them, and then access to their database or catalogue is granted. Then, the only thing for you to do is choosing the most suitable donor for you. If you choose a friend or family member, it may take longer, as he has to be pre-screened.

Suggested for you

Once the most suitable sperm donor is chosen, recipients can get started with the treatment, either IUI or IVF. Do you know how do they work when donor sperm is used? Do not miss these articles for more detailed information:

If you are a lesbian couple planning to create a family, you might consider undergoing any of these infertility procedures to have a baby. Did you know you have multiple options available to achieve so? Learn more about all your possibilities here: Lesbian conception.

Single females willing to become single mothers by choice can turn to sperm donation to have a baby, too. Should you need further information on all the options you have, see also: How to get pregnant without a man.

Are you a man considering donating your sperm and would like to know how to become a donor? There exist numerous requirements that vary from country to country. For more information and FAQs, visit the following post: Being a sperm donor.

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 Andrea Rodrigo
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 about Andrea Rodrigo
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
Fertility Counselor
Bachelor of Arts in Translation and Interpreting (English, Spanish, Catalan, German) from the University of Valencia (UV) and Heriot-Watt University, Riccarton Campus (Edinburgh, UK). Postgraduate Course in Legal Translation from the University of Valencia. Specialist in Medical Translation, with several years of experience in the field of Assisted Reproduction. More information about Sandra Fernández

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