A new article in The Daily Beast announces, “Today’s Sperm Donor Isn’t a Broke 20-Something.” The article’s author maintains that sperm donation, while normally associated with college guys looking to make some extra beer money, is more of an altruistic practice than a commercial enterprise.

To support her premise, she cites a 2012 study from Reproductive BioMedicine, “Semen Donors Who are Open to Contact with Their Offspring: Issues and Implications for Them and Their Families.” The study found that:

of 164 sperm donors, the primary motivation for donating was to help families who wanted to have children (78 percent), followed by making money (61 percent), and passing on genes (41 percent).

While I’m skeptical of this thesis that altruism—mainly, the desire to help another couple conceive—is the primary motivation at play in sperm donation, let’s temporarily grant it. Should this be the case, then why is there such resistance to removing the commercialization from the practice? If most donors are primarily motivated by altruism and their goodwill toward infertile couples, why would the fertility industry oppose efforts that aim to make the process entirely free from financial fraud or potential coercion?

In Canada and much of Europe, it’s a criminal offense to be compensated for your sperm (or blood or eggs). As such, the United States has become the leading supplier of sperm—shipping and selling sperm throughout the world. In short, the buying and selling of sperm is big business. The more men these providers can lure into the practice, the more money there is to be made. The more “donors,” the merrier it is for these providers.

Of course, the outcome of such a practice is that children are born without any knowledge of their biological fathers or their medical histories. Many of these children suffer from geological bewilderment and often lament the commercialization of the practice that allowed for their conception.

Should those involved in the fertility industry really want to provide teeth to their claims that their utmost concerns are for the children that result from such a process, then removing the compensation for sperm donation would be a good and necessary first step. After all, they are often quick to note that money isn’t the primary incentivize for donors—and so presumably removing the compensation element of the practice shouldn’t affect their abilities to keep their shops open.

Maybe—just, maybe—sperm donation could really become just that.


For more on sperm donation, consider watching our documentary Anonymous Father’s Day. Here’s the trailer:

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Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director