What is a Sperm Donation?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
A sperm cell.
A sperm cell.

A sperm donation is a sample of semen provided for use in assisted reproduction. People can use donated sperm to get pregnant for a wide range of reasons, ranging from infertility to the desire to be a single parent. Sperm donors who provide such samples are usually required to surrender all rights to any children that result from their donations and they may be anonymous or not, depending on the policies of the facility that accepts the donation and the preference of the donor.

Artificial insemination is often useful to same-sex couples who want a baby.
Artificial insemination is often useful to same-sex couples who want a baby.

There are a number of mechanisms for donating sperm. A private sperm donation is made by private arrangement between individuals, as for example when a couple struggling with infertility asks a friend to provide a sperm donation. Other sperm donors donate through sperm banks, also known as cryobanks. These facilities carefully screen their donors and allow their customers to select donations to use on the basis of a set of desirable traits.

Sperm agencies work with donors who want to connect with people who need sperm, placing donations with individuals or couples with a selective list of traits. Men can also bank sperm for themselves. Men with cancer and other conditions that can result in infertility may make a sperm donation so they will be able to have children after cancer treatment if they want to.

To give a sperm donation, a man usually needs to be in good health, between the ages of 18 and 40, and free of all sexually transmitted infections. Genetic screenings may be used to check for common genetic conditions and men may be interviewed about their medical history. Physical traits are profiled so that people seeking donations can select donors on the basis of traits like height, hair color, eye color, and racial background. Men are usually asked to submit a sample of semen for a sperm count to confirm that their sperm are viable before they are accepted as donors.

Men can donate sperm as many times as they want, although in some regions, laws restrict the way that donations are used. There are concerns that anonymous donors could potentially father hundreds of children and these children could theoretically meet each other and be unaware of their genetic relationship. Some sperm banks address this issue by using unique numbers to identify their donors so while donor-conceived children do not know who their fathers are, they can avoid situations like accidentally marrying half siblings.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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    • A sperm cell.
      A sperm cell.
    • Artificial insemination is often useful to same-sex couples who want a baby.
      Artificial insemination is often useful to same-sex couples who want a baby.