Using a Sperm Donor to Get Pregnant – How Does the Process Work?

By (embryologist) and (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 02/28/2017

Receiving donor sperm to get pregnant is an option that is becoming increasingly popular among all family types: from heterosexual couples with male infertility to lesbian couples and single mothers. Be it donor insemination or donor-sperm IVF, the chances of getting pregnant are higher in all cases. The prices of sperm donation vary from country to country, although in general it increases the total cost of IUI or IVF, as factors such as the pay or the screening to the donor should be added.

What follows is a guide to using donor sperm for recipients, with the requirements to use donor sperm cells, the types of profiles from which a donor can be chosen, the odds of success, and the process followed depending on the fertility treatment of choice.

Provided bellow is an index with the 9 points we are going to expand on in this article.

Who can use donor sperm

Sperm donation, also known as sperm cell donation, is a fertility option that allows many family types to create a family, whether it is a heterosexual couple, women in a lesbian relationship, or single females. In short, the main indications for using donated sperm are:

  • Inability to achieve a pregnancy due to poor sperm quality
  • Presence of a hereditary disease in the intended father
  • After failed IVF using partner-donated sperm
  • Absence of a male partner: lesbian couples and single mothers by choice (SMC)

When fertility tests indicate the absence of fertility problems in the woman, donor-sperm insemination would be the fertility treatment of choice. To that end, she should have tubal patency and regular menstrual cycles.

Inversely, in women suffering from infertility, donor-sperm IVF is advisable, preferably with the patient’s own eggs.

Male infertility

When a couple has been TTC for a long time without success, they should undergo a series of tests to determine what is behind it. If sperm pathologies are found, sperm donation could be the ultimate solution to have a baby. The presence of genetic abnormalities may also lead a man to use donor sperm cells to prevent the transmission of a genetic disease to offspring.

Some of these sperm-related problems can be tackled through fertility treatments such as ICSI. However, when the results of a semen analysis show that a man's sperm quality is not enough to achieve a pregnancy, sperm donation is recommended.

The most common sperm pathologies affecting sperm viability are:

Depending on the degree to which the man is suffering from one of these pathologies or even in case he develops a combination between them, getting pregnant via donor sperm may be necessary or not.

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Single females

Fertility treatments and sperm donation have allowed any woman wishing to be a mother become so without the need of a male partner. This is the case of single females, who can now get pregnant without a man.

A woman might be a good candidate for IUI with donor sperm provided that she:

  • Has no problem related to the function of the Fallopian tubes
  • Has a normal ovarian reserve
  • Has normal menstrual cycles

If she does not meet these requirements or a pregnancy is not achieved after the first attempt, IVF using donor sperm and the woman’s own eggs, or using both donor eggs and donor sperm, will be the treatments of choice. The latter type is known as double-donor IVF.

Double-donor IVF is indicated only in cases where problems related to the woman’s ovarian reserve or egg quality are detected.

Lesbian couples

Lesbian artificial insemination is a the first option for same-sex couples as long as at least one woman meets the basic requirements to be inseminated. To get further information, click here: Artificial insemination for lesbian couples.

Also, lesbian couples can undergo partner to partner egg donation, also known as reciprocal IVF or shared maternity. This procedure consists in carrying out an IVF cycle using the eggs of one woman combined with donor sperm. The resulting embryos are transferred to the other woman’s uterus.

This way, both members of the couple get involved in the journey toward pregnancy: while one of them delivers the genetic material, the other one will carry the pregnancy to term and give birth to their child.

Choosing a sperm donor

Depending on the clinic or sperm bank, different types of donors can be selected. In general, recipients can choose any of the following options:

Anonymous sperm donors
Donors register with both non-identifying information (e.g. physical characteristics) and identifying information (full name, date of birth...). This information is provided to the clinic and kept confidential. In some cases, donors agree to provide childhood photos.
Open sperm donors
The donor wishes to be open to some kind of communication once the donor-conceived child turns 18. That communication may be an exchange of an e-mail or letter, phone calls, or even an in-person meeting. Countries like Denmark or the UK have created a donor sibling registry.
Known or directed sperm donors
Intended parents are strongly recommended to sign a contract with the man who is about to donate his sperm. This agreement helps determine the parental rights, especially if a friend or family member is used and you want him to have a co-parenting role or relationship with the child.

