The Sobering Truth about Sperm Donation

sperm donor

Understanding the sperm donor industry as a whole

As part of your fertility planning, you may consider sperm donation.  Before you do, we suggest you consider the following:

When choosing a sperm donor, it’s important to understand the fertility industry as a whole. Currently in the U.S., the billion-dollar gamete business is entirely unregulated.  For good reason, it’s often called the “Wild, Wild West of Fertility!”

What does this lack of regulation look like in practice?  When a cryobank (which stores sperm) solicits sperm donors, the contract they sign with the donor usually includes a promise of limiting the number of family units that can be created with his sperm.  (Note the contradiction: while sperm donors are almost always paid, the definition of “donor” is someone who gives something without being compensated.)   A family unit is a single mother or couple who might have many children using the same sperm donor.

The industry also keeps the identity of the sperm donor concealed entirely unless the sperm donor has consented to release his identity when the child(ren) reaches the age of 18. The majority of sperm donors within the typical cryobank’s databases are anonymous sperm donors.  “Known Donor” sperm is marked up in price considerably.

These arrangements may seem fine at first glance but as one looks further, the problems become apparent.

Taking a closer look

Once the sperm donor provides his sperm to the cryobank(s), he has no say in who will end up with his sperm. The cryobank is not legally obligated to confirm or qualify the recipient financially, psychologically, or otherwise. Additionally, the recipient of the sperm does not have to report back to the cryobank any births, birth defects or miscarriages that result from conception with the donor’s sperm.  In theory, the recipient in some states could order the sperm delivered to his or her home and then pass the sperm onto a friend, neighbor or stranger with no accountability.

Commercialized sperm encourages the commodification of children and life

While the cryobank(s) promise a specified maximum numbers of family units can be created, they will continue to sell donor sperm beyond that maximum in response to demand. In some recent cases, sperm donors have discovered their sperm was used to create hundreds of children.  As a result of industry recklessness, donor-conceived people are now meeting without knowing they are actually half siblings.

The unregulated industry of commercialized sperm donation encourages the commodification of children and life.   At the same time, donor anonymity often proves to be painful for donor-conceived children.  As a result, donor anonymity has been outlawed in a large number of countries, including: Canada, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Britain, Switzerland, Australia,  and New Zealand.  These countries only allow non-anonymous sperm donation, generally based on the principle that every child has a right to know of his/her biological origins.

Everyone has a right to know their origins

“the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), an advisory and advocacy group for the American fertility industry, says it will strongly oppose any move to ban anonymous donations”

Not all family units have the option to use the same donor

There are many circumstances where a family unit wants to expand using the same sperm donor they used for their first child –  only to find the sperm donor has “retired” or that his specimens are no longer available. This proves challenging for some families as they are confronted with having to use a different sperm donor.  For families that want the closest biological relationship between their children, a difficult decision must be made whether to move forward to conceive children with different sperm donors.

Some may never know their origins

As demand for the use of known sperm donors rises and more and more donor conceived children reach adulthood wanting to know where they came from, cryobanks have responded by agreeing to act as mediators between children and donors. They will reach out to the sperm donor if they can find him to deliver the child(ren)’s request for contact.  This is often not successful; when decades have passed since the original donation, contact information may have lapsed.   When contact is made, the anonymous donor may deny the request.  Worse still, some sperm donors may die before their biological children begin their search.  In these instances, your child may never know his or her biological origins.

Despite the overwhelming number of reasons to follow other nations in moving to a known donor system,  the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), an advisory and advocacy group for the American fertility industry, says it will strongly oppose any move to ban anonymous donations.  There is little prospect that an exclusively known donor system will be implemented in the U.S. soon.

The bottom line: there are many benefits in choosing a known sperm donor versus an anonymous sperm donor and we invite you to consider choosing a known sperm donor.  A good fertility coach can explain these issues in more detail and help you arrive at an informed decision that’s best for you.

Several books have been written on the subject. Please feel free to mosey on over to our “Featured Books” page for a list.

For more information on sperm donation, visit