- Being a sperm donor is not an easy process and not everybody can do it
- A lot of testing is involved in the donation process to ensure sperm quality and to try to ensure genetically inherited issues won’t be passed on.
- The sperm donation process can take a long time and potential candidates must undergo many evaluations and physical exams.
The sperm donation process is a lot more than just a quick way to make cash. In fact, the process is far from quick and that’s one of many misconceptions about sperm donation and donor selection process.
INSIDER spoke to Scott Brown, the vice president of communications at California Cryobank (one of the largest frozen-tissue banks in the world), and Kim Kluger-Bell, a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of “The Pea That Was Me,” (a book dedicated to teaching donor-conceived kids about the way they came into the world) to dispel the myths surrounding sperm donation.
Here are 16 myths about sperm donation, debunked.
MYTH: Anybody can donate sperm.
“Less than 1% of the applicants eventually qualify to become donors,” Brown told INSIDER.
A lot of factors go into determining whether someone could be a good candidate for donation. Some of those factors include if the potential donor has any sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), what their family medical history looks like, and what their current state of mind is. Donation centers also look for the presence of recessive traits for genetic mutations, the actual quality of a donor’s sperm, and how close donors are to donation centers.
Qualifications can also vary at different donation centers. For example, at California Cryobank, donors also have to have a college degree or be currently enrolled in college to be considered.
MYTH: Sperm from tall, attractive men is the most desirable.
Although some recipients may be interested in a donor who is good looking, others may place a higher priority on intelligence (donors with an advanced degree are very sought after), and others may simply want a “normal, nice guy.”
Brown said that donors who have light eyes, brown hair and are above 6 feet tend to sell a little faster and better – with height consistently being an important factor in donor selection. But that’s not the perfect donor for everyone. Sperm banks are always looking for a variety of donors because “everyone’s got different criteria they’re looking at.”
Additionally, Brown finds that many opposite-sex couples looking for a donor are just trying to find someone who is as close a match physically to the father. Given the diversity of recipients themselves and their very different needs, there is a demand for a variety of donors.
“People like choice, even if it only takes one donor, people want to have an option of 100 donors or 200 donors, it makes it feel like you’re making a better decision,” said Brown.
MYTH: The process is completely anonymous.
“If you’re looking at choosing a sperm donor you’re gonna know more about that sperm donor than any woman would ever really know about her spouse because we force these guys to really think about things you’d never think about,” said Brown.
When going through the process of becoming a sperm donor, sperm banks ask that you share copious personal information to build up your donor profile and make you more attractive to families.
For example, at some sperm donation centers, donors are asked to submit a current and childhood photo, a voice recording, and other personal information (more on that below) in order to help recipients get a better picture of what a child conceived from their sperm might be like.
MYTH: Donating sperm is easy.
The classic misconception that sperm donation entails simply walking into a clinic and making a donation is nothing more than that – a misconception. “It’s a commitment and the qualification process is strict,” said Brown.
A lot of work and testing goes into making sure that a donor will produce desirable sperm. If you pass all the basic qualifications (height, age range, college education, etc.), then sperm banks require that donors go through a slew of tests. The screening process generally includes a three-generation review of your family medical history, physician evaluations, STD testing (which is repeated every three months), blood draws, expanded genetic testing that looks at 280 different genetic conditions, and a psychological evaluation which includes a personality assessment.
To better assess their creative side, donors are oftentimes asked to do a variety of assignments including essays about themselves and what people think of them and an open-ended art assignment.
Then, there’s the testing of the actual sperm. As donors move through the process, clinics will do repeated specimen quality checks to make sure the sperm count, volume, motility (movement), and morphology (shape) are up to par.
The STD testing, blood draws, physical, and sperm evaluation are routine, meaning you have to come into the lab multiple times and be prepared to be poked and prodded each time.
MYTH: The donation process won’t impact your normal sex life.
Although donating sperm doesn’t mean you then can’t have sex, it does mean that you won’t be as free to do it whenever you please.
“Donors have to abstain from ejaculating for 24 to 48 hours before arrival so if you have a social life, if you have a significant other, are sexually active, etc. you need to sort of plan your personal life around your donation schedule,” Brown told INSIDER.
MYTH: You can just go in once for a quick buck.
As we’ve established, a lot of work goes into becoming a sperm donor, both on the donor’s part and on the part of the clinic, which means once you’ve been accepted as a donor you’ve essentially made a commitment to keep donating for a while.
“It’s not like a one-time thing where you can walk in, make a donation, get a check and walk out the door,” said Brown.
Donors are compensated for their time so they are expected to come in a couple of times a week to make donations (generally for at least a year) in order to maximize their profits and the amount of sperm the clinic is receiving. That being said, the compensation is roughly $100 per donation.
MYTH: Once you donate once, you qualify as a donor forever.
If you’ve cleared all the obstacles and successfully qualified as a donor that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to donate forever. If you become a donor, stop donating for a significant amount of time, and then decide to get back into it, you’ll likely have to go through a battery of tests again in order to re-qualify. After all, things can change – your health can worsen or you can catch an STD and suddenly become ineligible.
