Are you trying to find a sperm donor in the UK? Donor sperm is a popular option for many same-sex couples wanting to build a family. However, it’s also becoming more common amongst heterosexual couples who are struggling with infertility.
In some cases, it’s possible to improve your sperm health and chances of conceiving naturally. However, some couples reach a point in their fertility journey where they realise this is no longer an option. If you have azoospermia (a condition where you have no sperm in your semen) or other conditions where your sperm is unable to fertilise an egg at all, donor sperm can be an incredible way to become a parent.
Whilst the concept of using donor sperm can feel tough at first, there are many couples taking this road to parenthood – and building happy, loving families in the process. It’s important to remember that genetics are only a part of the parenting equation – and having a child through donor sperm does not diminish your role as a father at all. If you’re starting to consider this option – here’s our handy guide to finding donor sperm in the UK.
Donor sperm – key terms
First, let’s cover off a few key terms that you’re likely to hear when looking into donor sperm.
Back in the day, sperm banks would receive sperm from anonymous donors who had no intention of being known to the intended family or any children conceived. However, in 2005 the law changed and it is now illegal to purchase anonymous donor sperm in the UK.
Open donors – also known as ‘open door’ donors – are the kind of sperm donors you will find through UK sperm banks. Any child conceived using donor sperm from an open donor has the right to find out identifiable information about the donor once they turn 18 – which may mean that they can decide to trace the donor later in life.
This is a sperm donor that you make a private arrangement with and who is happy to share their identity with you. They may be a private donor you found on the internet, but it could also be a family member or friend.
This is sperm that has gone through a process where it is separated from the semen. Through this process, fertility experts are also able to remove dead or slow-moving sperm that can reduce chances of conception. Washed sperm is used during IUI procedures as the proteins in semen can cause side effects in women if inserted directly into the womb. That’s why washed sperm is also known as ‘IUI-ready’.
Unwashed sperm has not been through the same ‘washing’ process – so it is basically a natural semen sample. This type of sperm is used for home insemination (aka ICI) as the body will treat the semen naturally – as it would during sex. This is why unwashed sperm is also known as ‘ICI-ready’.
Treatments such as IVF and ICSI can use either washed or unwashed vials – your clinic may prefer you buy ICI-ready sperm and they do the washing themselves in their own labs – or they may be happy for you to purchase pre-washed sperm. Chat to your clinician and see what they suggest!
Finding your sperm donor
Once you have made the decision to use a sperm donor, you have a few questions you need to ask yourself that can help you find the right sperm for you!
What kind of fertility treatment are you planning to have with the sperm?
This might dictate what kind of sperm vial you need, for example, if you are having IUI, you will need to have washed sperm.
What is your timeline like?
Some methods of finding donor sperm can take longer than others.
Do you want to have more than one child?
And do you want siblings to be genetically linked? If so, you need to ensure any donor you choose has enough sperm available for future treatments.
Do you need to think about your finances?
Prices for sperm and treatment can vary between clinics and sperm banks and you will also have to pay for storage.
What are the key characteristics you want your child to have?
Of course, your priority is to have a happy, healthy baby – but if you have donor deal-breakers such as religion, ethnicity or even hair and eye colour – that’s ok.
After you’ve spent time considering what kind of sperm and donor you are looking for – there are three key ways to get your hands on your donor sperm!
Finding a sperm donor through a UK fertility clinic
Most licensed fertility clinics have access to donor sperm. Many will buy vials of sperm from a registered sperm bank and some even recruit the donors themselves, so they have their own stock ‘in house’. If you are already working with a fertility clinic and are planning to use the sperm for assisted fertility treatments like IVF, IUI or ICSI, this can be a great way to get your donor sperm. It can give you some extra reassurance that the sperm you’re using is of good quality and can make the whole process run smoothly.
Some things to be aware of – there can be long waiting lists for donor sperm and the price of both the sperm and the treatment can vary from clinic to clinic. If you know that donor sperm is going to be part of your fertility journey, it may be best to check things like waiting list time and price of sperm before choosing your fertility clinic. If you want to have your fertility treatment on the NHS, also remember that you will need a referral from your GP. You can find out more about getting funding for your treatment here.
Finding sperm directly from a sperm bank
If you want to go directly to a sperm bank yourself, you have that option too! There are many sperm banks in the UK that cater for a range of needs and budgets.
Going directly to a sperm bank can give you a bit more control when it comes to choosing your donor. You will be able to go through all the donors they have on file and really look into the traits and characteristics, so you can pick a donor that’s right for you.
However, there are a few things you need to be aware of before going down this route. Many registered donor banks will only sell sperm to licensed clinics – meaning they may not be able to sell directly to you if you want to go for at-home insemination.
Sperm banks also have partnerships with specific clinics – so you need to make sure that the clinic you are using is matched with the sperm bank you are purchasing from – otherwise you could find the perfect donor but be unable to purchase the sperm for your fertility treatment – which can be disappointing and really slow the whole process down.
These considerations apply where you are considering buying sperm from a UK based sperm bank, or one from another country. Clinics not only have to have partnerships in place with the sperm bank, but they also need to have the infrastructure in place to import the sperm – and this could come with additional fees too.
Finding a private sperm donor in the UK
If you want to speed the process up and avoid waiting lists, there is another option – private sperm donors – and there are a couple of ways you can do this.
Firstly you could use a donor that you already know – a friend or family member. This can be a good process if you want your child to have a genetic link to you or your partner and also like the idea of your child knowing who their biological father is – and even being involved in their life as they grow up.
As both of these pathways are private arrangements, you can negotiate and discuss the method of conception and the level of involvement that suits you best. You will also have the opportunity to ask as many questions as you like about their background and lifestyle and will also have the chance to get to know their personality – if you don’t know them already. You can use private donor sperm at your fertility clinic, or at home – if you are going down the insemination route.
Risks of private donors in the UK
However, there are some risks with private sperm donors. It is illegal to pay a sperm donor in the UK, so whilst you can pay for general expenses, there will be no legal contract tying them into the agreement. This means that there is a chance the donor could change their mind at the last minute, which could set your fertility journey back considerably. Likewise, it can also make the question of ‘who is the legal father’?’ a bit more complicated.
Another thing to be aware of is that sperm purchased through a licensed sperm bank or fertility clinic will have been through necessary checks for infectious diseases including STDs, genetic disorders or chromosomal abnormalities and also genetic matching. That will not be the case with sperm purchased privately, so you must make sure that you double-check all of this vital information yourself – don’t be afraid to ask for proof!
Using a sperm donor can be a transformative experience for would-be parents – but like many areas of fertility – it can feel a little overwhelming. We hope this guide has given you some clarity on the basics of choosing a sperm donor, but we would always recommend speaking to your fertility experts and your clinic for advice on your specific situation.