Trying to Multiply


Fertile Competition

I can't believe that out of 75,000,000 sperm, you were the quickest.

- Steven Pearl

by David Jones

The claim has been made that sperm counts in the West are declining alarmingly.  A typical ejaculate might contain 100 million sperm; since only one is required to do the job, a reduction to (say) 50 million may not seem obviously critical.  But human fertilisation is chancy at best.  Even trying hard, a couple can easily take many months to conceive.

One explanation for producing so many sperm is that most sperm are infertile.  Their job is to ward off or discourage rival sperm.  In effect, they act as a large screen of warships escorting a small, crucial convoy of freighters.

Daedalus argues that both freighters and warships will put on a mighty spurt if challenged by a rival fleet.  There is some evidence that a man with a sexual rival generates more sperm than he would do otherwise; but Daedalus reckons that the speed, efficiency and pugnacity of his sperm must rise as well.  In many species sperm compete chemically, by putting out toxins or antigens against their rivals.  Indeed, Daedalus once proposed to use human seminal toxins in a natural spermicidal contraceptive.  He now has a converse strategy.  DREADCO biochemists are studying human seminal toxins in the hope of developing a spermal "vaccine".  It will be a derivative of such a toxin, modified just enough to be harmless, but still sensed as a deadly threat by sperm encountering it.  Spurred by this challenge, they will drive towards the ovum with extra speed and energy.  This ingenious "conceptive" will be welcomed by couples trying hard to have children.  It will boost their chances greatly.

But Daedalus goes further.  The sperm in a given ejaculate must be immune to their own toxin.  They should even tolerate quite well the toxin of a close genetic relative carrying many of the same genes.  But toxin from a genetic stranger must be a terrible threat.  The DREADCO team are therefore mixing semen samples from different types and races of men, and studying their competition under the microscope.  They will then plot the semen donors on a map such that the more fiercely antagonistic the sperm of any two donors, the further apart they are on the map.

The resulting human distribution will be far more fundamental than one based (say) on blood groups or pigmentation.  It will reveal the classes of mankind as sensed by genetics itself.  It should powerfully illuminate the stages by which we emerged from Africa, and our diversification since then.

Source: Deadalus column Nature Vol 401 23 September 1999

Demand for US Sperm: A Uniquely American Export Is Becoming Popular Overseas

Likewise, the only job for which no woman is or can be qualified is sperm donor.

- Wilma Scott Heide

by Buck Wolf

You might think that most countries wouldn’t have to look abroad for their sperm needs.  But in the age of artificial insemination, American sperm is becoming a hot international commodity.  When I tell you the United States is sending a lot of semen abroad, I’m not talking about sailors.

There’s talk that America can’t make anything anymore.  The rest of the world doesn’t respect our goods and services.  The French bomb McDonald’s.  Asia now controls vast sectors of the international high-tech business.  Our foreign-trade deficit has ballooned to a record annual rate of $425 billion.  But whatever economic problems America may have, we can at least raise our fists and tell the world with pride that we are the number one exporter of human sperm.

That’s right; the French may be the leading authorities on romance, and the Latin Americans may take pride in their machismo, but foreigners are nonetheless buying our semen.  Four of the five largest sperm banks are based in the United States, and they control an estimated 65% of a burgeoning international business believed to be worth $50 - $100 million.

That’s chump change to a hard-core macroeconomist, and to be sure, I’m not suggesting sperm dollars will ever be able to correct the trade balance or make up for all the foreign-manufactured DVD players we’re importing.  But this is a psychological boost that we Americans should savour.

Squiggling to Canada

While former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has taken to the airways to talk about erectile dysfunction, and Hollywood stars are pumping up with steroids and human growth hormones, it’s nice to know this country can still produce in one area where it counts.  And in great quantities.

Yes, American sperm is squiggling into Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East at record levels.  In recent weeks, Canada has announced that it has a sperm shortage, and it will be turning primarily to the United States for help.  How’d that happen?  An inspection of Canadian fertility clinics last year — ordered after a woman who received semen from a sperm bank became infected with chlamydia — uncovered widespread irregularities in the mandatory testing of semen samples.  Now 35 of Canada’s 49 sperm banks and clinics have been ordered to quarantine some or all of their sperm, leaving an inadequate supply for the 2,000 women and infertile couples expected to seek assistance this year.

