Sperm donation – separating fact from fiction

With more and more Australians turning to assisted reproductive treatments (ART) like IVF to help them have a baby, donor sperm is in increasingly high demand. It’s no secret that Australia’s sperm banks have had a hard time keeping up, leading to lengthy wait-lists and/or a reliance on imported sperm.  

Wanted: a few good men!

As a growing number of single women make the decision to embark on solo parenting, lesbian couples embrace techniques like artificial insemination and IVF to help them have a family, and fertility issues become more common for heterosexual couples who meet and marry later in life, there’s never been a more appropriate time for Australian men to donate their sperm.

However, despite a clear need for more donor sperm, there’s still a lot of myths around sperm donation, and understandably, men are often hesitant to put themselves forward. Here, we explore the truth behind the most common misconceptions to help overcome some of the fears men may have about becoming a donor.

“Gay men can’t donate sperm.”

A gay man can donate sperm just like any other healthy male. In Australia, sexual orientation plays no part in deciding whether or not you can become a sperm donor (admittedly, this is a clear contrast to the policies of some international sperm banks). Unfortunately, because men who have sex with men are prevented from donating blood – due to a perceived increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases – some people assume that gay men can’t donate sperm either. However, that’s simply not the case and here in Australia, gay men have actually been credited for increasing the availability of donor sperm.

The fact is, all sperm donors – no matter their sexual orientation – are screened for infectious diseases before their sperm is cleared for use. This includes blood tests at the time of donation and again at 3 months. Sperm is only made available to potential recipients after both sets of blood tests have been given the all clear (this is why donor sperm is not used straightaway but quarantined for 3 months).  Simply put, sexual orientation doesn’t form part of the eligibility criteria for sperm donors and is irrelevant to your ability to donate. Whether you’re gay, bi or straight, your intent is exactly the same – to give in order to help others in need.

“My sperm could be used to make hundreds of children.”

You may have come across news stories about men abroad who have fathered many, many children through sperm donation (some well into the double figures!). However, Australian law simply does not permit this. In Victoria, sperm from a single donor is only allowed to be used by a maximum of 10 different patients or ‘families’. This effectively limits the number of potential children that can be conceived by any one donor.

On the other hand, there is no limit to the number of children that can be born from the same sperm donor within each of these families. This gives families the opportunity to bear siblings who are genetically related. So if a recipient has success with your sperm, they may choose to use your sperm again in the future when trying for baby #2 or 3 in order to give their child a biologically-related brother or sister.

But it’s also important to realise that your sperm may never be used or may only be used once or twice. If it is used, there is also no guarantee that the process of assisted conception (e.g. IVF or IUI) will be successful for the recipient, i.e. a child may not result every time your sperm is used. Further, the semen we collect from you may also not ‘stretch’ to ten different families. This, along with unsuccessful IVF attempts, is why we like donors to provide a few sperm samples over time.

“If you donate sperm, you’ll have children showing up on your doorstep for years to come.”

The Victorian government was one of the first to query the ethical implications of the secrecy surrounding sperm donorship. As such, current legislation states that a donor-conceived person can request identifying information about their donor once they turn 18. This loss of guaranteed anonymity is one of the main reasons why the number of sperm donors has dropped over recent decades. However, although a donor-conceived child has the option of getting in touch with you once they are an adult, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will do so. Some children may not know they are donor-conceived while others will simply have no inclination to reach out.

If a child conceived from your sperm does choose to get in contact with you, you still have no legal, financial or parental responsibilities to that child. However, you may find that you are happy to build and maintain a relationship with them. In this case, you can discuss and agree together the extent of any future contact, in line with what you both feel comfortable with.

“If you’re a sperm donor, you’re a father of all the children who are born.”

When you donate your sperm, it provides the biological means to create a baby only. Men who donate sperm anonymously through a registered sperm bank are not legally or financially responsible for any child born from their sperm. Sperm donor recipients (i.e. the mum and dad to be) must also receive counselling to ensure mutual understanding of your rights as a donor. Put simply, you are just the sperm donor, not the Dad. And we make sure that everyone involved knows that they do not have the right to ask or expect you to be anything more than that.

“Only good-looking men’s sperm will be used”

Don’t think your sperm will be wanted? Think again! The reality is that recipients often have their own ideas of the ‘dream’ sperm donor. And this could be you! When it comes to donor selection, your physical attributes (e.g. blue eyes, brown hair, height) are listed but photos are never provided. More often than not, recipients will choose a donor based on other information provided, including your age, medical history, hobbies/interests, ethnic background, and reason for donating. For example, we know one woman who chose her donor based on the fact that he (like herself) had a penchant for trivia, a trait she hoped would be passed on to her future child!

The fact is, the most important attribute of any sperm bank is variety, thereby enabling choice. That’s why we welcome donors from a wide range of nationalities, cultures, professions, and stages and ages of life. This ensures that women and couples have the opportunity to choose a donor that aligns with their personal preferences, particularly if bearing a child with a clear physical resemblance or from a certain ethnic background (e.g. Asian, Anglosaxon) is important to them.

Donate life, change lives with Newlife IVF

Newlife IVF loves hearing from new sperm donors – single men, fathers, gay individuals or couples. Come one, come all! If you have been thinking about becoming a donor but haven’t yet taken the next step, please call us on (03) 8080 8933 or email [email protected] so we can give you all the facts and get your swimmers to those who need it sooner rather than later!

Further reading