Who goes to a sperm bank?
Alice Ruby, executive director of The Sperm Bank of California, said that about 60% of their families are two-mom families. While historically most of the women who use The Sperm Bank of California are over 35, anecdotally she knows that lesbian couples are coming in younger and younger. “We think that’s related to marriage equality and the increased acceptance of same-sex couples in society,” she says.
But sperm bank services aren’t just for the wifed up. There are plenty of reasons for needing or wanting this service to get pregnant, such as being a single woman seeking to get pregnant on her own. Ruby says that about 25 to 30% of her clients are single. A straight couple might also look to donor sperm if the male partner has azoospermia (no sperm in his semen) or a disease like HIV that they want to avoid passing on, says John Zhang, PhD, of New Hope Fertility Center in New York City.
Other demographics vary, as well. Kyle Macdonald, business development manager at the Canadian fertility clinic and sperm bank Repromed, says that its patients come from a wide variety of age ranges and backgrounds.
How do I choose a sperm bank?
Single Mothers by Choice is a membership organization that provides support and information for single women who want to become — or already are — mothers. Jane Mattes, the director, told Refinery29 that while sperm banks do have donor requirements including medical history and a mental health screening, the industry as a whole is loosely regulated. “There aren't any government regulations, and industry standards are not clearly defined. That being said, the banks are generally reputable, but standards could be more rigorous and better defined.”
Luckily, most banks have a section on their website dedicated to their donor screening process. You’ll find that many go above and beyond genetic screenings to include something a little more, well, subjective. Ruby, for example, summarized her clinic's donors as “healthy, nice guys from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.”
While this does sound weirdly similar to your Aunt Ruth’s dating requirements, sperm banks do have more concrete criteria for donors. But they vary. Ruby’s sperm bank requires that donors are able to work legally, provide a family medical history, be at least 5-foot-7, and be between 20 and 39 years old. Another sperm bank, Fairfax Cryobank, in Fairfax, VA, looks for donors between 18 and 39 years old and also performs medical screenings and physical exams.
Another area to consider is offspring limits. Does the sperm bank cap the number of donations from a donor? That will affect how many half-siblings your future child could have, which you may want to limit. The Sperm Bank of California, for example, allows up to 10 families from each donor, while Fairfax Cryobank puts its limit at 25 reported families. A family is defined as children from the same donor who live together.
Will I want to meet the donor?
There are two basic options: anonymous and open-ID. An anonymous donor is one who has not consented to the release of their identity to offspring conceived using their semen, explains Macdonald. “An open-ID donor is one where they have consented to the release of their identity to the donor conceived child after the age 18.”
How Do I Choose a Donor Part 1: Where to Begin
But searching through the catalogue can be tough; it’s like online dating, but with a lifetime of consequences.
Mattes says that the main question you should ask yourself when picking a donor is how you’re going to talk about him to your child. “When your child is going to ask you, ‘What was my donor like, why did you pick him, who is this person who helped create me?’ you hopefully will be able to convey positive feelings.” To that end, she advises patients to pick a donor who is the kind of person they'd want to marry.
How Do I Choose A Donor Part 2: Info To Consider
Haimant Bissessar, the president of Can-Am Cryoservices, a Canadian company that imports and distributes donor sperm and eggs, said similarly that a majority of selected donors have post-secondary education and are over 5-foot-10, and attractive (an admittedly subjective characterization that'll mean something different to different shoppers). Bissessar says that while some women may not even look at a donor’s photo and only consider medical history, others may prefer a donor with a postgraduate degree, even specifically seeking out a physician or lawyer.
“Most people are looking for a donor who is a similar ethnicity to the person who’s trying to get pregnant or their partner," Ruby explains of her clinic's patients. "Or they already have existing children and they’re looking for an ethnicity match to their existing children.”
What about personality? This is where the additional materials may prove helpful. “Our profiles have information on what level of education he’s obtained, what he studied, what his life goals are,” Ruby explains. Audio interviews, often part of the more expensive package, can give you an idea of how you would interact with the donor.
Mattes advises patients to “just be comfortable and happy with your choice, but not too attached, so that if you have to switch you are not unable to find another donor.”
How Do I Choose a Donor Part 3: What Medical Information Should I Consider?
Mattes explained that another big factor is the number of successful pregnancies from a donor’s sperm. “You want somebody who can achieve a pregnancy, and some sperm is just more successful.”
How Much Will It Cost?
Thomas Price, MD, president of the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, also says that some sperm banks charge more for sperm with certain, more desirable traits, although his clinic does not typically work with those sperm banks. For example, certain professions or education levels can sometimes increase price, although he says it varies tremendously. (But those of you shopping for a future doctor: They're onto you.)
Most sperm banks list their prices on their websites, based on vials of semen. Keep in mind that you may need to buy more than one vial if the first attempt doesn’t take. There are those aforementioned bonus info packages that cost more, and shipping, so it all adds up. If you buy additional semen you want to save for later (think: making siblings), storage comes with a fee, too.
Will My Insurance Cover It?
The Human Rights Campaign recommends asking your insurance company how it defines infertility, what infertility treatments will be covered on your plan, how infertility is documented, and, if this pertains to you, whether fertility treatment for same-sex couples is covered.
I’m Ready To Place My Order
Don’t forget to plan for the future. The Sperm Bank of California, for example, allows you to store extra sperm from your current donor. This lets you plan for the possibility of having more children from the same donor — and a future sibling for your child.
After you place your order, Dr. Price explains that your semen will typically be delivered within 48 and 72 hours. The treatment that proceeds from there varies from one individual to the next. He says that a young woman with no fertility problems, for example, will have a simple process that begins with urine testing or an ultrasound to determine ovulation. He notes, though, that it can get more complicated for anyone who has had fertility difficulties.
I got some sperm Now what?
While it's possible for people to inseminate themselves with donor sperm at home, Dr. Price recommends working with a doctor who can screen you for STIs and more thoroughly explain the process. Pregnancy rates are also typically higher at fertility clinics, because sperm can be concentrated into a smaller volume and then inserted directly into the uterus rather than being inserted at home into the vagina or on the cervix via a cervical cap, he says.
If you’re considering donor insemination or IVF, or just want more information, start with a visit to your trusty gynecologist or fertility specialist. If you opt for IUI, the process is quite simple. Dr. Price explains that you undergo a speculum exam similar to a pap smear and then a tiny catheter is threaded into the uterus to place a small amount of sperm — about .5 ml or less — into the uterine cavity. Then, you rest for about 10 minutes and are sent on your way.
The IVF process is a bit different. Dr. Zhang explains that you’ll get the donor sperm, have your egg retrieved, and then embryos are created, transferred to your uterus, or frozen for later use (cue more storage fees, in this case).
If at first you don't succeed...
Ruby advises women to “be prepared for it to not necessarily work right away, and find your support system.” Having friends, family members, or therapists who can be reassuring and available is helpful, she says. A positive outlook always helps — and you can take that all the way to the bank.