A trip to the bank has never been more exciting.
For lesbian couples looking to start a family, it may be time to start shopping — sperm shopping, that is.
Sperm banks are an excellent resource for lesbian couples. Not only do they offer couples an opportunity to select a donor whose physicality or personality resembles one or both partners, but they thoroughly vet donors to ensure each has a pristine genetic history and high success rate. One study found that 86 percent of women using donor sperm with intrauterine fertilization from sperm banks became pregnant.
But the process of choosing a sperm bank and landing on a donor can feel overwhelmingly high-stakes. You are, after all, selecting your future child’s DNA, and family planning as an LGBT couple can be particularly challenging. To take some of the stress out of what should be an exciting process, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to shopping for sperm.
How Sperm Banks Work
From enforcing height requirements to conducting genetic testing to matching donors with couples that look like them, sperm banks take much of the guesswork out of starting a family and ensure every couple has the highest possible likelihood of a healthy and successful pregnancy. In fact, only five percent of men who apply to be a donor are accepted. There are three technical categorizations for donors:
- ID Disclosure (“ID”): An ID disclosure donor is a sperm donor who has consented to having their identity released to children conceived of his specimens when they reach the age of 21. This donor’s identity can only be released to the child upon request.
- Anonymous (“AD”): An anonymous donor is a sperm donor who has not consented to their identity being released.
- Directed (“Known”): A directed donor is a donor who is known to the recipient of the sperm samples. Typically a friend or a family member, directed donors go through the same screening protocols as ID disclosure and anonymous donors.
Once the bank has found a donor who meets its requirements and has viable sperm, the donor will typically donate twice per week for at least six months. This means it’s possible to have multiple children using the same donor — an option many lesbian couples choose to pursue. Though regulation varies depending on which state you live in, there are generally limits as to how many families can use the same donor’s sperm; usually between 25 and 50.
As you narrow down your list of donors, it’s important to check their inventory levels. Less than 10 vials is considered low inventory, 10-25 vials is considered medium, and more than 25 vials is considered high inventory.
Selecting the Perfect Sperm
Any donor from one of the many reputable sperm banks will have already been screened for genetic diseases, STI’s, physical deficiencies, or other “red flags.” Selecting sperm therefore becomes more about “soft” characteristics like appearance, interests, personality quirks, and job history. Talk with your partner about what you feel is most important; is it education, race, height, artistic ability, or eye color? Decide which characteristics you’re not willing to compromise on, and then go from there, keeping in mind the limitations of genetic predisposition and knowing that your parenting style will ultimately make all the difference in how your child turns out. Thankfully, it’s been argued that queer parents generally raise more successful children.
It’s also important to consider whether or not you need to use a local bank. Most couples can cast a wide net and have sperm shipped to one of their local sperm banks. However, if you have specific storage needs that necessitate using a local bank, keep that in mind when beginning your hunt. It’s also important to ensure that the bank you choose is LGBTQ-friendly and affirming.
For a comprehensive list of lesbian-friendly sperm banks, click here.
Choosing a Method
The acronyms ICI, IUI, and IVF represent the main methods of lesbian insemination.
ICI, or IntraCervical Insemination, is the process by which unwashed sperm — that is, sperm that is still mixed with seminal fluid — is inserted directly into the cervix. This procedure can be done at home or in a doctor’s office, and is typically the easiest and cheapest method of insemination. It also most closely replicates “natural” conception, where the chances of pregnancy are about 25 percent per cycle, depending on the woman’s fertility and quality of the sperm. Because ICI sperm is unwashed, performing ICI at home tends to carry a much higher risk of infection.
IUI, or IntraUterine Insemination, is the process by which pre-washed sperm is inserted directly into the uterus, giving it a better chance of reaching the fallopian tubes. This procedure can be done at home or in a clinic. IUI-prepped vials of sperm from sperm banks are typically more expensive.
IVF, or In Vitro Fertilization, is the process by which a woman’s egg is fertilized outside the womb and then inserted into the uterus — a procedure that can be quite costly and is more invasive than artificial insemination. Typically, lesbians use IVF when other methods of conception have not worked, or there is a fertility problem that makes ICI or IUI ineffective.
How Much Does Sperm Cost?
In general, donor sperm costs anywhere from $400-$700 per vial. Known or directed donor sperm costs roughly $400-$600 per vial for ICI, $500-$700 per vial for IUI, and $400-600 per vial for IVF. Anonymous or ID donor sperm is similarly priced with the potential to be slightly cheaper. Couples should be prepared to purchase more than one vial in the likely event that they do not get pregnant on the first try or are considering another pregnancy down the road. Sperm bank storage can cost around $200 for 6 months and up to $2,500 for 10 years.
Finding the Right Doctor
Unfortunately, many insurance providers do not cover ICI, IUI, or IVF for lesbian couples. That’s why at Lighthouse, our goal is to make it easy to find an affirming, affordable provider who will be open and honest about what they can and can’t accommodate within your coverage plan, and we work with many lesbian-friendly and lesbian doctors to help you find the right match for your needs. Many organizations also provide financial resources for couples who may not be able to afford fertility treatment. For example, Gay Parents To Be offers a number of different plans to help accommodate the unique financial circumstances of lesbian couples in the Tri State area, and Nest Egg Foundation offers IVF grants specifically for same-sex couples. Many other grants welcome applicants of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
As you embark on the process of starting a family, the most important thing is that both you and your partner feel safe, informed, and comfortable. Click here to find a knowledgeable, lesbian-affirming doctor today.