"The stocks have decreased dramatically," fertility specialist Roger Pierson, president of the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, told Reuters.  Much of that demand is now being met by US firms, Pierson said, because they can adhere to the tougher new standards.

"It’s an opportunity for us.  Right now, we are having trouble keeping up with demand," says David Towles, spokesman for Xytex Corporation in Atlanta, a major US sperm bank.  A third of all Xytex’s foreign orders come from Canada, and the company recently opened a subsidiary in Toronto.

According to the World Trade Center Institute in Baltimore, a private, nonprofit trade promotion group, the export of human glands and secretions to Canada topped $1.5 million in the first nine months of 2000, up 139% compared to the same period last year.  Towles estimates that in the next year, Canadians will be plunking down $3 million to $5 million for high-grade, US sperm.

Spermatozoa With a Pedigree

Now let’s define "high grade."  The means the sperm has been screened for disease, has a high level of motility (that is, they swim fast enough to reach their target), and comes with background information on the donor.

This reporter was saddened to learn that despite being in excellent health and holding two master’s degrees from an Ivy League university, he is at least an inch and a half too short to donate highly desirable sperm.  How humbling. Although I didn’t make the height requirement (you have to be at least 5-foot-8) it might have made a difference if I were a classically trained musician or a medical doctor.  (Advanced degrees in journalism don’t count.)  Xytex claims only about one in 10 men make the grade.

"People are very choosy," Towles says.  "We’ve had requests for Brad Pitt’s semen."  Celebrities and politicians have used Xytex’s services, although Towles can’t name names.  And while folks can be very specific in their requests, you can’t yet purchase sperm of the stars.  However, if you want a donation from a blue-eyed, 6-foot, blond doctor who is Catholic and likes the outdoors, many sperm banks can deliver.  And that’s one reason US sperm banks have a competitive advantage.  "America is a big country, with a diverse population.  It’s easier for us to get what people want than for competitors in homogenous countries," Towles says.

The Laissez-Faire Semen Trade

You might think foreign countries wouldn’t have to look abroad for sperm. You should be able to count on domestic production.  But American companies benefit because the United States has fewer restrictions on the buying and selling of sperm than in other countries.

Denmark also exports a lot of human sperm.  But donations there and in many other countries are anonymous.  And these days, customers want semen with a pedigree.  Xytex often provides clients with photos of the donor and the offspring he’s helped produce, along with detailed biography.

Middle Eastern and Asian sperm is harder to come by, for cultural reasons.  Towles says it's quite common for a Japanese couple to travel to the United States for fertility assistance.

Lauren Owenby of the Georgia Department of Industry Trade and Tourism helps promote US human sperm abroad.  "It’s funny collecting information on this," she says.  "When I called the Danish Consulate, the man there thought I was asking him for his sperm.  "Then I had to explain, I just wanted his country’s regulations."

Georgia has 11 foreign trade offices, and Owenby has gathered trade information.  "Because it is unusual to export sperm, we investigate local laws and trade practices," she says.  But the practice is becoming more acceptable.

For American men who qualify, becoming a sperm donor can be somewhat lucrative.  You earn about $50 for each vial you fill.  Xytex has 10,000 samples on hand, each one contains about 15,000 sperm.  Some might call it a commentary on society that human sperm and cattle sperm sell for about the same amount on the open market.  It’s interesting to note that the United States is a leader in the sale of both commodities, although you can hardly call them interchangeable items.  In fact, sperm from a top bull can sell for $200.

"A specimen of that caliber is really hard to come by.  The animal has been carefully bred and almost considered a one-of-a-kind creature," says Brenda Hastings of World-wide Sires in Visalia, California, which ships bovine genetic material to 70 countries.  "I don’t think they can measure humans that way.  Not yet, anyway."

Source:, where Buck Wolf is a producer.  The Wolf Files is a weekly feature.

Net Search for Sperm Brings High Risk Home

Just because you donate sperm does not make you a father.  I don't have a father.
I would never give him the credit or acknowledge him as my father.

- Sarah Michelle Gellar

Donated sperm...

For some women, there's no place like home to be artificially inseminated.

