How Old Do You Have To Be To Donate Sperm
Sperm is a funny thing — it’s alive but not really living. It doesn’t think or feel anything, yet it can make babies if you’re lucky enough to have sex with an egg that’s also alive and thinking. But what happens when both participants are dead? How do you get sperm from one man into another guy’s body? And how old does someone need to be before they can donate their own sperm?
The answer is complicated. For starters, there are two kinds of sperm in existence: fresh sperm and frozen sperm. Fresh sperm is harvested immediately after masturbation so it’s still warm. Frozen sperm is stored at -196 degrees Fahrenheit (-82 degrees Celsius) and must stay there until donated. Both types of sperm can be used for artificial insemination (i.e., getting pregnant naturally). However, only frozen sperm is good enough for use in fertility treatments. That means donating frozen sperm is the best way to help other people.
Donating sperm isn’t exactly like giving blood. There aren’t any special requirements beyond being healthy and having a penis. Most sperm banks require donors to be between the ages of 18 and 39. They may even ask for references from previous employers, family members or partners to ensure a safe match. Male donors must weigh more than 110 pounds (49 kilograms), stand taller than 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 meters), have no visible tattoos, moles or birthmarks, and don’t have certain medical conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes or cancer. Female donors must weigh over 130 pounds (59 kilograms) and be older than 16 years old. They should also be free of sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, and have regular menstrual cycles.
If all of these criteria sound too strict, relax — many men meet them every day. One donor estimates he has given away millions of sperm since 1992. He was just 19 when his first donation took place.
Once a potential donor meets the basic physical requirements, he’ll go through a series of tests. First, he’ll fill out a detailed questionnaire about his health history. Next, he’ll take part in a home pregnancy test to confirm that he is fertile. This is important because some female recipients might want a male donor who can impregnate her quickly. Finally, he’ll undergo an evaluation by a physician. During this visit, the doctor takes semen samples to measure hormone levels, count cells and check sperm motility (sperm movement). If everything checks out, the donor gets a letter stating he can donate sperm.
But wait! Before we move on, let’s talk about those hormones. What kind of effect do they have on sperm?
Hormones and Sperm
Men produce three different hormones that affect sperm production: testosterone, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Testosterone stimulates spermatogenesis (the process of forming sperm), while FSH and LH encourage sperm cell growth and development. Hormonal imbalance could cause low sperm counts, poor sperm quality or infertility. In fact, hormonal imbalances often lead to erectile dysfunction (ED) and diminished sperm production. While ED occurs in up to 20 percent of men worldwide, hormone-related cases increase dramatically during middle age.
For example, the risk of prostate cancer doubles for men who ejaculate less than once per week compared to men who masturbate several times a week. Men who ejaculate infrequently also suffer from mood disorders, depression, anxiety and memory problems. Erectile dysfunction, which affects roughly 1 in 10 American men, is linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, stress and sleep disorders [source CDC].
So now you know why sperm bank donors are tested for hormonal issues. How else do donors get screened?
Screening Tests for Donors
While most sperm banks use similar screening procedures, each facility has its individual protocols based on local laws. All states have regulations regarding donations, so it’s important to research your state’s guidelines to find out where you’d fit in. Here are some general rules found in most states:
Blood: Blood tests are done to detect infection risks and sexually transmitted diseases.
Urine: Urine tests are conducted to screen for STDs and reproductive system abnormalities.
Physical examination: A complete medical review is performed to determine eligibility.
All donors are required to sign written consent forms agreeing to testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
As you’ve learned, most sperm banks accept donors between the ages of 18 and 39. Some sperm banks even have an upper age limit of 34. Physical exams are fairly standard across facilities. An interviewer reviews personal information, asks questions about sexual practices and habits and performs a genital exam. Samples are taken for STD screenings and annual gynecological examinations. Any abnormal results are reviewed further. Once a donor is approved, he signs a contract outlining donation details and receives an ID number. His sample is then sent off to a lab for analysis.
However, there are also some differences among sperm banks. Some prefer to use donors whose parents were affected by genetic illnesses. Others prefer to work exclusively with donors who have undergone vasectomies (male sterilization surgeries). Still others prefer to work with donors with a particular ethnic background or geographic region. So, your best bet would be to find a sperm bank that suits your lifestyle and preferences.
It’s estimated that there are roughly 40 million births in the United States each year. With that many potential fathers, it’s understandable that the demand for sperm donors far outweighs supply. Donor numbers are expected to rise slowly over time as new sperm banks open up and existing ones expand their services.
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