MYTH: You won’t ever know if your sample is used.
Generally, clinics won’t routinely tell you if one of your sperm samples has been used and resulted in a pregnancy, but upon request, they may. However, they cannot give you contact information for families who have used your sample or children that may have been born from it.
MYTH: All donated sperm is going to heterosexual couples who are infertile.
Opposite-sex couples do use sperm donors, but a variety of other groups also turn to sperm banks for help conceiving.
According to Brown, with shifting societal norms there has been an uptick in same-sex couples and single women turning to sperm donors to conceive a child.
MYTH: Your information won’t be available to any child conceived using your sperm.
“It’s important that donors are very clear about the fact that they will be helping families to have children and that those children may someday be interested in meeting or at least making contact with them,” said Kluger-Bell. In the past, people were able to donate sperm without running the risk of being personally identified but that is no longer the case for a variety of reasons.
In the US, according to a bill passed in 2011: “A child conceived through assisted reproduction who is at least 18 years old must be provided, upon request, access to medical history information of the donor and, in some cases, access to identifying information of the donor.”
Additionally, with the increasing popularity of genetic testing services and social media, it isn’t necessarily impossible for children to trace their genes back to their sperm donor and then find a way to contact them.
MYTH: Your sperm is only being used in your immediate area.
Although sperm may be collected largely in urban areas, there is still a need for it outside of major cities, so sperm banks will ship it elsewhere. For example, California Cryobank ships sperm samples to every state and also ships internationally to 40 different countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, Israel, and Chile.
MYTH: If you donate sperm you’ll have hundreds of children running around with your DNA.
Sperm banks limit the number of family units (a family unit meaning one family, in whatever form that is) that use your sample to conceive children. For some donation centers, the goal is 25-30 family units worldwide per donor.
The number of kids a family unit has from one donor isn’t typically capped, but the actual average of family units per donor is typically 15 to 18.
MYTH: Donating sperm can be harmful to your health.
There’s no evidence to support the idea that donating sperm can be harmful to your health. Rather, Brown would argue that donating can actually be beneficial for your health, given the repeated medical screening and evaluations that you’re subjected to.
Donors receive physicals, STD testing, genetic testing, and psychological evaluations at no cost. He said potential donors often find they have an STD or genetic mutation they would have otherwise not been tested for.
In addition to giving donors access to extensive medical testing, Brown believes the application process (with its personal essays and art projects) has its own benefits. “The application screening when you’re filling out the evaluation can be really introspective,” he told INSIDER.
MYTH: You can get an STD or genetic disease if you use donated sperm.
Given the extensive measures that sperm clinics take to make sure donors don’t have any STDs or high risks for genetic mutations, it’s very unlikely that these things could be passed down to a recipient or donor-conceived child.
In addition, sperm that is donated is not immediately available for use. According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, it has to be quarantined for six months before it can be used to conceive a child. During this time, donors are tested again and again for STDs and genetic diseases. If during this time a donor tests positive for either of these, the sperm isn’t used.
Although Brown points out that you can never control nature and it has happened that donor-conceived children are born with genetic defects, these cases are quite unlikely.
MYTH: Using a directed donor makes the process easier and cheaper.
Although having a donor who you know takes out the work of sorting through hundreds of donor files, the process can take longer than if you had chosen an anonymous donor. Plus, your directed donor still has to go through extensive testing to make sure they won’t pass down any undesirable traits to offspring.
“If you came in the door today with a directed donor you probably wouldn’t have access to that specimen for six to nine months,” said Brown. This is because of FDA regulations. On the other hand, if you used a donor sample that had already been quarantined and was ready to go, you could use it right away.
Additionally, when you use a directed donor, you could incur all the costs that go into ensuring your specimen is safe to use. That means lab fees, consultation fees, and storage fees all fall on you. By contrast, when you use a sample that the sperm bank has already put through the right processes you’re typically only paying for the actual sample.
A directed donation typically costs around $2500 (depending on how many kids you’re planning to have and how many vials you’ll need) whereas using a sample from an anonymous donor ranges from $850-995.
MYTH: Finding a good donor is easy
According to Kluger-Bell, the process of finding a donor that’s right for your needs is just as difficult, if not more, than the process of donating. A lot of this, she said, is because coming to the decision to use a sperm donation is not always an easy choice.
“Emotionally, it can be a difficult process especially for heterosexual couples who never thought they’d have to give up one partner’s genetic connection to their child,” said Kluger-Bell. “This can be true for single women who want kids also. Most never thought they’d have to use a donor – they often have waited for years to find the right partner and are running out of time. They may need to grieve the loss of the ‘dream’ of having a family with a partner they love.”
Additionally, once the choice is made to conceive with the help of a donor, many clinics require psychological consultations for all recipients to make sure they’ve thought through all the relevant issues and will know how to approach the subject if their children later want to know more about where they came from.
“Choosing a donor takes time and careful thought and can feel overwhelming at first,” said Kluger-Bell.
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