Doctors' offices are just too expensive and too clinical, these women say.  "We'd like to do it as naturally as possible," says Jacqueline Beaudoin, 38, of Peterborough, Ontario, who has had several home inseminations but has not gotten pregnant.

The catch is that few sperm banks, and none in Canada, will ship to anyone but a physician, Beaudoin says.  Nor will sperm banks let clients meet potential donors, she says.  So about a year and a half ago, she started an Internet mailing list at Men who want to become donors post to the list, as do women looking for donors.  Sometimes a match is made.

But the practice raises a number of medical and legal questions.

Beaudoin acknowledges that there are risks involved, as far as the donor and his semen are concerned.  She says her desperation for a child has led her to depend on prayer, rather than science, to protect her.

At sperm banks, donors are screened for diseases that could be transmitted via semen.  In addition, most sperm banks follow guidelines published by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in 1994, which say that semen specimens should be frozen for six months before they are used.  The wait allows for retesting of donors for antibodies to HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, which can take months to appear in the blood after infection.

A few states mandate that sperm donors be screened for HIV, and several require that doctors supervise donor insemination.  "It does not surprise me to learn that people are using the Internet as a way to Identify donors," says Ronald Valdiserri, deputy director of the center for HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis prevention at the CDC.  "That is a risky practice.  That's essentially like having sex with somebody you don't know anything about."

Asking a friend or acquaintance to be the donor might seem to be safer, but such men also might be more likely to seek custody of any resulting children; Beaudoin says.  State laws vary on the subject of sperm donors' rights and responsibilities.  Some women require donors to sign contracts relinquishing their rights, but, Beaudoin acknowledges, such documents might not be recognized by the courts.

Men who post to her list "kind of like the idea of leaving a bit of themselves," but they're not interested in raising children conceived with their sperm, she says.  "Most of the donors on there seem to fall under the category of confirmed bachelor, or they're fathers already."  The men can't be doing it for the money because they're reimbursed only for their expenses.

"I am not interested in anything other than assisting people reach their dreams of having a child," a Utah man writes to list members.  In the past six months, Beaudoin says, five women have let her know that they have become pregnant thanks to sperm donors they found through her mailing list.

Like herself, Beaudoin says, the women want as much information as possible about the donors to share with their children, but they're not basing their choice on looks or career.  They can't afford to be that picky because they don't have nearly as wide a choice as the clients of sperm banks.  "Every single one of them has met her donor," Beaudoin says.  "Most of them have done the insemination at his house: In three cases, the donor is going to act as an uncle to the child; in the other two, he'll be a casual friend."

Beaudoin also is active on a mailing list at  On that list, women share practical tips about artificial insemination.  One recommends performing the insemination with a medication dosing syringe for horses, available at farm and feed stores.  Another suggests that donors use a 4-pound blue ice pack and ship their semen by Federal Express, overnight priority.

"So many people don't realise the hassle and embarrassment of going to a doctor for something that is supposed to occur naturally in the privacy of your own bedroom!" writes the list's founder.

Source: USA Today Tuesday 7 November 2000

The Incredible Shrinking Father

by Kay S Hymowitz

Artificial insemination begets children without paternity, with troubling cultural and legal consequences.

Here’s a Delphic riddle for our times: When is your father not your father?  Answer: when he’s a sperm donor.  Consider a case now before the Kansas Supreme Court.  An unmarried woman in her early 30's decided that she wanted a child and asked a friend to be a sperm donor.  He agreed, one thing led to another, which led to a syringe of his sperm, which led to the birth of twins.  The mother says that she always intended to raise the kids alone and never wanted the friend involved in their lives.  The donor says that he planned to be the twins’ father in name and practice.  There is no written contract.  What does the contemporary Solomon do?

Well, in a Kansas trial court, Solomon rules that without a contract the twins have no father.  The man who provided half of the children’s genetic material has no more relationship to them than does the taxi driver who rushed their mother to the hospital when she went into labour.  Now, assuming that the supreme court upholds the decision, the state of Kansas can celebrate adding two more fatherless children to its population, and Mom can rejoice by dressing her twins in bibs - available over the Internet - proudly announcing: my daddy’s name is donor.

