What kind of man becomes a sperm donor?

This is a question that is asked in an article, The World of the Donorsexual, in a recent edition of Bio-Edge. http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/9798

Well, some really great guys do it.  Through UK Donor Link, the National Gamete Donation Trust and some men in DC Network who have donated as a ‘thank-you’ for having a child by egg donation, I have met some really wonderful gents who have donated their sperm to help others have the family they long for.  If they donated before the ending of anonymity in the UK they have re-registered with the HFEA as ‘willing to be known’ to any children they helped to create from age 18.  Those who have given sperm since 2005 have been happy to be identifiable, understanding that it is important for some donor conceived adults to be able to know their genetic background and more. Most of the recent ones have not wanted ‘compensation’ for their time or even reimbursement of expenses.  They have been happy to help.

The Bio-Edge article quotes a Swedish study that seems to show that donors (presumably Swedish men) are healthier and more well balanced than the general population.  But an American study found that egg donors are likely to put a gloss on the information they give their agency, implying that recipients are not getting the whole truth when they choose a particular profile.  Of course significant money is involved in egg donation in the States so the incentive to exaggerate qualifications and features and play down any negative aspects is great.

The article goes on to quote a recent article in Newsweek about the growth of free sperm web sites suggesting that men who choose to offer sperm donation via this route are often eccentric.  It cites a man, who refers to himself as a ‘donorsexual’ and who appears to want to spread his amazing genes…although his activities have been halted for the time being by the American Food and Drug Administration.  Of course this is America and the guy could be a one-off, but some informal mystery shopping carried out by the National Gamete Donation Trust turned up men in the UK who could equally be said to fit the ‘eccentric’ description or just those who were looking for sex without strings.  There were also some men who seemed genuine and altruistic in their motives too.

Another take on this topic came to me this week when I interviewed a lesbian couple for my ‘mixed families’ booklet.  They have one child, now aged 10, with a private known donor and a second, age 4, conceived with the help of an identifiable donor via a UK clinic.  The known donor is a gay man who was part of the friendship network of the non-biological mother.  The agreement between the women and this man was that he would be available for the child to know as s/he grew up but would not play an active part in parenting.  How differently this has turned out.  As one of the women said to me ruefully, “You can’t legislate for the emotional impact of having a child, or for changes in life circumstances.”    The donor, who comes from a large and very close family, was blown away by the birth of the child, moved in for the first two weeks of the child’s life and started coming round to the women’s house regularly bringing with him many members of his extended family.  When the women tried to enforce their agreement he twice took legal action.  Sadly for him, his partner has died and he has been frustrated in work ambitions so seems to feel that his only positive focus in life is the child.  For some years now he has seen the child regularly and the women accept his position in their son’s life, but unfortunately the donor resists working with the mothers.  Instead, he brings extravagant presents that are often unsuitable for the age of the boy or his interests and has failed to be child-centred in any way in his approach, resulting in the boy often being very reluctant to go out with him.   Both women like the donor as a person but his behaviour around their son and the disruption he has brought to their lives has led them to see him as a rather inadequate person who is attempting to fill an emotional hole in his life with this child, rather than an emotionally mature adult who wishes to meet the needs of a child.  Of the nearly twenty lesbian families known to them, the majority seem to have donors – most of whom are gay men – who have similar failings.  In contrast to the constant juggling of relationships and arrangements around their son and his father, life with their daughter is a doddle.   Only the future will show how important it has or has not been to each child to have known or not known a father as they were growing up.

The truth is that these days the whole spectrum of the male population is probably represented in those who donate sperm.  However, maybe, just maybe, those who choose the conventional clinic route are more likely to be those who are not looking to fill an emotional or social gap in their own lives.   They are donating on the understanding that they will not be parents to the children they help to create, but are willing to fulfil their responsibilities by being available to them from age 18.  There is clarity in this for all.  Private arrangements are inevitably subject to change and as the women I spoke to said, ‘You can’t legislate for feelings.’

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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