On the surface, artificial insemination seems like a pretty straightforward procedure: get sperm, inject in female and wait for baby. It is, however, far more complicated than that. There are quite a few things that must be done in order to ensure that the procedure is as successful as possible.
In addition, it has a pretty colorful history as well. Because, once you think about it, who would think of taking semen and stuffing it into a female’s reproductive tract when there is the far more appealing option of just having sex? A king, apparently.
If you’re curious, read on to find out fifteen crazy facts about artificial insemination and its history, some of which are pretty useful and others are just good for a laugh or two.
15 Henry IV the Impotent
The very first claim of artificial insemination was by Henry IV of Castile, now part of modern-day Spain, who ruled from 1454 to 1457. He was also known as Henry the Impotent, for quite a few reasons.
He was first married to Blanche II of Navarre in 1440 until thirteen years later, a bishop annulled the marriage on the basis of Henry’s impotence, allegedly due to a curse. Two years after the annulment took place, he then married his cousin Joan of Portugal. They had a daughter seven years later whom they named Joanna, who was allegedly born through artificial insemination. The king’s rivals, however, claimed that she was actually inseminated by Beltran de Cueva.
14 The Dogs of Lazzaro Spallanzani
Jumping to actual scientifically-documented artificial inseminations, the first case was that of Lazzaro Spallanzani, a scientist and Catholic priest in the 1700s. Spallanzani first successfully artificially inseminated animals, including frogs and a spaniel dog, the latter of which later gave birth to three healthy pups. He did, however, believe that the semen contained the stuff that could make a woman pregnant and thought that the sperm cells were parasites. Some of these misconceptions regarding fertility and pregnancy would hinder quite a few more insemination attempts.
13 John Hunter and the Cloth Merchant
The next documented case of artificial insemination was that by John Hunter in the 1970’s. He reportedly helped out a cloth merchant who was advanced in age, but had a young and lovely wife. The merchant was given several syringes and advised to collect semen, whether from masturbation or after-sex spills, in warmed syringes and to inject them into his wife. It would have been interesting to know what his wife thought about this. Nevertheless, the young woman did get pregnant once.
12 The Clinical Notes of J. Marion Sims
Marion Sims was considered ahead of his time in his studies on fertility and sterility, although he did have numerous ethically objectionable practices. In any case, Sims wrote that he subjected six women to 55 artificial insemination procedures, one of which resulted in a pregnancy. The woman did, however, miscarry later.
Because he documented his attempts so well, we can now safely guess that Sims’ low success rates in artificial insemination were primarily due to his belief that women were most fertile during menstruation!
11 Sherman’s Frozen Sperm
Jerome Kalman Sherman is considered the father of sperm banking. He was inspired by a group of scientists who had successfully impregnated a chicken using frozen sperm, a feat not previously possible. The scientists had used the chemical glycerol to protect the sperm from water damage. Driven by this, Sherman and his colleagues were able to successfully preserve semen. They were also able to make more concentrated sperm samples from men who had low sperm counts. Their research brought about the rise of modern sperm banks.
Unsurprisingly, this also earned him the nickname “Spermin’ Sherman.”
10 Farm Animals
Jumping to modern times, artificial insemination is now far more common in farm animals than in humans. This is mainly because farmers are usually out to breed animals with specific characteristics. For the best results, farmers might have to pick out genes from the healthiest would-be moms and dads.
It also reduces the risk of injury because, as you can imagine, animal mating in the natural world can get pretty intense. It is, well, animal sex in the way you would imagine animal sex to be. In addition, it involves quite a lot of competition between rival males or even females. The resulting scuffles can result in physical damage to a lot of otherwise perfectly healthy animals.
9 Male and Female Infertility
Artificial insemination is an important medical procedure as it has the potential to treat certain types of both male and female infertility. It can be used for men who have low sperm counts. It can also be used for women who have endometriosis or cervical mucus that just won’t allow the sperm to survive.
In some cases, a doctor suggest that artificial insemination be attempted if they can’t find a cause for the infertility. In some of these cases, it works out just fine.
8 Getting the Sample ASAP
With artificial insemination, the usual procedure is to run the couple through several tests, including those that determine fertility for both partners. Artificial insemination is done just after ovulation for best results. Just prior to the procedure, sperm is collected and must be processed as soon as possible before it is introduced into the womb. The whole process is usually done as fast as possible to maximize the chances of success.
7 Getting Down to Business
Perhaps you’re wondering how, exactly, a man can get his semen out for artificial insemination. And it’s probably what you’re thinking too. If you have nothing in mind, then our simple answer is this: it’s done manually.
In some cases, it may be done at home. For most people, however, it involves a room in a doctor’s clinic, in which the man may masturbate privately. The semen is then collected in a sterile container, which is then brought to the laboratory for immediate processing.
If, however, the sperm will not be used right away, it can be frozen for future use using the methods that Sherman and his colleagues helped develop. This can be the case for men who might undergo medication or treatment that could lower their sperm count or damage their sperm. It is also a procedure commonly done by sperm banks.
Straight-off freezing is not ideal as water in the specimen can crystalize and permanently damage the cell, making it unusable for the procedure. With the procedure Sherman developed however, a sort-of antifreeze is introduced, ensuring that the sperm is protected from damage from the cold.
5 Sperm Washing
After the sperm is collected, it is usually washed. This procedure separates semen from the sperm. This is done primarily to remove chemicals in the semen which may cause irritation, decreasing chances of conception. Another benefit is that it can also decrease the risk of transmission of infections such as HIV. This is because infectious agents are usually transmitted through the semen and not through sperm. This makes this an ideal step of the entire artificial insemination procedure for sperm banks.
4 Selecting the Best
It’s important to choose the best possible sperm for artificial insemination. This increases the chances for a successful pregnancy, as well as decreases the chance of genetic abnormalities. Spermatozoa that have structural abnormalities or are unable to swim well have a greater risk of carrying chromosomal defects and are weeded out during this process.
Incidentally, there are also ways in which couples who opt for artificial insemination can also choose their baby’s sex.
3 Painless Insertion
Some women worry about whether the process of artificial insemination will be painful. However, it is usually a relatively painless procedure. It is often described as like a pap smear, slightly uncomfortable but not painful. A few women report some lower abdominal cramping during the procedure but, otherwise, it’s all pretty manageable.
You should not panic either if there is light bleeding following the artificial insemination. This is perfectly normal and expected.
2 Sperm Donor Catalog
The sperm donor catalogs you see on TV? Yes, those are absolutely true. If you would like to get pregnant through a sperm donor, depending on your sperm bank of choice, you will be able to get short profiles of all available donors. These profiles will usually list physical characteristics, as well as the profession and educational attainment of the donor. As you might imagine, many women opt for the better-looking and well-educated ones in the hope that their children will also have these characteristics. Once you’ve chosen the donor of your choice, the doctor will then retrieve their frozen sperm from the bank and go on with the procedure.
If this doesn’t appeal to you, however, you can always look for someone who you know and is willing to undergo the procedure with you. The same process as with regular couples applies although if your donor of choice will not be available when you’re fertile, a specimen may have to be frozen as well.
1 Pigging Out
In Mary Roach’s famous TED talk on “10 things you don’t know about orgasm,” she revealed that in Denmark, it was found that sexual stimulation of sows during insemination made for a 6% increase in the number of piglets in the resulting pregnancy.
And so, in the name of productivity, pig farmers began to do exactly that. Roach even has an actual training video to prove it. Farmers who are unwilling to do this, however, are free to get a vibrator for their sows instead!