You’d think that we had enough problems keeping fathers around in this country, what with out-of-wedlock births (over a third of all children are born to unmarried women, and, in most cases, the fathers will fade from the picture) and divorce (the average divorced dad sees his kids less often than he takes his car in for an oil change).  But these days, American fatherhood has yet another hostile force to contend with: artificial insemination.  This may sound a tad overheated.  After all, AI has been around, by some accounts, for over a century.  And the number of kids born through the procedure each year, though steadily growing, remains quite small relative to the millions of babies conceived, as we can now say completely without irony, the old-fashioned way.

But aided by a lucrative sperm-bank service industry, an increasingly unmarried consumer base, a legal profession and judiciary geared toward seeing relationships through a contractual lens, and a growing cultural preference for individual choice without limits, AI is advancing a cause once celebrated only in the most obscure radical journals: the dad-free family.  There are multiple ironies in this unfolding revolution, not least that the technology that allows women to have a family without men promotes the very male carelessness that leads a lot of women to become single mothers in the first place.  And fatherless families are a delicate proposition, as AI families are discovering, since all the scientists’ technology and all the lawyerly contracts can’t take human nature out of human reproduction.

In the middle of the 20th century, artificial insemination seemed as family-values-friendly as Dr James Dobson himself.  If a woman had trouble conceiving, doctors would inject her husband’s sperm directly into her uterus.  Or, if the husband’s sperm count was low, physicians would enlist the help of medical students willing to provide their sperm.  AI was rare, producing 5,000 to 7,000 American babies a year.

It was also hush-hush.  Doctors often kept no records or they signed false birth certificates, and they firmly instructed patients to tell no one, especially the kids.  Most children conceived through AI during that era probably went through life unaware that Dad was not a biological relation.  From today’s vantage point, the approach seems typical of a time too enamored of family secrets and overly cowed by medical authority.  Yet if the mid-century approach to artificial insemination was excessively protective of the feelings of infertile men and failed to grasp that family secrets have a way of unraveling rather messily, it also recognised, as did the culture at large, that a child needs both clarity and an intact home.

That recognition began to weaken as technology, economics, and a liberalizing social climate worked together to expand AI into brave new territory.

bulletTechnology.  By the mid-20th century, scientists figured out the science of cryo-freezing cattle sperm; by the late 70's, they had perfected techniques that could store the more delicate labor of men.  This innovation led to the expansion of that peculiar contemporary entity, the sperm bank, and that in turn led to the transformation of AI from a fringe medical procedure to a consumer business.  Freezing enabled sperm banks not only to weather but also to benefit from the HIV-AIDS epidemic.  Bankers can freeze a man’s sperm for six months - the time that it can take for HIV to show up in the blood test of an infected individual - and then do a blood test on the donor before putting the product on sale, making frozen sperm safer than fresh.
bulletMarket Economics.  In his fascinating new book, The Genius Factory, David Plotz describes the 1980 origins of the Repository for Germinal Choice.  Widely known as the "Nobel Prize sperm bank," because (supposedly) it specialised in the seed of Nobel laureates, it was one of the earliest banks, and the first to treat would-be mothers as customers rather than as patients.  The founder, an eccentric millionaire eugenicist named Robert Graham, marketed his stable of studs through brochures touting such qualities as "beautiful teeth," "happy and radiant personality," and, of course, a dazzling IQ.  Today’s sperm banks - often mighty enterprises compared with the corner-store operation that was the Nobel bank - provide lengthy online catalogs of donors, containing basic stats like height, hair, eye colour, and education.  If donor #305 has the right colouring and smarts to be your child’s father, you can make sure that he’s the one for an extra fee, by buying his psychological test, his baby photo, an audio interview with him, and perhaps even the sperm bank’s notes from his intake interview.
bulletChanging Social Climate.  The increasingly sophisticated, market-driven technology eventually joined forces with what I call the "unmarriage revolution" - that is, the decoupling of marriage and child rearing - and extended itself to single women and lesbians.  As early as the 70's, a small number of lesbians were bypassing the medical establishment by procuring the necessary body fluid from male friends or acquaintances, and buying a mason jar and a turkey baster from the local hardware store.

