A small study of lesbian parents has suggested that many still have to turn to friends or the internet to find sperm donors, despite laws which make it easier for them to use IVF clinics.

The research, carried out by Dr Petra Nordqvist from the University of Manchester, found that the cost of using IVF clinics to conceive a child can present a barrier to lesbian couples.

According to the HEFA, which regulates fertility treatment in the UK, the average cost of one cycle of IVF including drugs is between £4,000 and £8,000.

Prices for treatment vary from clinic to clinic, although some clinics are encouraging lesbians to donate their eggs in return for discounts on treatment.

The research found that couples often have to find sperm donors on the internet or ask male friends, but this sometimes leads to conflicts over custody and access after the birth.

Couples who use clinics to conceive have more legal protection if a donor later decides he wants access to the child.

Dr Nordqvist conducted 25 interviews with lesbian parents. The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

She said: “The findings of the study accurately reflect the experience of lesbians couples who want to conceive.

“No data is available to show how common it is for them to have children using donor conception following changes in the law – and other factors – but attitudes have shifted drastically making it far easier.

“Even five years ago, many couples were turned away from clinics because they were lesbians.

“But even though it is now easier in some respects, the huge cost of fertility treatment in clinics explodes [sic] many lesbians.”

Previously, clinics could turn down lesbians due to the “need for a father” but the law was changed in 2008.

Dr Nordqvist added: “Like most families, lesbians base their choice of donor on things like ethnicity, family resemblances, facial characteristics and levels of education.

“But couples who cannot afford clinical treatment sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to anonymise the process – for example not exchanging surnames and addresses with a donor found on an internet chatroom.”