When Nellie Mead and Teresa Espinosa conceived their daughter, they did it without sex, a fertility clinic, or medical supervision. Instead, Espinosa injected a friend’s sperm into a menstrual cup she bought at a drugstore. She then inserted the cup into Mead’s vagina in their Spring Hill, Florida home. Aliena was born in July.
“I was shocked when it worked,” says Mead, 25, who had thought her only options were “to have sex with a guy and that wasn’t happening” or “to save thousands of dollars to buy sperm.” That was until she uncovered a trove of at-home artificial insemination advice online. Mead devoured YouTube testimonials, where a search for “home insemination” yields more than 11,000 results (though some are clips of impregnating livestock).
Single women, lesbian couples, and straight couples with fertility troubles are increasingly experimenting at home with store-bought goods, in an effort to skirt expensive fertility procedures like Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) and In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). At-home inseminators enlist friends or acquaintances to donate sperm, or procure free donor samples from dating-style portals like the Known Donor Registry, Pollen Tree, and Pride Angel. Some go a more orthodox route and purchase sperm from FDA-regulated banks, which can cost from about $500 to $1500 per cycle. In addition to saving money, many at-home inseminators say they prefer bedrooms to treatment rooms, because they can personalize the conception experience, imbue it with romance, and reduce stress. Legal experts warn, however, that inseminating at home can compromise a couple’s legal rights.
The trend wouldn’t have taken off without the Internet. Tabitha Freeman, a research associate at Cambridge University, studies the growth of Internet-abetted artificial insemination and is examining 1,000 users of Pride Angel, which aims to match sperm and egg donors with recipients, most frequently in the U.K., U.S., and India. She estimates that roughly 70 percent of the nearly 500 sperm recipients in her study wish to inseminate at home. A third of all sperm orders at the Cryos International Sperm Bank based in Denmark are intended for at-home insemination, and that that number increases each year, according to managing director, Ole Schou.
The main reason couples bypass assisted reproductive technologies to inseminate at home is cost. The average out-of-pocket price for fertility treatments exceeds $5,000 and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) tops $19,000, according to a study of San Francisco clinics published in The Journal of Urology in 2013. Couples often bankroll medical conception by borrowing cash, or taking out second mortgages on their homes. A Barclay’s phone operator pled guilty to stealing more 4,000 pounds from his employer to underwrite his wife’s IVF. In many cases, insurance policies won’t cover assisted reproductive technologies for individuals who haven’t been diagnosed with fertility problems, and often they won’t subsidize assistance at all.
“As lesbians a lot of us want kids and we already know that shit’s too expensive,” Mead says. It’s exactly why sites like Pride Angel, which counts more than 4,800 users willing to give sperm for free, are growing. “The cost of fertility treatment is high. This is more accessible, more direct and it cuts out the middleman. You go straight to the donor,” says Freeman.