Now they’re more likely to go to the sperm store like everyone else, especially since a 2006 American Society for Reproductive Medicine Ethics Committee report calling for equal access to fertility treatment for gays, lesbians, and singles.  These days, anyone can buy sperm: married couples, gay couples, and single women; women on the AARP mailing list, women barely out of college, 40-year-old women who have tried desperately to find husbands and have no other hope of becoming mothers, and 20-something women who - well - just want to, that’s all; rich and famous women like Annie Leibovitz, Wendy Wasserstein, and Mary Cheney; and divorced 3rd-grade teachers who live in modest 2-bedroom condos and are fed up with men.  Whoever.  The California Cryobank, the country’s largest, estimates that about 40% of its customers are unmarried women.  The Sperm Bank of California says that 2/3 of its clientele are lesbian couples.  Most professionals believe that about 1 million American children are the progeny of sperm donors - the large majority of them anonymous - with 30,000 more boosting the ranks each year.

Subtract the children born via AI to infertile married couples: that’s still a lot of fatherless kids.

Most fertility specialists - except perhaps the Nobel factory’s, whose ambition was to improve the race - probably never imagined themselves as building a new family order.  They just believed that they were helping the unfortunate, a view that the joyful maternal testimonials filling sperm-bank websites support.  But that doesn’t answer the question of whether spreading happiness - as opposed to the entirely different matter of healing the sick - automatically validates artificial insemination’s almost entirely unregulated march into the mainstream of American life.

For starters, an AI foul-up can be traumatic.  Just ask the white British woman who thought she’d been inseminated artificially with her white husband’s sperm - until she delivered black twins.  For decades, sperm banks have proliferated like Starbucks.  You could open one in your garage or in back of the local pet store.  Plotz mentions a scientist who told a television reporter that, along with running a small sperm bank, he also bred dogs.  In fact, he went on, he kept his human and canine sperm side by side in his freezer.  The threat of a harried technician accidentally reaching for Rin Tin Tin’s seed as a potential mother-to- be waited nervously nearby was enough briefly to rouse California public health officials, who shut down the sperm bank.  For the most part, though, industry oversight is minimal.  Sperm banks must register with the FDA and screen for several diseases, including HIV, but that’s about it.

The thorniest problems unleashed by widespread AI have had less to do with mix-ups than with what has always been one of society’s most vexing questions: Who is the father?  In a more conservative time, lawyers joined - critics might say conspired with - doctors to contain the potential ambiguities of paternity and to bolster the social consensus that children should grow up with married parents.  In 1973, the American Bar Association published the Uniform Parentage Act, a model state law that proposed that a woman’s husband automatically be deemed the legal father of her AI children - assuming that he had consented to the procedure and that a doctor had performed the insemination.  The donor dad would be a legal cipher, just as he was a domestic one.

But with a growing number of AI cases involving single women and lesbian couples, the pretense of the donor’s nonexistence is no longer tenable, since there’s no father around.  The issues surrounding the practice have grown vastly more complicated: Can a sperm donor be a father?  Can his mother be a grandmother?  Can a child conceived through AI inherit property from her biological father?  Can a child have two mothers and no father?  How about two mothers and a father?  Can the lesbian partner of a biological mother have custody rights if the couple breaks up?  Can she be required to pay child support?  And, again, who are the grandparents?

Unfortunately, in the absence of any other authority, answering these questions has fallen to family court judges, who are - and I mean no disrespect - not always the sort you’d expect to be on the short list for the Louis Brandeis Award for Cautious Jurisprudence.  True, these are hardly people who dream of redefining the family when they promise to uphold the Constitution; probably the last label that they imagine applying to themselves is "activist judge."  But when they try to figure out whether a woman has the right to visit the child she diapered, fed, and read to for 4 years before she and her partner split up, they have only a small number of blunt instruments in their legal toolbox: case law on custody and visitation, the best-interests-of-the-child doctrine, contract law, and so forth.  They aren’t thinking that their decisions could be enshrining in law a profound cultural transformation that few Americans have had a chance to register, much less opine on.  In fact, many legal theorists argue that in making such decisions, the courts are simply "catching up with reality."

