By Andrea Rodrigo BSc, MSc (embryologist).
Last Update: 10/05/2015

Many couples who experience trouble conceiving have no choice but to resort to egg or sperm donation when they are unable to use their own gametes (eggs and sperm).

Together with the main assisted reproductive technologies, i.e. artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF), this fertility treatment allows many singles and couples make their dream of becoming parents come true.

Egg and sperm donation treatments are used in a wide range of cases, among which we highlight the following:

  • Loss of eggs and spermatozoa after undergoing aggressive medical treatments such as chemotherapy.
  • Problems related to egg and sperm production due to various reasons.
  • Absence of a male or female partner (single women and men, and same-sex couples).
  • When there are chances for a genetic disorder to be inherited by children.
  • In case previous fertility treaments using own sperm or eggs have failed.

Gamete donation is used in the main assisted reproductive technologies, that is to say, in artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization. The former allows only sperm donation, since fertilization takes place within the woman’s own body. However, as for the latter, it can be done either using donor sperm and own eggs, donor eggs and own sperm, or both donated gametes. In such case, the treatment is known as double donor IVF.

In some cases, there is no choice but to resort to gamete donation and therefore it is the first choice. Nevertheless, there are cases in which it is seen as a secondary solution, that is to say, it is only eyed in cases that have resulted in failure after using the own eggs and/or sperm. It is in such situations when the person or couple undergoing the treatment is recommended to start a new cycle using donor eggs and/or sperm, either from an anonymous or known donor.

Generally, donors get an economical compensation for all the potential risks they are exposed to during the process. For this reason, and also because of the necessary equipment and medications, donation may increase the basic cost of any assisted reproductive technology.

Sperm donation

Sperm donation is the name given to a treatment that allows single women and lesbian couples be on motherhood in spite of the absence of a male partner whom could deliver a semen sample. When this is the only fertility-related problem, i.e. the absence of a male partner, usually the technique chosen is artificial insemination by donor, since it is the less complex one.

If pregnancy is not achieved with artificial insemination or in case there is some extra problem leading to female infertility, the recommended treatment in such situation is IVF using donor sperm. The main shortcoming of this choice is that it is more expensive on financial terms and difficult in terms of equipment.

Heterosexual couples where the man presents poor-quality sperm are also indicated to use donor sperm either for artificial insemination or IVF cycles.

Lastly, although it is less frequent, there are also cases of male same-sex couples in which neither of both members is able to deliver a high-quality semen sample. In such cases, donor sperm, together with donor eggs, is used too in order to have children through surrogacy.

Donor-egg IVF

Egg donation is a commonly used treatment, since apart from being necessary for male homosexual couples resorting to surrogacy, also many heterosexual couples whose egg quality is unsuitable for pregnancy have no choice but tu use donor eggs.

Conversely to the natural process in males, women’s ovarian reserve keeps on diminishing both in terms of quality and quantity as time goes on. Thus, women aged 35 or older have less chances of getting pregnant with her own eggs than a 20-year-old girl due to an diminished ovarian reserve.

Bearing in mind the age at which women start planning motherhood nowadays, it is not hard to imagine why treatments using donor eggs are becoming increasingly common currently.

Coping with gamete donation

Facing infertility and coping with the fact that you have to resort to a fertility treatment in order to become parents is not easy. Combine this with being forced to reject your own genetics plus seeing yourself obliged to use donor eggs and sperm, and the process will only become more complex both at an emotional and psychological level.

This is the reason why seeking psychological support is very important before, after, and while on the fertility treatment using donor eggs and/or sperm. Such additional help may be also important when you are trying to make up your mind on whether you should tell your child that he or she has been conceived thanks to gamete donation and assisted reproductive technology.

To make the donation process easier, many people feel way more relaxed and sure if they are the ones choosing who is going to be their donor. In the US, the following options are available:

  • Anonymous donor: it is the fertility clinic or the sperm bank who chooses the donor.
  • Semi-known donor: there is no personal relationship between the intended parents and the donor, but it is possible to get detailed information about him or her and reach a decision according to this information.
  • Known donor: in this case, it is the intended parents whom choose the potential donor to the center; another option is taking a personal interview with the potential egg or sperm donor.

There is an extra type of donor known as “open donor”. In such case, even though the donation is an anonymous one, the donor-conceived individual is able, once he or she is 18, to get to known his or her donor.

Authors and contributors

 Andrea Rodrigo
BSc, MSc
Embryologist
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

2 comments

    1. Hello

      Hello virginia gurl,

      For whatever it is worth, I’m more or less in the same situation as you do, but my daughter is still 11 years old, so I’ve got plenty of time yet hahaha Anyway, I think I’ll tell her, because maybe she finds out when she’s older… All in all, she’s got no father, so she’ll get suspicious at some point.

      Bye!

    2. virginia gurl

      Hello,

      My child is now 15 years old and he is a donor-conveived person. I’m a single mother and I’m very concerned about telling him about his biological origin. I’d like to tell him, of course, because he’s got the right to, but I’m not sure whether I’ll hurt his feelings or he’ll be happy to find out…

      Any recommendation?

      Thank you very much!