What’s Being a Sperm Donor Like? – Things to Consider

By (embryologist) and (fertility counselor).
Last Update: 12/23/2016

Becoming a sperm donor involves handing your sperm cells over unselfishly to a person who wishes to have a child, yet is unable to do so by his own means. Worldwide, one can find countries where anonymity is a mandatory requirement, while others allow for different types of profiles. Normally, sperm donors are compensated for the potential inconveniences caused, although the average pay varies from country to country.

Sperm donors, as it happens when a woman applies to become an egg donor, go through a screening process previously in order for their eligibility and health status to be checked. In the case of sperm cell donation, age is not so determinant as in oocyte donation, given that sperm quality does not diminish so dramatically over time.

Anonymity or disclosure?

A sperm donor is a man who donates his sperm voluntarily to those who need it to create a family by means of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), either artificial insemination (AI) or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

From an international point of view, the profile of the donor can be anonymous or, conversely, known. Each option has its own pros and cons, and choosing between the former or the latter depends on the candidate's preferences and long-term expectations.

The following are the basic differences between anonymous and known sperm donor profiles:

  • Anonymous sperm donor: The identity of the donor will never be disclosed to the intended parents or the child. Patients should agree that they do not want to contact the donor in the future as well.
  • Known sperm donor: The name, address, ID-number and other identifiable information about the donor will be released to the couple or person who requested his sperm cells. The identity will be disclosed to the child only when he or she turns 18.

Most European countries such as Spain, Greece, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine require that potential sperm donors remain completely anonymous, with no option to be known in present or future time. However, in Denmark, United States and United Kingdom, disclosure is allowed and covered by the law.

Some couples wish to select a donor based on his ethnicity or physical features (e.g. blue-eyed, with dimples, blonde or dark brown hair, etc.). In this sense, a known donor would be a good idea.

Some couples want to choose a donor whose characteristics are different from theirs. However, the ethics of this have been questioned by many specialists, as resemblance helps create bonds between parents and children.

When it comes to being a known sperm donor, many patients turn to a friend, an acquaintance or a family member to do so. However, this practice involves a series of cons and risks that should be taken into account, and are listed in section 2.

Being a sperm donor for a friend

When a couple decides to use donor sperm, they have to face the decision between choosing an anonymous or a non-anonymous donor. If they want to make sure their child can learn about his identity in the future, they usually choose the latter type.

In these cases, some couples decide to ask a friend, sibling, family member or acquaintance to be their sperm donor. Using a brother's sperm is common, as it is a way for the intended father to still share some percentage of DNA with the child, and therefore feel genetically connected to him.

If you agree to donate sperm for a friend or family member, you should take the following cons into account:

  • Even though you may have known them for a long time, you may not want to share information regarding your sexual lifestyle, which could put the baby at risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease (STD). There have been cases of donors who have lied on this matter.
  • Becoming a private sperm donor takes more time than delivering it to a sperm bank, as donors should be medically pre-screened.
  • If no legal contract is signed, and you do not want to contact the child in the future, things may change over time. This could damage not only your relationship, but also affect the child's cognitive development.

For all the reasons listed above, both donors and intended parents are strongly recommended to sign a sperm donor agreement. This will make sure that, although the sperm donor is the biological father, he intends to waive all legal rights and responsibilities of fatherhood, including decisions on the child's health, visitation rights, and excludes the possibility of being liable for child support.

Requirements to be a sperm donor

Ideally, egg donors should not be older than 35 years old due to the fact that egg quality and quantity diminish over time, with the subsequent increase in the chances for abnormalities and complications during pregnancy.

However, in the case of men, this requirement is not so strict, as sperm quality is not so dependent on age. Sperm donors should be, however, of legal age, and in general not over 40. If this requirement is met, then the donor will undergo an initial and periodic screening and testing process.

Semen samples are collected by masturbation, which is concentrated into small volumes of motile sperm. Then, it is frozen and quarantined for six months, and thawed for retesting. By doing this, the risk of HIV can be ruled out.

Generally, those males who are at risk for passing the following diseases are excluded:

  • HIV-1 and HIV-2
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Syphilis
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae

Should testing indicate the presence of or a risk factor for an hereditary disease, the donor will be qualified as ineligible. When selecting a potential donor, the first step involves an extensive evaluation of his health and a review of his family medical history.