But it turns out to be more like reality on Mars.  In unwitting alliance with a fertility industry fiercely protective of anonymous gamete donation, the courts have given their imprimatur to two nonsensical biological conditions: children who have no fathers and fathers who have no children.  The old Uniform Parentage Act had it that a donor had no paternal standing, because at the time the law needed to resolve the potential problem of two fathers: the donor and the mother’s husband.  It should be obvious that in the case of a single or lesbian mother, the problem is quite different: there is no "other father."

But it hasn’t proved obvious to most legal experts, who continue to revert to the Uniform Parentage Act formula: as long as a doctor performs the insemination or a sperm bank sells the sperm, the donor is not a father.  This doesn’t simply mean that the child is fatherless in the way that, say, an orphan is fatherless.  Rather, the child is born into an entirely new human circumstance.  For, according to the law, he never had a father at all.  The man who fathered him is not in fact his father; instead, he’s the originating site of organic material that is for sale, like a sulfur mine or a fish farm.  Witness the title of a 1994 Dickinson Law Review article: "The Potential for Products Liability Actions When Artificial Insemination by an Anonymous Donor Produces Children with Genetic Defects."

To justify this new "reality," many legal scholars argue that we should reject biology as the basis of parentage in favour of the principle of "intentionality."  It’s the person - or persons - who planned the child who have parental rights.  A donor doesn’t intend to become a parent to his offspring - he is an intentional unparent, if you will - while the woman who uses his sperm does, and therefore is.  "State interest is best served by honouring the preconception intent of each adult who took part in conception, regardless of his/her biological role," Justyn Lezin argues in The Hastings Women’s Law Journal in language typical of this line of thinking.

You shouldn’t have to be Brandeis to see the land mines that line the road of intentionality.  For one thing, intentionality is wildly inconsistent with the law’s traditional presumption of paternal responsibility.  Say a man has a drunken one-night stand with a woman he meets in a bar.  If she gets pregnant, the law sees him as a father, and he must pay child support for the next 18 years.  But if a college student visits the local sperm bank twice a week for a year, produces a dozen children, and pockets thousands of dollars, he can whistle his way back to econ class, no cares, no worries.  Intentionality can’t explain that disconnect.

And that’s just for starters.  A woman participating in an online discussion group at the Donor Sibling Registry, a database for AI parents and children, describes how she and her lesbian partner decided to have a child together.  After she became pregnant through a donor, the couple purchased a house and settled in to wait for the blessed event.  But several months later, the partner lost interest and moved out, announcing that she no longer intended to become a parent.  If it were the child’s father who pulled that stunt, no rational person would disagree: your baby, your responsibility, Bub.  But in what sense is the partner a parent to a child she’s never seen, much less nurtured, and to whom she is biologically unrelated?  Simply because for a few months she thought that she wanted to be a parent?  And why should her intent prevail over other goods - in this case, the biological mother’s need to create a loving environment for the child, or - now here’s a radical idea! - the child’s interest in knowing her father?

As intentionality has come to supplant biology, the law, by pretending nature doesn’t exist, has not caught up with reality; it has pole-vaulted over it.  A family court in Burlington County, New Jersey, recently put two women on a state birth certificate.  Last year, Virginia issued a birth certificate for a gay couple that read "Parent A" and "Parent B."  Massachusetts officials proposed crossing out "Father" on the state’s birth certificate and replacing it with "Second Parent" (until then-governor Mitt Romney nixed the plan).  Many legal scholars are now proposing that courts move beyond the "heterosexist model" entirely.  Why not put three parents - or four, for that matter - on the birth certificate?  This past January, an Ontario court did just that.  Intentionality, it seems, can accomplish almost anything.

AI’s potential for deconstructing the family has not been lost on radical feminists.  In Baby Steps: How Lesbian Alternative Insemination Is Changing the World, Amy Agigian, a sociology professor at Suffolk University in Boston, observes: "Lesbian appropriation of medical technology (AI) that was intended to shore up nuclear families" has "radically challenge[d] the power structure, assumptions, and presumed ‘naturalness’ of major social institutions."  AI promotes a "postmodern family form that emphasizes affinity over biology and (patri)lineage."  For thinkers like Agigian, one of AI’s greatest benefits is that it dethrones what Canadian feminist Kathryn Pauly Morgan calls PIVMO (penis in vagina with male orgasm).  Postmodern anthropologists studying reproduction technology - and there are enough of them to be producing a steady stream of volumes with titles like Conceiving the New World Order - have joined in, arguing that the whole idea of kinship based on sexual procreation is a Western construct, happily on its way out.

