Selecting Sperm Banks and Unknown Donors

Filed under: Parenting

Selecting A Sperm Bank

Resolve: The National Infertility Association recommends the following questions when choosing a sperm bank:

  • Do you keep a medical history on the donor?
  • How long do you keep these records?
  • Do you offer a service where adult children conceived through donor insemination can have access to the donor's medical records if necessary?
  • How much non-identifying information about the donor do you provide to the consumer?
  • Do you keep track of the number of pregnancies achieved per donor?
  • Do you require the donor to stay in your program for a specific time or provide a minimum number of donations in a six-month period?
  • What are the costs to store pre-purchased, reserved specimens?
  • Can I purchase and store sperm so that I can use the same donor for a second child?
  • If the specimen received is inadequate (poor motility, abnormal morphology or low count), what is the sperm bank's responsibility?
  • Does your information on each donor include:
    • Religious background
    • Ethnic/cultural background
    • Educational background
    • Physical characteristics
  • Do you screen for:
    • Sickle Cell Anemia
    • Hepatitis B
    • Hepatitis C
    • HIV (AIDS)
    • Cytomegalovirus
    • Chlamydia
    • Mycoplasma hominis
    • Syphilis
    • Tay-Sachs
    • Genital warts
    • Gonorrhea
  • How often are the screening tests repeated?
  • Do you check the donor's blood type?
  • Do you test the donor for HIV?
  • Do you use a donor's sperm before he tests negative for HIV/AIDS?
  • Do you follow the recommendation of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) for holding specimens for 180 days before retesting for HIV and only then using the specimen?
  • Do you do genetic testing on donors?
  • What is the minimum age of your donors?

Selecting An Unknown Donor

This process typically involves three steps:

  • Review the "catalog" of donors;
  • Request the "short profile" on donors that interest you;
  • Order a "long profile" on donors that seriously interest you. Some banks also provide additional background, through audiotaped interviews with the donor, photo-matching services and interviews with staff.

The "Catalog"

The first step in choosing a donor is to review the sperm bank's catalog of donors. Many banks have these catalogs on the web. Others require that you call and request one. All provide basically the same general information about their donors, including:

  • Race/ethnicity  (Irish, Cuban, Japanese, etc.)
  • Skin: (dark, medium, fair, freckles, etc.)
  • Hair: (black, curly and thick; straight blond, etc.)
  • Eye color
  • Height
  • Weight
  • Blood type

How do you choose? Lesbian couples often begin by trying to match the donor's characteristics with the nonbiological mother's so that the child will resemble both of them.

The "Short Profile"

After you identify those donors whose basic physical characteristics interest you, the next step is to gather more information by requesting what banks often call the short form of their donor profile. This information, which some banks also provide on the web, includes information such as:

  • Date of birth
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Body type and physical characteristics, such as dimples, etc.
  •  Religion
  • Family medical history
  • Medical test results conducted in the sperm bank
  • And the donor's answers to questions about his:
    • Skills (math, mechanical, athletic, artistic)
    • Languages spoken
    • Hobbies and talents
    • Personality
    • Goals and ambitions in life
    • Reasons for wanting to be a sperm donor
    • Message to those receiving his donation

The "Long Profile" and Comprehensive Medical History

After examining a short profile, you should have a reasonable idea of which donor interests you on more than a physical level. Then it's time to ask for a long profile, for which banks will usually charge you a moderate fee. This profile includes a comprehensive medical history and other important facts about the donor and his family, including:

  • Details about the donor's diet, exercise, medications, average alcohol consumption, smoking history and so on;
  • The physical characteristics, education, occupation, skills and personality of the donor, his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents; and
  • Detailed information about any medical problems the donor and his extended family members have faced.
  • For example, the California Cryobank Inc. provides a medical history over three generations about the following topics:
  • Cardiovascular conditions, such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, etc.
  • Blood conditions, such as anemia, leukemia, etc.
  • Respiratory conditions, such as asthma, pneumonia, lung cancer, etc.
  • Skin conditions, such as acne, skin cancer, etc.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcers, colon cancer, hepatitis, etc.
  • Urinary conditions, such as kidney disease, bladder disease, etc.
  • Genital/reproductive conditions, such as breast or ovarian cancer, etc.
  • Metabolic/endocrine conditions, such as diabetes, thyroid disease, etc.
  • Neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, learning disorders, etc.
  • Mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, severe depression, etc.
  • Muscle/bone/joint conditions, such as muscular dystrophy, osteoporosis, etc.
  • Sight/sound/smell disorders, such as significant hearing loss, glaucoma, etc.
  • Other conditions, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, etc.

Photo Matching, Audiotapes, Interviews with Staff

In addition to their extensive profiles, some sperm banks also offer these special services to help you choose a donor who is right for you:

Photo Matching

Many couples who choose donor insemination wish to have a child who resembles both parents. As a result, many try to find a donor who resembles the non-biological mother. Some do this by simply choosing a donor with a similar ethnic background. Others go one step further and search for a donor who actually looks like her.


Some banks  offer audiotaped interviews with the donor, which allow you to make your own observations about his personality, intelligence and affability.

Interviews with Staff

Another option is getting through to the staff biologist or donor interviews to delve deeper.