Everything You Wanted to Know About Donating Sperm

Vilma Ruddock
Sperm cell

Most sperm donations in the United States and other countries are made to a sperm bank or a fertility clinic, but some donors do so through private arrangements with family, friends, or others. The process to qualify as a donor is stringent but straightforward.

How to Find a Sperm Donation Site

The following are ways to find a place to donate your sperm:

  • Sperm banks: You can find a sperm bank near you by searching SpermBankDirectory.com.
  • Fertility centers: Your local free-standing fertility centers and clinics might advertise for donors in your local newspapers or on their websites. Search the web or look through the yellow pages to find such places.
  • Academic centers: Typically, donor sperm programs at medical school or university-affiliated fertility centers advertise on campus for medical and other students, physicians, and professors as donors. Visit the websites or call the centers in your area for information on their programs to see if you qualify.

Other Sperm Donation Arrangements

You can donate your sperm through other arrangements, which are not as regulated as going through a sperm bank or fertility center.

  • Facilitating agencies: These include law firms and unregulated agencies that facilitate your medical evaluation and sperm donation. They make an arrangement for a recipient to receive your fresh sperm, often to be used for self-insemination at home. This process carries more risk of infections for the woman from your unquarantined sperm. In addition, you might not have the same legal protection regarding discovery of your fatherhood as sperm bank or fertility clinic donors.
  • Private arrangements: You can donate your sperm directly to a known recipient, such as a family member or friend. You can also donate to a stranger directly or through a broker of the recipient. People interested in such an arrangement advertise online, in magazines and other publications, and in gay and lesbian circles. With this arrangement, you also may not have adequate legal protection, and the recipient has the risks of using your fresh, unquarantined sperm.
  • Directed donations: Some sperm banks will allow you to donate your sperm to be stored for a specific woman known to you. You will still have to qualify to become a donor to that bank. Going through a sperm bank will ensure legal issues can be hammered out.

Qualifying to Become a Donor

Work in laboratory

Although you may want to donate sperm to a fertility clinic or sperm bank, you can't just walk in and produce a specimen. You have to go through a rigorous process to qualify to be a sperm donor to protect you and the safety of the recipients of your sperm and any offspring.

To Meet Recipient Expectations

Women, their partners, and others considering using donor sperm for artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, or other fertility procedures want to ensure the best genetic, health, and intellectual outcome for their baby. To meet these expectations, centers that process and store sperm donations use similar preliminary screening and rigorous medical evaluation to qualify their potential donors.

Preliminary Donor Screening

Although specifics might vary between centers, in general, prior to acceptance for further medical evaluation and qualification, a donor in the U. S, must meet the following screening demographics:

  • Age: Donors must be between ages 19 and 39, although some places may have a different upper age limit, and some might take 18-year-olds.
  • Height: Many sperm banks require their donors to be at least 5 feet, nine inches tall.
  • Education: Banks require proof of attendance at a four-year college or above; some sperm banks only accept donors from Ivy League schools.
  • Residency: Donors must be living in the United States and eligible to work and receive earnings.
  • Adoption: A donor cannot be an adoptee because knowledge of family history is important.
  • Medical history: There can be no significant personal or family medical problems, including genetic diseases.
  • Accessibility: The donor must live within one hour of a sperm donation site.
  • Sexual orientation: Some sperm donor sites will not accept gay donors.

California Cryobank offers an example of one sperm bank's specific screening criteria. Research a sperm donation site and complete their screening form online, or call the entity to see if you match preliminary requirements.

Medical Evaluation and Donor Qualification Steps

Doctor and patient

If you match the screening criteria of a sperm donation site, you will continue to the next steps of the process to become a qualified donor. Most sites follow the donor eligibility determination guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also offers guidance for important aspects to consider when donating sperm, as well as eggs and embryos. In general, for donation to a local fertility center or sperm bank, donor qualification includes several steps, which could take one to three months to complete.

Step One

Your first visit for a complete medical evaluation to qualify as a sperm donor will likely include:

  • A comprehensive intake history, including:
    • Your personal medical and psychological history, and insights into your personality
    • Your behavioral, social, and lifestyle history, and any risk factors, such as smoking, drinking, and drug use
    • Your family medical, genetic, and psychological history
  • If you did not ejaculate for two to three days before this visit, you must leave a semen collection for analysis for sperm quantity and quality before and after freezing and thawing. To qualify as a donor, your semen sample must have at least 20 to 25 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
  • You'll be required to sign any preliminary legal documents, such as confidentiality and consent forms, required by your donor bank, or state or other regulatory laws.

Step Two

Your next visit will most often include:

  • A full physical exam
  • A second sperm collection for reexamination, and a urine sample to test for infection
  • Blood work for general health and genetic screening for risk for genetic diseases or chromosome abnormalities

  • Sending specimens to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which can be passed to a mother and affect her fetus. The FDA mandates testing donors of human cells and tissue for the following infections:
    • HIV and Hepatitis B and C
    • Gonorrhea (GC) and chlamydia
    • Syphilis and cytomegalovirus (CMV)
    • Human T-lymphotropic virus (HTLV)

There may be additional visits to review your results or see specialists, such as a geneticist or psychologists to ensure, for example, that you can deal with the prospect of having unknown offspring, or the chance of contact from an offspring in the future.

