Doctor holding a jar containing a sperm donation.
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Sperm donation 101: The facts

Sperm Donation 101

There are many factors that might have you considering alternative insemination, and using a sperm donor to help you in start (or expand) your family.

If you’re thinking about sperm donation, here’s what you should know

Your primary care provider (PCP) will be able to give you a fertility evaluation, and this will help you decide whether using donor sperm, or other reproductive assistance, is right for you. During this appointment, you’ll be asked to provide information about your lifestyle, but don’t worry, this isn’t a test. You won’t “fail” the exam if you admit to being a couch potato every once in a while, and it’s important to be honest if you want a care plan that’s specific to your family’s health and needs.

Choosing sperm

After meeting with your PCP, your mind may shift to figuring out the type of sperm you’d like to use. “Known” sperm (the sperm of someone you know) and anonymous sperm are the two options you’ll find. Both can be the right choice, but each has different emotional and legal considerations that go with them, so take your time with this decision.

Remember, all donations (anonymous or not) are screened for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as any evidence of genetic disorders. In the case of anonymous donation, the sperm is usually frozen and kept for 6 months after it is deposited, before it is then re-tested and given to patients.

In addition to deciding whose sperm to use, there is also the matter of what form of sperm you’re going to use. As with insemination procedures, there are few different options that are available:

  • ICI-ready sperm: Semen in this category is used for intracervical insemination. This process is probably the closest to the movie and TV representations of sperm donation. These specimens are not “prepared” or altered before they are frozen (but of course they go through the same thorough screening process). Often, this sperm is injected into a patient at a clinic or doctor’s office, but this type of sperm can also be used for private home insemination. ICI is the least invasive form of alternative insemination, and has success rates of anywhere from 10% to 18% (tracking your cycle can help give you the best odds).
  • IUI-prepared sperm: These samples are prepared for intrauterine insemination. The seminal fluid is removed or, “washed” from the donor’s semen to isolate sperm, and all dead swimmers are removed before the sample is frozen. This option is more expensive  than ICI sperm because of the process the semen goes through, and because by eliminating seminal fluid and dead sperm, there is a better chance of fertilization.The IUI procedure is also a little more invasive than ICI because the sperm is directly inserted into the uterus rather than the cervix. This process is always performed in office, and has a success rate of 18% to 30%.
  • IVF-prepared sperm: This is the cheapest form of prepared sperm, but it isn’t offered by every sperm bank. These samples have a lower sperm count than ICI or IUI prepared sperm. This is because it is believed that less sperm is needed to conceive through IVF, and that saves you some money. But despite saving a couple of bucks on sperm, IVF is one of the most expensive options for alternative insemination. This process involves taking already fertilized embryos and inserting them into a uterus. And again, this increases the success rates to 13% to 41%.

The varying success rates within methods are due to a lot of situational factors including medication, health, age, and lifestyle.

Because the cost of donor insemination can range from $300 to $4,000 depending on what sperm is used, and an average cost of $12,000 per IVF cycle, be sure to ask your provider how many vials of sperm you’ll need!


Sometimes people are prescribed medication to help prepare the body by encouraging fertilization. Every case is different, but many medications prescribed in these situations are follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) treatments. FSH is a naturally occurring hormone in your body that helps mature an egg living in the ovaries, while also causing a follicle to grow around that egg as it continues to mature before ovulation. The medications prescribed by healthcare providers encourage this process in the same way.

The day of

Traditionally ICI, IUI, and IVF are all outpatient procedures. IVF can be a little different because the process may involve two outpatient procedures. In those cases, there is a standard egg retrieval and a seperate embryo transfer performed after the eggs have been fertilized. Though all of these procedures may be a little different, a benefit of all three options is that once the insemination process is over, you’ll be able to resume your day as normal.

After insemination

After these outpatient procedures, you’ve made it! And despite popular belief, there’s no need to lay on your back with your legs in the air. You may be asked to lay down or relax for a while, but your legs won’t be airborne, and this downtime could help you process your excitement or calm your nerves. After insemination, you may experience some mild cramping or bloating. This is normal, and shouldn’t be too intense. Then, you may be able to take a pregnancy test as soon as two weeks after insemination! On the other hand, some healthcare providers may suggest waiting a longer period of time. Waiting a little longer will be hard, but if you can do it, you’ll get a more accurate reading on whether or not the insemination was successful.

The bottom line

Alternative insemination is a procedure without many physical risks, and is a great option for people looking to expand their families. Because there are varying success rates to each procedure, your PCP can offer a great deal of guidance and support when making this decision. Be sure to keep all of your personal needs in mind, and take everything at your own pace.

  • Office Andrology. Illustrated Edition. Battaglia, David E. and Patton, Phillip E.. Human Press. 2010. Web.
  • “Single Cycle IVF Cost Details – Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago.” Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago. Advanced Fertility Center of Chicago. 2017.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Female Infertility”. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. March 8, 2018.
  • Seattle Sperm Bank Staff. “Demystifying IUI, ICI, IVI, and IVF”. Seattle Sperm Bank. Seattle Sperm Bank. 2015.
  • Seattle Sperm Bank Staff. “How to Inseminate at Home Using Donor Sperm.” Seattle Sperm Bank. Seattle Sperm Bank. 2015.
  • Pacific Fertility Center Staff. “Donor Sperm.” Pacific Fertility Center. Pacific Fertility Center. 2018.
  • “In Vitro Insemination: IVF”. American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association. 2018.
  • “Artificial Insemination (Intrauterine Insemination, IUI)”. University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics. 2018.

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