A technician freezes sperm for use in artificial insemination.

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Sperm Donors

Becoming an altruistic sperm donor requires more than the ability to provide a specimen. Donor evaluation varies slightly from bank to bank, but usually consists of an application, an initial appointment, test samples and an in-depth screening process.

Men of all ethnicities and backgrounds are accepted as donors. Candidates must meet these basic application requirements:

  • Men must be at least 18 years of age and less than 40 years old
  • They must be able to make a commitment to the program (usually six months to one year)
  • They should be able to provide their family's medical history (usually back to two to three generations)
  • They must have no chronic health problems

Some banks have additional requirements. Many require a college degree or enrollment in a college degree program. As an additional example of how the screening process can vary, the Sperm Bank of California requires their donor candidates be at least 5 feet 7 inches tall [source: The Sperm Bank of California].

Upon meeting application requirements, candidates provide semen samples. Samples are collected at the sperm bank, and for best results, the candidate must abstain from ejaculating for 48 hours before donating. If each sample shows a high sperm count, the candidate is then tested for sexually transmitted and genetic diseases, interviewed and given a medical examination.

Screening is vigorous and takes typically three months to complete. Top sperm banks report acceptance rates of less than 5 percent of candidates. And at the Xytex banking facility in Georgia, less than 1 percent of men who inquire about being a donor make it to the evaluation process.

If accepted, the donor signs a contract committing to the program. As long as a donor participates in a program, he is required to have ongoing health screenings provided by the sperm bank. Donors are paid for each sample that meets the sperm bank's requirements, with rates running from about $75 U.S. to hundreds of dollars per sample.

Donor profiles are made available to potential recipients. These profiles include the donor's medical and family history and sometimes voice clips and childhood and adult photos.

Donors may choose to remain anonymous or have their identities made available to any future offspring through ID Consent or Identity-Release status. Potential recipients are made aware of the donor's status during the selection process.

Anonymous donors are often willing to provide descriptive details about themselves and their family history with the understanding that they will never have direct communication with the recipients of their sperm or future offspring. Anonymous donors have indefinitely sealed records. Some sperm banks will allow anonymous donors the option of becoming ID Consent donors at a later date, if desired.

ID Consent donors agree to allow the sperm bank to release identifying information about themselves to offspring of legal age -- age 18. ID Consent donors aren't required to meet offspring; rather, the program is designed to give offspring a way to learn about their genetic background. Sperm banks don't guarantee that the donor will be found or will be accommodating to offspring. They don't provide locating services.

Donors, as well as recipients, are advised to review any contracts with regard to financial obligations and donor rights with a separate legal counsel [source: American Society for Reproductive Medicine].

But how is sperm collected? Next, we'll explore what sperm banks do and how they're regulated.