Sperm Washing: What Every HIV-Positive Gay Man Should Know

Thanks to a procedure known as sperm washing, HIV-positive gay men can now safely reproduce, via surrogacy or other means, without passing the virus on to their gestational carrier or offspring. Here are the answers to five common questions HIV-positive gay men often ask about the procedure:

How does sperm washing work?


First, semen is collected from the HIV positive partner. Through a separation process known as centrifugation, the sperm is removed from the seminal fluid. Since the HIV virus is carried in the seminal fluid, and not the sperm, this allows for a vastly decreased risk of HIV transmission to either the gestational carrier in a surrogacy arrangement, or the resulting child.

When was sperm washing created?


Sperm washing has been around for many years: in fact, the first time a child was born via sperm washing in the United States was in 1999. Read more about this breakthrough in this American Public Media article, Conceiving Ryan.

Are there different types of sperm washing?


Yes, there are several different types of sperm washing. The most basic wash involves repeated centrifugation to eliminate the seminal fluid from the sample. Some men may choose to undergo more advanced forms of sperm washing that allows for the isolation of sperm with high motility rates. But the most basic procedure is all that is required for HIV positive men to prevent transmission of the virus.

How expensive is sperm washing?


There is a downside to sperm washing: It's expensive, not often covered by insurance, and unavailable in many fertility clinics. According to Ryan Kiessling, MPM, of the Special Program of Assisted Reproduction at the Bedford Research Foundation Clinical Laboratory, HIV-positive men interested in surrogacy should budget from $8,000 to $10,000 for this procedure. If you are considering surrogacy as your path to parenthood, this can add a substantial amount to other overall cost of surrogacy.

How effective is sperm washing?


In practice, sperm washing has been found to practically eliminate the risk of HIV transmission to either the gestational surrogate or the child. Though there will be no way to fully eliminate the transmission risk, research in this area is very encouraging. In fact, one study of 914 sero-discordant couples – couples in which one partner is HIV positive and one partner HIV negative – found no instances of HIV infection among the women, or the resulting children conceived following the sperm washing procedure.


Read our article "Positively Dads" for some inspiration about HIV-positive gay men that have become dads.

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