Every year sperm donation (or gamete donation) is responsible for an increasing number of births, reports the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The practice isn't without controversy, and you'll hear the occasional story about offspring searching for their sperm-donating dads. But, there's little in the way of advice or guidance for donors in the mainstream media. If you're thinking about sperm donation, keep the following points in mind:

1. Really think it through. Sperm donation—whether it's a gesture out of monetary need or simple generosity—could result in a child being born. According to various sources, including the ASRM, sperm banks limit the amount of offspring resulting from one donor's sperm to about 25 in 800,000 births.

You should really consider how you'll feel about this. In recent years a donor sued for equal parenting of his offspring in a case that was taken all the way to the supreme court. It just goes to show that your feelings could change over time. Sperm banks provide counselling to help you through the process, if necessary.

2. Find out if you meet the criteria. Before you can donate sperm, you're going to have to meet several criteria, which you can preview on sperm bank websites. A look at some of the criteria on the Sperm Bank of California (SBC) website indicate that you must:

  • be between ages 18 and 40
  • be at least 5 feet 7 inches
  • live or work near the sperm bank office
  • be a high school graduate
  • be able to commit to one year of the program
  • have no chronic medical problems

3. Prepare for a background check. You will undergo a medical examination that includes blood tests and screening for sexually transmitted diseases. (If you're an anonymous donor you'll have to take a subsequent six-month test for diseases such as chlamydia, HIV and hepatitis.) You'll also have to disclose your sexual history, and information about the last two generations (or more) of both sides of your genetic family.

4. Be fully informed about the policies. In an Ethics Committee Report, the ASRM points out that donors are entitled to full disclosure from sperm banks about the risks of sperm donation, policies regarding privacy, genetic testing,  and the results of the tests. They also recommend getting medical insurance to deal with any complications.

Usually when you donate sperm you don't have any legal obligations to the offspring. However, offspring have sued to discover the identities of their fathers. Also, in a few cases, courts have ruled that sperm donors should pay child support. Get as much information from the sperm bank about your rights and obligations, and it's wise to seek additional legal counsel.

5. Expect a sperm analysis. Once you donate sperm a clinician will assess it for sperm count, morphology (shape), and motility (the percentage of live, swimming sperm). Even if you have a low sperm count or non-motile sperm it's still possible that your sperm can be used with today's high-tech procedures.

6. Be proactive about sperm storage. Once you donate usable sperm, it will be frozen. The SBC indicates that about 50 to 80 percent of sperm will die after being frozen, usually within the first 48 hours. Your sperm will be quarantined for six months or longer before it's used.

Sperm can remain frozen for up to 50 years. In other words, it's possible that you could be procreating even after you're dead. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that men get a court order to authorize a successor to withdraw remaining samples from the sperm bank after their death. It's also a good idea to have your sperm withdrawn if you're donating sperm only to help a friend.

7. Learn how to keep your sperm healthy. According to the SBC, a variety of factors affect your sperm count—diet or nutrition, drug and alcohol use, health problems, stress and sleep. It can also be affected by certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy. You also shouldn't ejaculate for at least 48 hours before donating sperm. However, don't abstain for longer than five days as this can affect sperm quality.

Sperm donation isn't a decision you should make lightly. Also, you should never feel pressured into donating your sperm. The legal issues surrounding it are still evolving, and, as the ASRM points out, there's not enough evidence about the long-term emotional and psychological impact of sperm donation.