Baby-Making: Factors to Consider When Choosing a Sperm Donor

Families come in many unique ways now and there are several factors to weigh when choosing a sperm bank, including whether donors are open to future contact—a consideration important to donor-conceived children, according to research.

During the lockdown, many of us had time to get around to projects that we’d put off, to binge watch television series we’d normally take a hard pass on, and to browse online for sweet deals.

One of the shopping items that I had been checking out was sperm (oddly, not available on Amazon).

There’s so much free sperm available in the world, why would one bother purchasing it, you ask?

Good question. You could easily sit on the wrong stool in a nightclub and accidentally wind up pregnant (okay, not for real).

Yet, families come in so many ways now.

Thanks to fertility clinics and sperm banks, all couples can now conceive, as well as single people. 

For those in need of an XY chromosome to conceive, sperm banks are your one-stop shop.

The trick is choosing a donor to match your exact specifications, and there are an overwhelming number of options!

An Important Search

With such a significant purchase, where to begin?

Unfortunately, there are no customer reviews on each sperm donor’s page or Yelp ratings.

You don’t get a headshot of the donor right off the bat to help you make your decision–just a basic description with perhaps comments from the staff like, “We all agree that this gentleman looks like Owen Wilson.”

Well, that is a helpful visual.

Not a Minor Investment

So, picking a sperm donor is not exactly low-pressure.

There is a strict no return policy.

And once you successfully use the product, there are definitely no take-backs. It’s sort of like Married at First Sight, minus the divorce option.

Also, as a single person, it’d certainly be nice to have the child bear some passing resemblance to me.

Otherwise, there’s having to explain to strangers who the wee one looks like. Who hasn’t had this conversation with inquiring minds before?:

No, he/she doesn’t look like his/her father.

I actually don’t know the fellow. No, it was not a drunken Tinder date.

Never met him in person. Yes, it was an immaculate conception.

In all seriousness, you don’t want to pick any ol’ option. Extensive research is key.

Factors to Consider

For newcomers, Wendy Kramer’s article, Choosing a Sperm Bank,” is a great place to start.

She makes a number of interesting points:

#1: Sperm banks limit the number of children conceived per donor, but birth rate reporting is generally low.

This means that one donor could conceive 100+ children.

#2: With few regulations and little oversight, banks can make any claims they’d like.

These companies can list practices they don’t actually follow, promise genetic and medical testing they don’t undertake, and obtain faulty test results.

#3: Check user experiences with banks on the Donor Sibling Registry website before making your selection.

Related to the previous point, user input and feedback can highlight important information that marketing materials lack or distort.

#4: Consider open donors.

Sperm donors are anonymous, and most banks do notify a donor when a child turns 18 years old. However, there isn’t often the opportunity for families to discover more about the donor or to contact them, which we’ll come back to.

#5: Check your short-list of sperm donors in the Donor Sibling Registry to learn about any possible medical conditions or health issues users have encountered.

Participating sperm banks include their donors in the Donor Sibling Registry database, allowing users to connect with other families who’ve conceived using the same donor to learn about any health issues and more.

An Extended Family

In terms of sperm banks that have attempted to address these items, The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC) comes highly recommended:

  • In the US, it is the only non-profit sperm bank
  • TSBC provides a diverse list of donors and limits 10 families per donor with well tracked data
  • Importantly, the organization created the “open-identity program” to provide information about donors to families
  • TSBC maintains a contact list for families who have used the same donor to connect and meet if they’d like
  • The organization specializes in serving diverse families and communities

These are important factors, but especially giving donor-conceived children the ability to learn about and to contact their donor if they so wish after reaching the age of 18.

It’s not that the donor will become part of your family or that your child is seeking a new parent.

TSBC’s research has found that children are curious about their donor and their appearance, and want to learn more about them in order to better understand themselves and their own identity.

This is equally true for connecting with half siblings.

If you use a sperm bank other than TSBC, the Donor Sibling Registry can also make these connections.

Finally, TSBC and the Donor Sibling Registry offer great resources and research for families from how to tell your children about their origin, to learning that you are a donor-conceived child, to sharing with your parents your desire to make contact with your donor.

Family Matters

Ultimately, couples and single individuals have excellent support and resources to create a family today.

In terms of selecting a sperm bank, there are several known and unknown factors to consider, such as whether your child has the option to learn more about their donor when they are older.

The Donor Sibling Registry has researched the needs and issues of donor-conceived individuals, who advise against using anonymous donors.

We all want to know where we come from and to discover the genetics and ancestry that make us who we are.

TSBC and the Donor Sibling Registry provide this opportunity, along with the rare chance to expand our family through sibling bonds.

Reading over both organizations’ well-researched materials certainly opened my mind.

~Jennifer


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