Same-sex couples, individuals pursuing parenthood on their own, or couples facing severe male-factor infertility, may consider using donor sperm as an option for growing their family.

You can use donor sperm from a vetted sperm bank or someone you already know. Opting for donor sperm from a sperm bank may be the right move for people who want access to well-screened samples and who don’t want to navigate the complexities of leaning on a friend or loved one.

Intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) are two common ways to use donor sperm to try and get pregnant. To help Rescripted readers who are considering or pursuing fertility procedures with donor sperm, we connected with the experts at California Cryobank

Here’s what you need to know about the process of selecting, ordering, and using donor sperm for IUI or IVF.

couple considering ivf with donor sperm

Refresher: What are the differences between IUI and IVF?

Both IUI and IVF are fertility procedures that can help people get pregnant and have kids.

In IUI, sperm are inserted directly into the uterus with a catheter. Some people take ovulation induction medications like clomiphene (Clomid) or letrozole (Femara) to help increase their chances of getting pregnant with IUI. 

IVF is more complex and expensive than IUI, but the success rates are typically higher. That’s why many parents-to-be will try IUI before advancing to IVF. In IVF, your eggs are retrieved through an in-clinic procedure and then fertilized with sperm in a lab. Afterward, the resulting embryo is transferred into the uterus of the person who will carry the pregnancy.

IVF procedures may include intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). ICSI is when a single sperm is selected and injected into the egg. Only a very small amount of sperm is necessary for ICSI.

Among LGBTQ+ families, reciprocal IVF (or co-IVF) has become increasingly common. In reciprocal IVF, one partner provides eggs, and the other carries the pregnancy.

In many cases, people will need to undergo multiple cycles of IUI and/or IVF to achieve a healthy pregnancy and live birth. The more IUI and/or IVF cycles you undergo, the higher your chances are of a live birth. 

Your healthcare provider can help you figure out what types of procedures and add-on treatments (like medications or ICSI) are the best for you and your pregnancy plans.

When using donor sperm may be recommended

Using donor sperm for IUI or IVF may be recommended or necessary for:

  • Couples where both partners have ovaries

  • People who have ovaries who want to conceive on their own

  • People whose partners have semen-related fertility issues

  • People whose partners produce sperm but are undergoing chemotherapy

  • People whose partners have a genetic condition they do not want to pass on to their offspring

lesbian couple and their baby

Choosing and ordering donor sperm

There are several steps between deciding to use donor sperm and actually using it. 

Picking your sperm donor

Picking a sperm donor is a very personal decision. Some factors people may consider when selecting a sperm donor include: 

  • Ethnicity

  • Physical traits

  • Background

  • Personality

  • Profession

  • Hobbies

Start with a few key characteristics, then use the online donor search database to filter through the portfolio and narrow down your options. Then, you can review each individual donor and make the best decision for you.

Share your chosen donor’s family medical history and genetic test summary with your healthcare provider or fertility specialist to make sure everything’s compatible before beginning treatment.

Deciding on vial type

There are several types of vials to choose from:

  • Unwashed ICI vials (largest amount of sperm)

  • Washed IUI, IVF, ICSI vials (relative to an IUI vial, IVF vials contain the same volume of sample but lower total motile sperm concentration. ICSI vials contain a smaller volume of sample than IUI and IVF vials, and therefore a proportionally smaller number of motile sperm.)

While vial types are named after the procedures for which they’re intended, they can all be used regardless of procedure or insemination method.

Deciding on the right number of vials

It's important to consult with your healthcare provider about your pregnancy plans and potential donors before ordering sperm vials. Estimating how many vials you may need before starting the process and getting the right number is important. This is especially true if you want to have multiple kids using the same donor. 

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The exact number of vials needed is different for everyone and depends on:

  • How many kids you want to (ideally) have

  • What type of procedure you want to have

If your plan is to start with IUI, it is often recommended to purchase 3-4 vials per potential pregnancy. 

If your plan is to do IVF, you may only need 1-2 vials — and you could end up with enough embryos (aka fertilized eggs) for more than one pregnancy.

couple on the beach

Ordering your vials

Ordering vials at the right time is critical because once vials are shipped, shipping containers only hold temperature for a certain time period. Schedule vials to arrive at least two days before your procedure. If you’re doing IVF or shipping your vials to a clinic with cryogenic storage, you can order them earlier.

Talk to your healthcare provider for specific information on the timing of your procedures. 

Using donor sperm

Sperm vials should remain in the dry shipper at home (but no longer than the allotted expiration date) or at your clinic. Before an IUI or IVF cycle, sperm vials will be thawed. When this happens depends on the timing of your procedure and what procedure you’re doing. 

If you’re working with a clinic, you don’t have to worry about this step!

For deep dives into what to expect, check out our explainer articles on the IUI and IVF processes.

Starting an IUI or IVF cycle soon or thinking about it? Join the Rescripted community to connect with other people who are going through the same things you are. And for those of you ready to explore frozen donor sperm with California Cryobank, be sure to use our promo code RESCRIPT24 for a free level 2 subscription to their donor catalog, good for 90 days.

Sarah duRivage-Jacobs is a sexual and reproductive health writer, educator, and communicator. In addition to Rescripted, her words can be found on the blogs of reproductive health and mental health companies like Modern Fertility, Hey Jane, Millie, Carrot, Origin,, and Charlie Health. You can visit her website here.