Insemination options for lesbians trying to conceive


For lesbian couples trying to get pregnant, the road to motherhood is more conceivable than ever. More and more resources are available to help same-sex couples overcome the legal and logistical challenges to having a child, and support for the rights of lesbian and gay parents is growing stronger.

However, there are a number of important decisions same-sex couples need to make before having a child. This post is intended to outline some of the basic questions faced by lesbian couples that want to become pregnant.

(Note – this post does not contain information on the legal rights of lesbian and gay parents. Click here for more information on the rights of lesbian and gay parents in the US).

After you decide you want to have a child, the first step is determining who will carry the baby – is one person more interested in becoming pregnant than the other? Is it important that both women are biologically related to the child? You also may want to consider if one of you has an insurance plan that is more gay-pregnancy friendly than the other.

If both partners would like to be biologically connected to the child, the couple can undergo in vitro fertilization treatments (IVF) in which the egg of one woman is inseminated with a donor’s sperm and is then implanted in her partner’s uterus. However, IVF is a long and expensive process, and may not be ideal for everyone. Another option is to use and store a supply of sperm from the same donor. That way, one partner can inseminate with that sperm and have a child, and when the couple is ready to have a second child, the other partner can use that same sperm to become pregnant.

After you decide who is going to carry the baby, you’ll need to figure out where the sperm is going to come from. Some couples opt to have someone they know donate their sperm, whereas others use sperm from an anonymous sperm donor, purchased from a sperm bank.

Using the sperm of someone you know means you have the benefit of knowing about the donor’s medical history, physical appearance, and personality. It’s also cheaper and may be more likely to get you pregnant, since the sperm won’t need to be frozen or transported before insemination.

On the other hand, if the donor does not waive his parental rights prior to donating his sperm, he may be able to sue for visitation rights or custody of your child in the future. While using the sperm of someone you know may seem cheaper than purchasing sperm from a sperm bank, the legal fees required to draw up a contract for the donor to waive his parental rights could end up being more than the cost of purchasing sperm. The upside of using a sperm bank is that sperm banks require donors to waive their parental rights to their sperm, so you risk no legal issues there.

Another benefit of using an anonymous donor is that sperm banks test donors to rule out STDs and common genetic diseases. If you decide to use a known donor, make sure he gets tested for STDs before donating his sperm.

Once you decide where you are getting your sperm, it’s time to choose a method for insemination. Options include:

  • Intravaginal Insemination (IVI): Sperm is deposited in the vagina using a syringe or cervical cap. IVI can be done at home or in a physician’s office.
  • Intracervical Insemination (ICI): Sperm is deposited into the cervix using a catheter and a syringe. ICI can be done at home or in a physician’s office, but if done at home you must be careful to make sure that the catheter, syringe, and any other implements you use are sterile in order to minimize the risk of infection.
  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): Sperm is deposited into the uterus using a catheter that is passed through the cervix. IUI is done in a physician’s office. IUI is the most expensive of the three options, but may be more likely to lead to pregnancy, as the sperm is deposited closest to the ovaries.

Of course, it’s also important that the woman who is going to carry the baby track her fertility signs so she knows when she is approaching ovulation. The chance of pregnancy will be highest when insemination occurs 1-2 days before ovulation. As always, be on the lookout for an increase in the presence of wet, fertile (eggwhite or watery) cervical fluid, indicating that ovulation is near. You can also track your cervical position and take note when your cervix feels soft, high in the vagina, and the os (opening to the uterus) feels open – AKA when you are very likely to be fertile! Tracking your basal body temperature will let you know when you’ve ovulated, after which point you should wait until the next cycle to try to conceive again.

The success rates for artificial insemination vary based on the age of the woman who is inseminated, the quality of her eggs, the quality of the sperm, whether she is inseminated around the time of ovulation, whether fertile cervical fluid is present at the time of ovulation, and other factors (such as if she has a vaginal infection or if her uterus or fallopian tubes are in any way damaged). Because there are so many factors that can affect a woman’s likelihood of conceiving, the actual success rates of artificial insemination can be misleading. That being said, the quoted success rates hover around the same success rates for couples using natural insemination – about a 15-25% chance of pregnancy per cycle. So, know that becoming pregnant may not happen right away, and you may have to try for multiple cycles before succeeding.

According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, between 8 and 10 million children are being raised in gay and lesbian households – so even if the barriers to motherhood seem overwhelming, know that it IS possible!

For more information, check out Stonewall’s Pregnant Pause: A guide for lesbians on how to get pregnant. Also, has a ton of useful resources for TTC lesbian and gay couples. 

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