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LGBTQIA+Jun 25, 2024

Everything you need to know about at-home insemination

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For many people, home insemination can be a valid method for becoming a parent in certain circumstances.

However, there are many considerations to factor into your decision-making before embarking on this route to parenthood.

Here’s everything you should know before trying home insemination - including how it works and the benefits and risks, including legal and medical considerations.

This blog covers:

  • What home insemination is

  • How it works

  • Risks and benefits

  • Who is a good candidate

  • Who shouldn’t try home insemination

  • Other options for conceiving

If you're having fertility challenges, home insemination can be a tempting option.

Not only because it can be done from the comfort of your own home but because it's more affordable for many too.

Before you make the decision to move forward with home insemination, you need to understand the potential legal and medical consequences.

Home insemination vs IUI

Home insemination only places sperm into the vaginal canal, ideally high up next to the cervix. This is called intracervical insemination (ICI).

Whereas IUI carried out in a clinic injects sperm directly into the womb (uterus).

What is home insemination?

Home insemination, or at-home artificial insemination, is when sperm is put inside the vagina, usually with a syringe.

People often use home insemination kits bought online.

It’s a method to try to conceive without having penetrative intercourse.

It differs from insemination offered by a clinic, which is usually intrauterine insemination (IUI).

IUI isn’t possible at home, because:

  • The sperm is unwashed and unprepared, which means it’s too acidic – the womb would reject it, and it could cause cramping

  • The home environment isn’t sterile, which could cause a serious infection

  • You need specialised tools and medical training

In a clinic, the sperm is washed to remove the acidic fluid, which is then replaced with a carrier fluid, making it safe to inject into the uterus.

However, ICI is possible at home.

The semen is placed in the vaginal/cervical canal, and then the cervix naturally filters the semen so that sperm can safely swim into the womb without causing irritation.

How does home insemination work?

Home insemination involves placing a sperm sample into the vagina.

This can be done with either a plastic syringe (without the needle) or a sperm cup (a soft, flexible cup, similar to a menstrual cup), that’s placed inside the vagina to keep the sperm close to the cervix.

Home insemination has an average success rate of between 10 – 15% in women aged 35 and under.

The national average success rate is 18% per cycle for unstimulated IUI with donor sperm in women aged under 35.

In other words, 1 in 5 attempts work. But like with all fertility treatments, the likelihood of success varies with age and fertility health.

Statistically, successful outcomes for home insemination may be lower than treatment in a clinic because:

  • The fertility of the birthing parent is often unknown

  • The sperm is usually not tested for quality (sperm count, morphology)

  • People use varying techniques, which may not always work

  • It can be hard to predict ovulation timing 

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What are the risks of home insemination?

 

The main risk of artificial insemination at home is using donor sperm.

There are services to connect hopeful parents-to-be – such as same-sex female couples, single parents and other people from the LGBTQ+ community – with sperm donors for home insemination.

But there can be serious consequences to using donor sperm for home insemination:

  • The sperm is not tested for infections, such as STIs, and inheritable genetic diseases – even if it claims to be, this may not be accurate

  • There can be disputes over legal parenthood, which are avoided by having IUI at a licensed clinic that ensures the correct paperwork is completed

  • It’s less likely to be successful which may be wasting valuable time if you are older or have fertility challenges

Legal issues in home insemination

When you visit a licensed fertility clinic for a treatment like IUI, they make sure all the necessary paperwork is in place for consent and legal parenthood.

Although you may make an agreement in writing with your donor for home insemination, it still doesn’t offer the same legal protections that you would get when using a licensed fertility clinic.

If legal parenthood isn’t correctly set up during home insemination, it can lead to future disputes, including:

  • Who has responsibility for the child, including financial responsibility

  • Whether your donor has the right to access the child

  • Whether your donor has the right to take custody of the child

Although a written agreement with your donor isn’t legally binding, it does help in making sure everyone is on the same page.

Many legal disputes involving home insemination result from mismatched expectations around future contact, legal parenthood, and financial responsibility.

It’s also illegal to pay a donor for their sample.

You can cover the cost of their expenses, which shouldn’t be more than £35.00.

Who is the legal parent in home insemination?

Legal parenthood depends on the exact circumstances of the home insemination.

Everyone involved must understand their status before getting started.

  • The birthing parent is always the legal mother or parent (primary parent)

  • If you’re a single parent or not in a marriage or civil partnership, then the sperm donor is the second legal parent

  • If the birthing parent is married or in a civil partnership at the time of conceiving, then their partner is the second legal parent

  • If the birthing parent isn’t married or in a civil partnership when conceiving, the donor is the second legal parent. The birthing parent’s partner can apply for an adoption order at birth, however, it’s worth knowing that this comes with a cost and a potential delay

These rules apply regardless of whether the donor sperm is from someone you know, or from a sperm bank.