Buying directly from a sperm bank is another possibility. Most vials donated to sperm banks are anonymous, although in some countries they offer the possibility to choose an open donor.

Process and chances of success

If the husband/partner has zero sperm count or a very poor semen analysis, or there is a genetic disease or problem that could be passed to offspring, the couple would be referred to sperm donation. Ans the same applies to single women and lesbian couples.

In the case of heterosexual couples, the first step involves being psychologically prepared. Once they are ready, the first step is to select a compatible donor. The following article may be of interest should you be interested in learning how this process works: How to find a sperm donor.

Once the donor is chosen and screened, the receiving woman gets started with the treatment, which varies depending on whether it is intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF) with own or donated eggs. Let's see the differences below:

IUI with donor sperm

When artificial insemination is done using the husband's or partner's sperm, the woman can undergo a fresh cycle. However, donor insemination (DI) cycles are done using frozen samples, as they must be quarantined for a 6-month period before use.

The receiving woman undergoes mild ovarian stimulation in order to induce ovulation, which ideally should take place about 36 hours before the fertility medications are administered. Once ready, a cannula is inserted through the vagina so that the sperms are placed in the uterus.

See also: IUI with donor sperm: definition, process and success rates.

Chances of success: 22% in women under 40, and 13% or less in women aged 40 or over.

IVF with donor sperm

The main difference in comparison with IVF using the husband's sperm is that the semen sample has to necessarily be frozen and thawed before being used. In IVF cycles, women undergo ovulation induction to obtain multiple oocytes.

Then, after the ovum-pick up (OPU) procedure to retrieve the mature eggs, fertilization between the donated sperm and the patient's egg is done by a embryologist at the laboratory. Finally, after embryo culture, the embryo or embryos are transferred back to the woman's uterus.

Click here to learn more: IVF with donor sperm: process, cost and success rates.

Chances of success: 14% in women under 35, 11% in women aged 35-39, and about 5% in women aged 40-42 or more.

Double-donor IVF

In this case, the process works exactly as in IVF with donor sperm, with the exception that donor eggs are also used, which means neither the intended mother nor the intended father uses his own reproductive cells. In other words: they will not be the biological parents of the child.

In double-donor IVF procedures, the donated egg and sperm cells are fused together in the laboratory and transferred to the intended mother's uterus, so that hopefully the embryo is able to implant and pregnancy occurs.

See also: IVF with both donor eggs and donor sperm.

Chances of success: around 55-60% per transfer, as high-quality gametes are used.

Using donor sperm at home

Another option for carrying out an IUI with donor sperm is doing it at home, a process commonly known as self-insemination or DIY artificial insemination. Although many women use the popular "turkey baster method", using an insemination kit properly prepared for this purpose is the most advisable.

As for the sperm, women undergoing this procedure have two options: on the one hand, they can get it from a sperm bank and have it shipped to their residence. On the other hand, they can have someone they know (i.e. using your own sperm donor, like a friend or family member) to be their donor. See also At-home artificial insemination to learn more.

There is another type of donation known as sperm donation through natural insemination, in which a pregnancy is achieved through sexual intercourse, that is, as a natural pregnancy. This practice is totally unadvisable as it may lack some of the safety precautions and screenings donors should usually undergo.

Other issues and rules to consider

Conceiving via sperm donation is not only about the medical process, but involves a series of additional aspects from the psychological, legal, and financial point of view. Third-party reproduction requires intended parents to consider many aspects in order to avoid potential complications once the donor-conceived child is born.

The following are some of the most significant aspects to keep in mind and tips to deal with successfully:

Coping with donor sperm

Using donor sperm when married is perfectly possible, and it is the case of many opposite-sex couples suffering from male infertility. The main obstacle to conceiving is usually related to the grief of knowing that the child will not share his father's genes.

While the woman might feel uncomfortable or even disloyal with the idea of using a stranger's sperm, most men experience a deep feeling of loss and guilt associated with the fact that his child will not be sharing his genes with his.

Sperm mixing is an option in these cases: it involves mixing the husband's or partner's sperm with the donor sperm, so that they can hang on to the hope that their baby might be genetically linked to the father.

Families are recommended to let children learn about their donor origins in order to build a healthier family environment.

