Same-sex IVF – supporting diversity in our society

At present, the number of same-sex couples becoming parents through fertility treatment is greater than it has ever been before. In fact, figures from the HFEA’s latest report showed that from 2008-2018 the number of female same-sex couples undergoing IVF in the UK rose 154%, accounting for 6.4% of all IVF cycles in the UK – an encouraging, and welcome nod to the growing diversity in our society.

For this we owe our thanks to both ground-breaking technological advances in fertility treatment, as well as increasing awareness of the different fertility treatment options available to those in same-sex relationships. More and more, same-sex couples are able to carefully and considerately review the range of different treatment routes that they can go down and create a unique patient pathway that ultimately feels right for them.

These options range from choosing between IVF or IUI treatment, depending on your fertility status, to deciding which partner might be best for undergoing treatment, taking into account the respective health of their ovarian reserve after fertility assessments. Selecting whether to have an anonymous or known donor sperm is another important decision same-sex couples must make, contributing to the widening of treatment routes becoming available to help suit a diverse and multifaceted patient group.

The increasing number of same-sex couples opting to pursue fertility treatment and create their own much-wanted family is an extremely heartening reflection of our growing diversity as a society. It is incredible to think of the role that fertility treatment now plays in furthering diversity and inclusivity, after first being developed in order to treat women with blocked fallopian tubes – a role that I believe that IVF pioneer Professor Robert Edwards would be delighted to have created.

However, despite the advances, critical gaps still remain when it comes to access to funding for same-sex IVF couples. In fact, the same HFEA report highlighting the increase in same-sex IVF treatment also showed that NHS-funded IVF cycles were much less common for patients in same-sex relationships, with only 14% securing any form of funding.

Heterosexual couples must prove they have been trying to conceive for 2 years to qualify for NHS IVF funding. Whereas same-sex couples must undergo 12 cycles of self-funded artificial insemination before the NHS will consider funding their IVF treatment. What’s more, even if you are eligible for fertility treatment, the number of cycles you can get with the NHS is dependent on where you live within the UK, and the application process can take a long period of time. To ensure that fertility treatment doesn’t simply become the preserve of those who can afford it, it is fundamental that more support is provided for same-sex patients, which includes increased access to NHS-funded IVF.

Fertility is, and has always been, a platform that can help create diversity in our society. Treatment therefore must be made more accessible for all those wishing to start a family, regardless of their sexual orientation. By supporting same-sex couples in their access to treatment, more diverse family set-ups can be created, helping to build a more inclusive, equal and diverse society for all.

By Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, abc ivf and CREATE Fertility