The ASRM (American Society for Reproductive Medicine) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommend that both anonymous and directed donors go through the same testing process. Nevertheless, known donors are exempt from the six-month retesting requirement.

Average compensation payment

Firstly, it should be clear that how much is paid per specimen varies from bank to bank. Nevertheless, the range is about $35-$50 per semen sample, which means sperm donors are not compensated in a one-time payment.

As explained earlier, sperm banks and fertility clinics require a six-month period between production and usage of the specimen. This quarantine period is required in order for viral infections such as the HIV to be fully discarded. The pay is not released until the donor has been retested after a second set of blood tests.

In accordance with the HFEA guidelines, British fertility clinics are allowed to reimburse donors a fixed sum of £35 per sample collected and donated. It should be clear that this is done with the purpose of compensating the donor for any expenses he may have incurred.

The Law in the UK establishes that receipts must be provided for any out-of-pocket expenses that exceed this sum. Also, clinics often reimburse these expenses in two parts: half during the donor's visits to the clinic, and the remainder once the six-month quarantine period has finished and the samples have been cleared.

Similarly, the Spanish Law governing third-party reproduction has established an amount of €30-50 per specimen. It puts special emphasis on the fact that sperm donation is an altruistic act, and therefore it is not a pay, but a compensation for the potential inconveniences and expenses derived from the process.

As for the United States, regulations are quite different from those established in Europe. Some sperm banks reimburse the donor's time and expenses with payments of up to $1,500/month, and can even be given periodic incentives such as gift certificates, among others.

FAQs from users

Why be a sperm donor? Is it worth it?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

By donating your sperm, your are helping other people fulfill their dreams of starting a family. Moreover, the process is simple, painless, and does not require taking medications or undergoing surgery.

How can you become a "natural" sperm donor?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

The only way a man can be a "natural" sperm donor is by engaging into sexual intercourse with the woman wishing to conceive. Although this practice is rather common among single women willing to have a baby, the truth is, it is totally unadvisable.

Take into account that it has two major drawbacks which should be addressed carefully:

  1. The donor is not screened or tested for diseases and viral infections likely to be inherited by offspring, with the subsequent risk it involves for the pregnant woman and the fetus.
  2. There is no legal contract stating that he relinquishes his rights over the child born as a result of his donation.

What is the difference between being a sperm bank donor and a private sperm donor?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Technically, the process works exactly the same. However, in accordance with the particular methodology followed by each center, you may undergo additional testing due to stricter selection criteria.

How difficult is it to become a sperm donor and how does it feel?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Becoming a sperm donor is easy as long as you are healthy and your semen samples are proved to be free from viral infections after the six-month quarantine period required. It should be kept in mind that, by doing this, you are helping other people achieve their dreams, so the feeling should be highly rewarding.

Can you be a sperm donor if you are gay?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

Well, this is a half-truth, although the answer currently is yes: gay men can become sperm donors as well as heterosexual males.

We say half-truth because, 6 years ago, the FDA in the United States had a rule by which gay men were precluded from donating sperm if the candidate admitted to having had sex with another man over the past 5 years. The rule is included within Title 21, Chapter 1, Subchapter L, Part 1271 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Today, every donor, regardless of his sexual orientation, must be screened for HIV and other STDs, and the tests available are 99% effective.

Can you be a sperm donor with HIV, HPV or herpes?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

No, these are STDs for which a potential sperm donor would be ineligible. A history of genital herpes or warts is a cause of exclusion.

Normally, health care professionals interview donor candidates with regard to behavior that could have exposed him to STDs, including history of homosexuality, bisexuality, multiple sex partners, a recent stay in a geographical region with high incidence of HIV, etc.

What are the potential risks of donating sperm?

By Cristina Mestre Ferrer B.Sc., M.Sc. (embryologist).

There are no health risks associated with sperm donation. The only potential risks derived from sperm donation are linked to donors who donate their semen too many times, as there is the risk that the children born as a result of his donations end up meeting and procreating in the future.

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 Cristina Mestre Ferrer
Cristina Mestre Ferrer
B.Sc., M.Sc.
Bachelor's Degree in Biological Sciences, Genetics & Human Reproduction from the University of Valencia (UV). Master's Degree in Biotechnology of Human Assisted Reproduction from the UV and the Valencian Infertility Institute (IVI). Embryologist at IVI Barcelona. More information about Cristina Mestre Ferrer
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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