Highly credentialed mainstream experts are also taking a take-’em-or-leave-’em approach to dads.  There was Louise Silverstein and Carl Auerbach’s infamous "Deconstructing the Essential Father," a 1999 American Psychologist article arguing that "neoconservative social scientists" who cautioned against the fatherless family simply wanted to uphold "male power and privilege."  More recently, Peggy Drexler, an assistant professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a board member of New York University’s Child Study Center, has made a similar case in Raising Boys Without Men: How Maverick Moms Are Creating the Next Generation of Exceptional Men.  Drexler announces that she herself is raising two children with her husband of 30-plus years, but one has to wonder whether her book isn’t a silent cry for help.  Her index under "fathers" includes: "absent, after divorce," "destructive qualities of," "spending limited time with children."  "In our society, often we idealize and elevate the role of father in a boy’s life without giving credence to the fact that actual fathers can be destructive and a boy may be better off without his father," she informs us.  In Drexler’s view (spoiler alert for Mr Drexler), dadless boys are actually better, more sensitive and more "exceptional."

More ordinary "choice mothers," as many single women using AI now call themselves, are usually not openly hostile to fathers, but they boast a language of female empowerment that implicitly trivializes men’s roles in children’s lives.  The term "choice mothers" frames AI as a matter of women’s reproductive rights.  Only the woman’s decision making - or intention - carries moral weight.  Similarly, advocates often cite the benefits of single motherhood’s freedom from "donor interference."  "Single moms avoid the need to discuss and negotiate around key parenting issues," one Toronto social worker told iParenting Media.  "She can shape a child in her own unique vision."

And in the same choice-trumps-everything spirit, choice mothers emphasise that they choose their kids.  All the planning and deliberation that they’ve got to go through to have children, they suggest, might make them better parents than those who just "breed."  Their kids are "wanted children," observes sociologist Judith Stacey.  The implication that sexual intercourse brings forth hordes of unwanted, unloved children, while AI produces a chosen elite, sometimes hangs in the air.  It’s a view that one of the pioneer choice mothers (though through adoption, not AI) - Joan "Mommy Dearest" Crawford - probably would have endorsed.

Still, while there’s very little research on AI families (and what there is suffers from size or design flaws), it’s a good bet that most single women who go sperm shopping - and that includes lesbians - don’t see themselves as you-go-girl! revolutionaries.  On the contrary: their desires couldn’t be more traditional.  They want a baby.  They long for a family.  Like married women who set out to become pregnant, they’re looking to feel needed, known, and rooted.

In her recent book Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice, Rosanna Hertz found that most of her (non-lesbian) subjects had struggled for years to find husbands and start families before finally concluding that they had no choice but to go it alone.

Many mothers find that for all the magnificence of human intentionality and free choice, biology just won’t go away.  As they watch their children grow, they might notice an unfamiliar crooked smile or a musical talent when they have a tin ear.  They wonder: Are these clues to the mystery man who is my child’s father?  They often try to flesh out an image of the human being from the sperm bank’s description.  Odd as it sounds, they may become attached, even romantically aroused - remember that they selected the donor because he sounded like the kind of man they might have wanted to marry.  Plotz describes one mother who fantasized that she would "meet [the donor] serendipitously, fall madly in love, and he would become the father of his own children."  Another keeps a picture of a man she believes is her child’s donor by her bedside.  Strangest of all is a Washington Post story about a Massachusetts mother of two who tracked down her children’s father, donor #929 from the California Cryobank, in Los Angeles.  After visiting him, she moved her family to  Los Angeles and changed her kids’ middle names to his surname.

For the children of single mothers, biology is also an unexpected and frequent visitor.  Even Peggy Drexler can’t ignore the little boy, conceived by anonymous donor, who points to a strange man on television and exclaims: "There’s my daddy!"  When her 15-year-old son wanted to track down his anonymous father, a Colorado woman named Wendy Kramer started the Donor Sibling Registry, a website that allows kids to search for other children of their donor fathers.  More than 7,000 donor mothers and children have used the registry to try to locate half-siblings and sometimes fathers - close to 3,000 successfully.

