What is Artificial Insemination?

All About Intravaginal, Intracervical, and Intratubal Insemination

Woman with her feet in stir-ups at gynecologist office
Artificial insemination is done in your fertility doctor's office. www.reneebonuccelli.com / Getty Images

Insemination means the placement of sperm in a woman’s reproductive tract, with the aim to cause pregnancy. Insemination needs to take place during the woman’s most fertile time, about 24 to 48 hours before ovulation is expected.

Usually, when people talk about artificial insemination, they are referring to IUI, or intrauterine insemination.

IUI is a fertility treatment that involves taking specially washed semen, and transferring the semen into the woman’s uterus using a special syringe.

While IUI is the most common and most successful, form of artificial insemination, there are other methods of transferring sperm to a woman’s reproductive system.

Intravaginal Insemination (IVI)

Intravaginal insemination (IVI) is the simplest kind of insemination, and involves the placement of sperm into the woman’s vagina.

Ideally, the sperm should be placed as close to the cervix as possible. This method of insemination may be used when using donor sperm, and when there are no problems with the woman’s fertility.

Because success rates are lower than IUI, this form of insemination isn’t common, but is more common with “home insemination” treatments.

(Home insemination may be used by lesbian couples, wanting to get pregnant using purchased donor sperm or sperm provided by a friend.)

Intracervical Insemination (ICI)

With intracervical insemination (ICI), the sperm is placed directly inside the cervix, using a needless syringe.

The sperm does not need to be washed, as with IUI, because the semen is not being directly placed inside the uterus. However, it may be pre-washed to increase the chances of success.

Intracervical insemination is more common than IVI, but less common than IUI. It may be used if a couple wants to save money on the treatment procedure, as ICI is less expensive than IUI, especially if the semen is not pre-washed.

However, success rates for ICI are low.

Intratubal Insemination (ITI)

Intratubal insemination involves the placement of pre-washed sperm directly into the woman’s fallopian tube. The sperm may be transferred to the tubes through a special catheter that goes through the cervix, up through the uterus, and into the fallopian tubes. The other method of intratubal insemination involves laparoscopic surgery.

Unfortunately, intratubal insemination has been associated with greater risk for infection and trauma, and there’s a debate on whether it’s more effective than regular IUI.

Because of its invasive nature, higher expense, and uncertain success rate, it’s rarely performed and is the least common form of artificial insemination.

More on fertility treatment:

Sources:

Cantineau AE, Heineman MJ, Al-Inany H, Cohlen BJ. “Intrauterine insemination versus Fallopian tube sperm perfusion in non-tubal subfertility: a systematic review based on a Cochrane review.” Human Reproduction. 2004 Dec;19(12):2721-9.

Forges T, Monnier-Barbarino P. “[Is there a future for Fallopian tube insemination in women?]” Gynecologie, Obstetrique, & Fertilte. 2004 Oct;32(10):904-10.

Keck C, Gerber-Schäfer C, Wilhelm C, Vogelgesang D, Breckwoldt M. “Intrauterine insemination for treatment of male infertility.” International Journal of Andrology. 1997;20 Suppl 3:55-64.

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