When you go to a licensed clinic for a treatment like IUI, they ensure that only the intended parents become the legal parents.

Medical risks in home insemination

When you have IUI at a licensed fertility clinic, the sperm from a donor sample is thoroughly tested for infections and inherited diseases.

It undergoes one round of testing after donation, and then it’s frozen for 180 days before being tested again.

If you’re using sperm from a donor at home, the donor should be willing to test and provide written proof that they’re free from:

  • Infectious diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis

  • Hereditary conditions, using genetic testing

Going ahead with home insemination with donor sperm carries several risks, including:

  • Getting an STI or infection, which could be passed onto your baby or result in a miscarriage, or delay when you’re able to have fertility treatment at a clinic

  • Using low-quality sperm that may not work

  • Your baby inheriting a serious genetic disease

  • Accidentally injuring yourself during insemination (perforation)

  • Causing an infection like pelvic inflammatory disease or UTI, where bacteria get in the womb or urine tube (urethra) during the insemination

Another risk is how many times your donor has donated.

In a clinic, the number of children born from a single donor is limited.

This reduces the risk of accidental incestuous relationships between donor-born children in adulthood.

This becomes a risk when many children are born from the same donor – especially if it’s within one geographic area.

Children born from donor sperm at a clinic can access basic information about how many siblings they have, their sex, and their year of birth.

This helps them to be aware of the possibility of meeting a genetic relative.

Who is a good candidate for home insemination?

There are cases where home insemination can be a helpful option.

But we would always recommend getting advice and a fertility assessment from a specialist fertility clinic, as well as legal advice, before trying home insemination.

Home insemination is an option for couples where intercourse is difficult.

This could be because of:

  • Pain during sex (as long as it’s not caused by PCOS or endometriosis)

  • Difficulty achieving an erection or ejaculation during penetrative sex

  • Emotional barriers to intercourse, such as trauma

If all partners or intended parents have had a fertility test to confirm they’re able to conceive, home insemination can an affordable and convenient option.

As you’re using your own sperm, and intend to be the parents together, this significantly reduces the legal and medical risks associated with home insemination.

Should LGBTQ+ people try home insemination?

Our fertility specialists would always recommend same-sex couples, co-parents and individuals have insemination through a licensed clinic. This is the best way to protect yourself, legally and medically.

Another consideration is whether you might want to have NHS-funded IVF in the future.

The eligibility criteria for this will depend on your local integrated care board (ICB).

In some cases, you’ll need to have tried six rounds of IUI, whereas in other areas it can be up to 12.

For more guidance on eligibility in your specific area, you should contact your GP for advice.

This is particularly important to consider if the birthing parent is older than 35 or may have fertility challenges - diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Female fertility declines with age, and home insemination may waste valuable time. But we appreciate many people will still want to try home insemination first.

A same-sex female couple seeking to conceive with a co-parent or known donor might be suited for home insemination if:

 

  • Everyone involved with conceiving has had a fertility assessment to rule out fertility issues

  • The donor agrees to have tests for infection and inheritable diseases and to share the results

  • Everyone agrees on who the legal parents will be and will sign an adoption order at birth if needed

Home insemination doesn’t offer the same legal (particularly in you’re not married or civil partnered) and medical protections as treatment at a licensed clinic.

When undergoing treatment at a clinic, your care is our upmost priority and we’ll ensure all of the necessary precautions are taken for the safety of you and your family.

We’ll also explain every aspect of legal parenthood, ensuring all of the correct paperwork is signed at the right time for your protection.

Who shouldn’t try home insemination?

When deciding if home insemination is right for you, it’s crucial to consider all of the medical and legal risks.

People who should consider whether home insemination is appropriate for them include:

  • Anyone using donor sperm as the sources and health screening may not be reliable

  • Scenarios where the birthing parent is older than 35 - home insemination is far less successful and could waste valuable time

  • People whose fertility status is unknown you may need treatment to conceive and it’s best not to waste time

  • Anyone with a condition affecting fertility - including blocked fallopian tubes, low sperm quality, endometriosis, PCOS and premature menopause - home insemination is unlikely to work

  • Anyone who has an STI or known inherited disease

  • Single people - the sperm donor would be considered the legal parent unless you have a co-parent willing to sign an adoption order


It’s illegal in the UK to have donor sperm shipped from abroad to your home address.

Doing so can pose potential significant health risks to the birthing parent and baby as the source of the sperm and results of the health screening are impossible to verify or trace.

TBC
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