Donor contract

Not drawing a sperm donor agreement before using donor sperm is a common mistake among intended parents that should be avoided at all costs, as the use of sperm donation involves many legal pitfalls that can arise in the process.

For this reason, always consulting with an attorney who can advise you of how to protect your rights and those of the child is strongly recommended. Signing a donor contract is especially important when using a known donor, as it allows all parties to make sure:

  • The donor's rights to the child are fully terminated
  • The family will not force him to pay child support, for example

Parental rights

When using donor sperm, patients should cope with the fact that the donor will be the biological father of the child. Although accepting this part might be hard for some parents, they must make sure the donor intends to waive all legal rights and responsibilities to the child, including child support or care.

Also, before getting started with the process, everyone must agree about the role of the donor in the child's life: while some parents want the donor to have an uncle-like role, others do not want any involvement because they fear the child ends up seeing him as his actual "bio-dad".

Reimbursement of expenses

The payout to the donor varies according to local laws and the type of arrangement. In most countries, sperm donation, as egg donation, is considered to be an act of altruism, and therefore unpaid arrangements are the only possibility.

However, even if it is an altruistic donation, expenses incurred by the donor are often reimbursed to compensate the potential inconveniences derived from the donation process. Donors are not usually paid sums that exceed €50-70 on average.

FAQs from users

Could I enter into a co-parenting agreement with a known sperm donor?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Although a co-parenting agreement might be useful if, for instance, a dispute arises, it would't be powerful enough in a court if a problem related to parental responsibility arose. Anyways, the legality of such agreements depends on the individual circumstances of each person and the contents of the agreement. Aspects to consider include: religion, schooling, country of residence, rights to the child, etc.

Are there any celebrity who has used donor sperm to get pregnant?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Absolutely yes. Celebs are humans too, and infertility problems can affect us all regardless of whether who we are. An example of celebrity using donor sperm can be found in Sarah Fain, the TV writer producer for popular shows such as The Vampire Diaries, who got pregnant at age 40 after several IUI attempts.

Egg donation and surrogacy are also highly demanded treatments by stars across the world. Do not miss this post to find out who has or might have used one of them to have a baby: Celebrities who used donor eggs or a surrogate.

Where can I find a known donor for sperm?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Known sperm donation is allowed in countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom. For instance, in the UK a friend or family member could be your sperm donor, although the HFEA recommends to draw up a donor co-parenting agreement in order to set out the intentions of each party.

Can I use the same sperm donor multiple times?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

In principle, the answer is yes. However, most countries place limits on how many children a sperm donor may give raise to in order to reduce the risk of inadvertent consanguinity between donor offspring. So, it is possible on a case-by-case basis.

What are the benefits of using donor sperm for male infertility?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

Although the main disadvantage is that the man has to say "no" to his own genes, the good news is that the chances of conceiving with donor sperm are higher, as sperm donors are young men able to produce semen samples of high quality. Thus, if the woman meets all the requirements and the embryo is able to implant, pregnancy is more likely occur on the first attempt.

How often do patients regret having used donor sperm?

By Rebeca Reus BSc, MSc (embryologist).

When married, couples often have feelings of guilt or grief, or even wonder if using donor sperm is wrong, after having chosen to go down the road of sperm donation. However, they usually disappear once the woman gets pregnant and they have they baby at home. Creating a family is all about love and not only about genetic connections. So, normally families do not regret having had a baby through a sperm donor.

Suggested for you

At the beginning of this article, we have talked about the possibilities of both single females and lesbian couples to create a family with donor sperm. Should you be interested in learning about all the options they have, visit any of the following posts:

On the other hand, sperm donation is a third-party reproduction treatment that often goes hand in hand with egg donation. If you want to read more on the chances of conceiving with donor eggs and/or sperm, click here: Success rates of IVF and IUI with donor eggs and donor sperm.

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 Rebeca Reus
Rebeca Reus
BSc, MSc
Degree in Human Biology (Biochemistry) from the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). Official Master's Degree in Clinical Analysis Laboratory from the UPF and Master’s Degree about the Theoretical Basis and Laboratory Procedures in Assisted Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). More information about Rebeca Reus
Adapted into english by:
 Sandra Fernández
Sandra Fernández
B.A., M.A.
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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