If you’re reading this, you are likely considering buying donor sperm through a sperm bank. Once you start to research different sperm banks and details, your decisions are just beginning.
Choosing a Sperm Donor
Deciding which donor to choose is an intense process. You are literally choosing the other half of your child’s genes.
Sperm banks offer lots of information on their donor profiles. Each catalog is set up differently. Some sperm banks provide basic donor info for free, and charge to view full profiles, voice samples, or baby photos, a la carte. Others have subscriptions available to view their complete catalog of donor profiles.
Here’s what you can generally expect to see.
- Eye Color
- Hair Color
- Skin Tone
- Rh Factor
- Blood Type
- CMV Status
- Previous Pregnancies Recorded
- Anonymous vs Willing-To-Be-Known
- Type of vials stored (washed vs unwashed)
Additional information (usually available for purchase):
- Personal essay or responses to interview questions
- Advanced genetic screening
- Family medical history
- Staff descriptions
- Voice recordings
- Baby photos
Everyone will have different perspectives on which characteristics are the most important. The few that I will point out are ones that I didn’t even consider before my wife and I were TTC.
Rh Factor and Blood Type
Here’s an explanation of the importance of Rh factor and blood type. TL;DR – Rh factor is the most important of those two. If you are Rh negative and want to become pregnant, it’s best to use a donor who is also Rh negative.
CMV (cytomegalovirus) is a “common virus” that can cause issues during pregnancy. If you are negative for CMV and want to become pregnant, it’s best to use a donor who is also negative for CMV.
If you are a carrier (positive) for CMV, that does not mean you have any added concern about pregnancy. It just means that your body already has antibodies for the virus, so you can use donors with either CMV status.
If you don’t know your Rh factor, blood type, and CMV status, your doctor can order those tests.
Sperm banks require a doctor’s authorization prior to releasing vials of sperm. Although atrociously annoying, the forms establish that the donor has no rights to parentage.
- If you plan to do at home insemination (ICI), the authorization is usually needed on an annual basis, not for each attempt.
- If you use IUI, you will likely need a sign off for each attempt since IUI needs to be done by a certified health practitioner.
- If you are doing IVF, the clinic will handle these forms.
If you are using a midwife for prenatal care, they may be able to sign off as your health practitioner, depending on the laws in your state.
Using Washed vs Unwashed Sperm
Figuring out which type of vials to purchase can be confusing. Let’s start with the difference between washed and unwashed sperm.
Unwashed sperm is raw semen. It contains both sperm and seminal fluid.
Alternatively, washed sperm has undergone a process that removes the seminal fluid as well as cellular debris and dead sperm.
Which one to choose is largely determined by your planned method of insemination. If you are going to do IUI or IVF, you will need washed sperm. Some sperm banks group the different types of vials by insemination method. Others categorize the vials as washed or unwashed and the choice is left to you.
If you are working with a fertility clinic, they may be able to wash the sperm for you. This is useful in the case that you want to use a known donor, or if the only vials available from your chosen donor are unwashed.
What is not made clear by most sperm banks though, is which type of sperm to use for ICI (vaginal insemination). After trying ICI with both different types of sperm, here’s my recommendation:
If you are going to use ICI (vaginal insemination), then use unwashed sperm.
Some sperm banks have recorded pregnancies where washed sperm was used with ICI. When my wife and I were trying to conceive, we did that for several unsuccessful attempts. However, at the time, I didn’t know the information explained below. A midwife once told me that washed sperm doesn’t work with ICI because of pH. I didn’t understand what that meant, so I did more research.
This explanation involves biochemistry. The pH of sperm and semen is basic. The latest data from WHO indicates “the normal pH of seminal plasma is between 7.2 and 7.8”.
The vaginal environment is acidic, often between 3.5 and 5 on the pH scale. That is why sperm dies quickly in the vagina. In fact, about 30 minutes after insemination, most sperm has either left the vagina or lost motility.
Unwashed sperm still has semen to protect it while in the vagina.
Washed sperm has no protective seminal fluid, so it dies off even more quickly.
Conception is possible when the surviving sperm moves from seminal fluid to cervical mucus (which is basic, protecting the sperm). From there, sperm moves into the cervix (also basic) and up toward the uterus and fallopian tubes. Although sperm can survive in the reproductive tract for up to 5 days, most sperm will die within 1 – 2 days.
That also explains the importance of tracking ovulation and checking cervical mucus.
How to Order from a Sperm Bank
Once you determine which donor to choose and what type of vials you need, the next step is purchasing the sperm. You can either purchase the vials each month as you need them, or buy several and the sperm bank will store them for future use.
The advantage of buying in bulk is that it guarantees the same donor for what is likely to be multiple pregnancy attempts. Or, you can use the same donor, if you plan to have multiple children.
Donors can either sell out (if all their vials are purchased) or max out (if their sperm results in a certain number of pregnancies). The latter is dependent on the specific policies of each sperm bank. If you end up not needing all the vials that you purchased, the sperm bank will restock them and usually provide a partial refund. Check the fine print for those details.
Pickup or Delivery
If you live close to the sperm bank, you may be able to pick up the sperm in person. If you plan to use it quickly, you may be able to store it in a cooler with dry ice.
Otherwise, if you need a longer window of time before using the sperm or you need it to be shipped, it will be stored in a nitrogen tank.
You’ll want to plan ahead before ordering. Sperm banks often require a week or more of notice to ship.
How Many Vials to Use Each Month
If you can afford to order multiple vials for each month that does statistically increase the chance of pregnancy. Most people use 1 or 2 vials per month, but I once heard of someone who used 4 vials for a round of ICIs in one month. Your doctor or midwife can help you make this decision.
My wife and I had to weigh the balance of using more vials per attempt vs being able to make more attempts in monthly succession. Although we did use 2 vials a few months, we finally conceived during a month when we could only afford 1 vial.