Who uses it? Who donates it? And what’s involved? Here is everything you wanted to know about this unique (and increasingly common) way of starting a family.
At a glance
• Sperm donation refers to the use of sperm that has been donated to assist an individual or couple in becoming parents
• Donors may be de-identified or known, and the rules vary depending on which state you live in
• A vigorous physical and psychological screening process is required for both donor and recipient
When you think about sperm donation, you wouldn’t be alone if what springs to mind is what we see in the movies, namely – a man rocking up to a clinic with a dirty magazine and a plastic cup. However, Melbourne-based fertility specialist Dr Melissa Cameron emphasises that becoming a sperm donor isn’t quite that straightforward.
“It’s a complex process that involves undergoing medical checks and counselling sessions,” she explains. “It’s not as simple as what you see in the movies.”
So, what’s involved for donors?
When volunteering to donate sperm in Australia, donors can expect the following:
• A thorough examination of their medical history
• A semen analysis and screening of their blood for genetic problems and infectious diseases
• Five to 10 sperm collection appointments
• Quarantining of samples for three to six months – followed by repeat infectious disease testing – before being cleared for use
Who uses the donated sperm?
There are a range of people who require sperm donation, from single women to same-sex couples and heterosexual candidates struggling to conceive on their own. These days, the demand for sperm donors is higher than ever. Dr Cameron says it’s mostly single women and those in same-sex relationships expressing interest in utilising donor sperm.
“There are some heterosexual couples who for one reason or another need donor sperm,” she adds. “It may be that the man doesn’t have any, there are significant abnormalities with his sperm or even a disease he could pass on.”
With many people considering using donated sperm from family or friends, it’s tempting to go down the DIY route, and deal with the issue at home. Dr Cameron says that’s a bad idea, largely due to the infectious disease risk – and that you’re far safer going through a clinic. “We test for sexually transmitted infections and quarantine the sperm,” she explains. The mandatory counselling sessions and guided discussions also offer a major benefit.
Will I be in contact with the donor/recipient/offspring?
Victoria, NSW and WA have dropped the veil of donor anonymity – a legislative change introduced due to the distress expressed by donor program offspring about the lack of accessible information on their biological ancestry. If conception is successful, donors remain anonymous until the child turns 18 at which age they’re able to access a host of identifying details and potentially meet the donor. In some circumstances, this can occur at an earlier age.
“There are a lot of difficult questions that need asking when you know the donor as you are potentially entering into a lifelong relationship where you will have contact with the offspring,” explains Cameron. “Our counsellors help facilitate those discussions.”
But these conversations aren’t just reserved for known donors. Whether you’re using a friend or a de-identified volunteer, there are many ethical considerations to talk through pre-procedure – all topics covered in your counselling sessions that should be covered if you go through a reputable clinic.
Expect to talk through the following:
• How and when to chat to your kids about their genetic origin
• How to manage the response from family and friends
• Your expectations of the donor’s role in the future
It’s essential to have a clear understanding of both the physical and emotional requirements of the process before you commit to the program. Discussing your thoughts with a trusted fertility specialist is a good first step.