George (not his real name) is 24 and single. In the past four years, he has helped three couples get pregnant. The first couple had two sons. The second couple had a girl. And the third couple just found out they are expecting. A participant in my research, he said: “I’m making a huge impact on these people’s lives. Why not keep helping them out?”
Like George, an increasing number of men are going online to make arrangements to donate sperm through Facebook or connection websites. Online sperm donation gives donors ultimate freedom in selecting who they will help, engaging with the recipients and negotiating the terms and conditions of the donation.
Just as Uber transformed the taxi business and Airbnb shook up the hotel world, online sperm donation is the sperm bank, reinvented. Yet, as more people turn to the accessibility and convenience of online sperm donation, surprisingly little is known about the men who donate.
Media portrayals of online sperm donation are often coloured by fiery references to dangerous rogue breeders, “super” seed and sperm donation scandals, highlighting dramatic cases that would be well-suited for reality TV programmes.
Certainly, the potential risks of online sperm donation — like any online activity — should not be understated. However, a more balanced perspective of online sperm donation is important to better understand the practice and its implications for the men, women and children who are part of it.
To address this need, I developed a research project with fellow PhD candidate Celine Delacroix as part of our doctoral programme at the University of Ottawa. The results are published in the journal Critical Public Health.
A WAY TO HELP OTHERS
We gathered the stories of six men who participate in online sperm donation. In a Skype interview lasting 45 to 75 minutes, we discussed their expectations, motivations and experiences as donors.
The men, aged 24 to 67, were from Australia, Canada, England, France, the Netherlands and the United States. The details of their experiences of donating sperm were unique and personal. However, certain common themes emerged.
Overwhelmingly, the men in our study viewed sperm donation as a way to help others.