How Do I Buy Sperm?

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My colleagues and I occasionally field questions from patients about purchasing a sperm sample. This is an interesting topic and my colleague at Pacific Fertility Center, Joe Conaghan, PhD, High-complexity Clinical Laboratory Director (HCLD) has been kind enough to share his expertise on this issue.

At our clinic, Pacific Fertility Center (PFC), when it comes to finding a sperm bank and choosing a donor, you will have plenty of options. Typically, individuals have very specific ideas about the physical, intellectual and sporting abilities they would like in a donor and the sperm banks do a very good job of providing a wide variety of donors. They also ensure that the donors are healthy, disease free and have good quality sperm, though some banks have better quality sperm samples than others. All of this information will be made available to you, ensuring an informed choice.

Unfortunately, we do not see patients making donor choices based primarily on sperm quality. From a medical standpoint this is an important factor. You would be wise to choose a donor with high numbers of sperm with good motility. Motility tells you how many of the sperm are alive. Unfortunately human sperm samples contain a lot of dead sperm and freezing those samples will kill even more sperm. After thawing, most sperm banks will guarantee that at least 35-40% of the sperm will be alive, but it’s worth taking the trouble to find samples that will thaw with motility of 50% or more. To calculate the total number of live sperm that you are buying, multiply the sperm count by the motility. We expect this number to be at least 20 million sperm, but the more the better. This is especially important when choosing donor sperm for intrauterine insemination (IUI) as sperm are quickly attacked and killed by white blood cells (the foot soldiers of the immune system) when placed inside a woman’s body. So the more live sperm we have, the greater the chance that one will make it to fertilize the egg.

Once you have chosen your donor, and are satisfied that he has great sperm, your final decision will be whether to buy the sperm processed or unprocessed. If a fresh sperm sample is frozen without being processed, it will be cheaper for you to buy, and easy for you to take home to do your own vaginal insemination. This type of sample is usually referred to as Intra Cervical Insemination (ICI) prepared, and it is essentially neat semen to which they have added cryoprotectant. Sperm banks will also offer IUI prepared sperm at a higher price. This refers to specimens that have the dead sperm and seminal fluid removed before freezing. You would typically only buy this type of sperm if you were having your Physician perform your insemination. Your Physician will place the sperm directly into your uterus and thus closer to the site of fertilization. It is important to understand that ICI prepared sperm cannot be placed in the uterus as the seminal fluid may cause contractions that could be painful and also counterproductive to the sperm trying to swim up to reach an egg.

When buying donor sperm for an In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) cycle, we suggest buying ICI prepared sperm. It is less expensive and our laboratory will have to process the sample regardless if it is ICI or IUI prepared sperm for use in IVF.

If a sperm sample thaws with less live sperm than guaranteed by the bank, (an event that we occasionally see) we will give you a report that you can take to the sperm bank for a refund. Their liability however, is limited to the amount you paid for the sample. We therefore recommend that you buy more than one vial of sperm at a time, and suggest that you buy sperm that was frozen on different dates. This will minimize the chance that you will end up with sub-optimal sperm on the day of your insemination. Couples undergoing IVF with donor sperm should always have a minimum of 2 vials on hand for their cycle, even though we usually only need one.

If you have sperm left over after your cycle, you cannot return it to the sperm bank for a refund. You can continue to store it at PFC and you will be billed annually for the cost of storage (currently $400 regardless of how many vials you have stored). The sperm banks will also store the sperm for about the same storage fee, or you can ask for it to be discarded if you no longer need it. Bear in mind however, that the same donor may not be available the next time you want to get pregnant. If you are hoping to have two or more children that will be true genetic siblings, you may want to stockpile some sperm from your favorite donor.
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About the Author

Dr. Herbert is a fertility expert and an innovator in the field.

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