Using a sperm donor: what you need to know

Around 1,300 babies are born each year in the UK from donated sperm. Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking about starting a family with the help of a sperm donor.

Donor sperm can be used to help couples and individuals become parents, regardless of whether you are heterosexual, lesbian, gay, single, married, divorced or co-habiting.

But making the decision to use donated sperm can be difficult and there are many issues to consider.

How to find donor sperm

There are three main routes:

  • You can use sperm from an anonymous donor by going to a fertility clinic. These clinics have their own stock of frozen donated sperm, or they buy it in from a sperm bank.
  • You can use a donor you already know, say a friend or a donor you have met through an introduction website. You and the donor can together go to a fertility clinic, or you can have a private arrangement whereby the donor provides a fresh sperm sample directly to you, often in your home. 
  • You can go abroad for treatment with donor sperm.

How to use donor sperm

Donor sperm is usually used to help a woman become pregnant via donor insemination. It’s a straightforward procedure where a fine tube or syringe with the donor sperm inside is inserted into the vagina, cervix or uterus during the woman’s fertile time of the month. It can also be used as part of IVF if necessary.

Read more about artificial insemination.

Read more about IVF.

Going to a fertility clinic

There is a network of fertility clinics, both NHS and private, across the UK, which are licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Association (HFEA).

Fertility clinic sperm checks

HFEA-licensed clinics and sperm banks have to conform to strict regulations to ensure the donor sperm they supply is free from infections, such as chlamydia and HIV, and certain genetic disorders. They also have support and legal advice on hand.

If you use a licensed clinic, you won’t know the identity of the sperm donor but you will be able to find out information such as his ethnic group, personal characteristics and so on. Your child will also be able to access this non-identifying information about the donor when they reach 16.

In addition, your child will be able to get information the donor provided (name, last-known address and so on) when they reach 18 years old. This applies if the treatment took place after April 1 2005. Before then, sperm donors were anonymous.

Read the HFEA's information on how grown-up children can get information on their sperm donor.

Fertility clinics, donor sperm and your legal rights

If you use donated sperm from a licensed clinic, you can be reassured that the donor will not:

  • be the legal parent of your child
  • have any legal obligation to the child
  • be named on the birth certificate
  • have any rights over how the child will be brought up
  • be required to support the child financially

You will have parental responsibility and, if you are married or in a civil partnership, your spouse will automatically be the child’s second legal parent (unless it can be shown that he or she did not consent to treatment).

If you are in a relationship, your partner will be the second legal parent if you both sign the relevant consent form available from your clinic.

Finding a fertility clinic

The waiting lists for donor sperm vary from clinic to clinic, so check waiting times with a number of them before choosing where to have your treatment.

If you're hoping to have fertility treatment on the NHS you will need a referral from your GP. To get a referral you’ll need to meet certain criteria. Ask your GP for further information about this.

Use the HFEA’s choose a fertility clinic search function to locate a fertility clinic near you.

Sperm donation by private arrangement

Using donor sperm from someone you already know, or who you have met via an introduction agency with a private arrangement, can be good for some people (for instance if you want ongoing contact with the donor during the child’s life) but it’s unregulated and potentially risky.

You won’t have the legal and medical protections that a licensed clinic can give you and you can’t be sure the donor has been screened and checked. You may, therefore, decide to go to the clinic together so that you have the necessary legal and medical protections.

If not, and you decide to go through with a private arrangement outside of a fertility clinic, you will always be the child’s mother. However, the law on who will be the child’s other parent is murkier. It’s possible that the sperm donor will be the legal father of your child, depending on:

  • whether you are single, married or in a civil partnership
  • whether the insemination took place through artificial insemination or sexual intercourse
  • who is named on the birth certificate
  • whether the donor will have established a relationship with the child

Going abroad for donor sperm

Going overseas for treatment with donated sperm may seem an attractive option if it’s cheaper or the waiting list is shorter.

Remember, though, that different safety and legal rules may apply with foreign clinics. If you go to a UK licensed fertility clinic, the donor has no legal responsibility or rights over the child. This is not necessarily the case if you have treatment abroad.

Always do your research before going ahead with treatment abroad, specifically to find out about:

  • the clinic’s standards and safety issues
  • legal issues surrounding sperm donors and parental responsibility
  • the process the foreign clinic uses to recruit and screen sperm donors
  • whether there are any limits on the number of families that can be created per donor (in the UK, it is 10 families)
  • what information you can access about the sperm donor and what information your child will be able to access

The National Sperm Bank

The National Sperm Bank has opened in Birmingham to tackle the shortage of donor sperm in the UK. It is a central store of sperm for use by both private and NHS fertility clinics.

Page last reviewed: 03/11/2014

Next review due: 03/11/2017

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