Step Three

If you pass the history, physical, and sperm and other lab testing phases you get to:

  • Sign any final legal forms which include:
    • Defining legal responsibilities for offspring
    • Completing identity disclosure documents, which make you either an anonymous or open-identity donor
  • Become a fully qualified donor and can start regular sperm donations. Most places encourage one to three specimens a week for six to 24 months

A donor is usually required to undergo a repeat medical evaluation every three to six months during enrollment.

Donating Your Sperm Specimens

Frozen Storage At Sperm Bank

Each time you donate your sperm, you cannot ejaculate for two to three days before because you may deplete the number of sperm in the specimen. Other important things to know are:

  • When you visit your site to donate your sperm, you are given a private room, often with a magazine or a movie to help you produce your specimen by masturbation in a sterile cup. You can make use of your own imagery to help you with arousal and ejaculation. In certain situations, you might be able to produce a specimen by having intercourse with a collection condom.
  • Your sperm is processed and divided into small quantities or units and frozen (cryo-preserved) in vials in liquid nitrogen tanks for future use.
  • Before your specimens can be released for donor inseminations, they are held frozen for six months until you are retested for STDs.
  • Your donations may be limited to six to 24 months, depending on where you live and where your sperm is distributed, to decrease the risk of your offspring producing children together (consanquinity).

Sperm can be frozen and used indefinitely as long as they are maintained under the right conditions. Handling, processing, and storage of sperm must follow FDA regulations for handling human cells and tissue.

Compensation

Most people donate their sperm to help others rather than for the money they receive. According to SpermBankDirectory.com, your compensation for sperm donation is around $35 to $50 per specimen. California Cryobank pays up to $1,500 per month for specimens and expenses for a minimum of one donation per week.

Privacy, Confidentiality, and Legal Matters

Throughout the process of becoming a sperm donor, your privacy and confidentiality are protected. You are recorded in a sperm donation system under a donor number instead of by name. However, it is important to note that complete anonymity and protection can never be fully guaranteed in the age of DNA testing and internet access.

Anonymous Arrangements

You can choose to be anonymous or known to a recipient and vice versa. If you choose to be an anonymous donor, the woman inseminated with your sperm will not have your identifying information, and you won't have hers. In addition, you will have no knowledge of an offspring's birth or life, nor will you have any legal responsibility to that child.

Legal Matters

During your evaluation to qualify as a sperm donor, you will sign legal documents and consent forms that protect you, the recipients of your sperm, and any offspring. Legal considerations include:

  • You'll sign away your rights to be claimed as the legal father of any offspring, although you are the biological father.
  • Some states or jurisdictions leave room for donors to provide identifying information for offspring in the future. In that case, you might sign an agreement to disclose your identity when an offspring reaches age 18 if he or she so wishes.
  • In addition to FDA requirements and sperm bank policies, state laws may also govern the sperm donation process and might place limits on the number of inseminations, and thus the number of offspring, from one donor.

For Women and Couples

Human egg

Anyone considering using donor sperm can access specimens through entities where sperm donations are made. It is important to discuss the legal and psychological aspects of having a child using donor sperm with your doctor.

A fertility center might have their own supply of donor sperm, have their preferred sperm bank(s), and/or help you obtain specimens from one. Each place will have their process and requirements to access sperm samples.

Getting Sperm From a Sperm Bank

Most mainstream sperm banks require you to get your samples through a fertility doctor, although you can view the bank's donors and select one through their website. Once you select your donor and make payment arrangements, you and your doctor can coordinate timing of the specimen delivery and your procedure.

You can locate a fertility specialist in your area through the American Society for Reproductive Medicine's website. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation is an example of how a fertility center helps you access donor sperm from a sperm bank.

Donor Selection

You can select your donor by your preferred criteria. Information about a sperm donor available to you includes physical traits, as well as medical and social history. The Xytex sperm bank provides a list of some of the usual data available to recipients:

  • Race and ethnic origin
  • Skin, hair, and eye color
  • Height, weight, and blood type
  • Education and religion
  • Whether the donor is anonymous or his identity is disclosed
  • Are child and/or adult photos included in the donor's profile

Some sperm banks will maintain an "exclusive donor" inventory - all of one donor's sperm samples are reserved for the sole use of one recipient. This provides the recipient the opportunity to have full biologically related siblings.

FDA Registry

All establishments that process and store sperm or other human cells and tissue must register with the FDA. You can search the FDA's registry database to see if a sperm bank you are interested is FDA-registered.

Helping Others

Donating your sperm can help others have the family they are otherwise unable to. Although the process is rigorous, it ensures the safety and legal protection of everyone involved. In the end, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you are able to help others achieve a vital goal.

Everything You Wanted to Know About Donating Sperm