True, not all donor children are keen on finding their fathers or siblings, just as not all adopted children set out to find their biological parents.  Elizabeth Marquardt, at work on a book titled My Daddy’s Name Is Donor, finds a wide range of responses, from indifference to curiosity to angry obsession, and those feelings often change over time.

Yet even if the numbers of those suffering from father hunger are relatively small, their plight is consistent with a powerful human theme explored by storytellers from Homer to George Lucas: the child’s longing to know his father.  On websites, unhappy donor kids are beginning to speak up.  "I believe that it is a tragic turn for our society to celebrate fathers who intentionally disconnect themselves from their children," writes the proprietor of  "I’m 18 and for most of my life, I haven’t known half my origins," Katrina Clark wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this past fall.  Donor conception has always been about making adults happy, not children, she continued.  As a child, she found herself jealous of a friend whose parents were divorced; at least the girl got to visit her father.

Some choice mothers anticipate the mystery-man dilemma and decide to use a "known donor" - a former boyfriend, a partner’s brother, or just an acquaintance - to avoid it.  But the inherently ambiguous nature of the father’s relationship with his children can still be a source of misery for women, their children, and, as in the Kansas case, for men.  Consider Drexler’s example of the 8-year-old who says to his lesbian mother: "I have no father."  "Sure you do," she answers.  "You have your dad" - who lives 250 miles away - "and you have Michael" - her very warm, loving brother, who’s a terrific father figure.  The child is not reassured.  "I don’t know my dad at all, and Michael’s not my real father."

Marquardt describes AI and other reproductive technologies as presenting us with a competition between the rights of adults and the needs of children.  Is there any question which is winning?

And what do the missing men - the donor/fathers - make of all this?  Sperm bankers like to describe anonymous donors (who in reality are sperm sellers, it’s important to remember) as altruists, and many of these men probably do believe that they’re doing good deeds.  But they’re a little like the socialist who loves humanity but hates individual people.  The donors are willing to perform acts of charity for women they’ve never met.  But they don’t want anything to do with what we used to call their own flesh and blood.

Ultimately, AI reinforces the worst that women fear in men.  Think of all the complaints you hear: men can’t commit, they’re irresponsible, they’re insensitive, they don’t take care of the kids.  By going to a sperm bank, women are unwittingly paying men to be exactly what they object to.  Many donors are college students - some sperm banks accept donors as young as 18 - responding to ads like the Fairfax Cryobank’s: "Why not do it for money?"  Sperm-bank officials say that many donors are married men who neglect to mention to their wives what they’re up to.  Plotz tracks down a number of the Nobel bank’s donors and finds a motley crew of coldhearted rationalists, losers, and egotists - often serial donors he calls "the Inseminators."  One is a sociopathic seducer with so many children, through girlfriends and sperm donation, that Plotz will only refer to the total number as "X."  It appears to be higher than 50, the total ascribed to another sorry case, who, otherwise basically jobless, made masturbating his life’s work over the course of 15 years.

Katrina Clark eventually found her father, but he’s no candidate for Donor of the Year, either.  "I’m tired of this whole sperm-donor thing," he tells her after several meetings.  The young woman tries to put a good face on their encounter: "Now that he knows I exist, I’m okay if he doesn’t care for me in the same way [that I care about him].  But I hope he at least thinks of me sometimes."  There are many words to describe the father Katrina Clark finally discovered, but "altruistic" isn’t one of them.

But why expect anything different?  The very premise of AI is that, apart from their liquid DNA, we can will men out of children’s lives.  Insofar as their Y chromosome is significant, they are completely interchangeable with other "male role models."  To produce and rear the next generation, women are still a vital presence - at least until artificial wombs become part of the artificial-reproduction toolbox.  But men?

Plotz meets only one donor who shows any feeling for the children he has produced.  "This was what happened when a deliberate man with a pure soul became a sperm donor," he writes.  "He had tracked his children because he felt he must."  A known donor - partly because he’s unlikely to agree to produce 20 or 30 children - is likelier to become attached to his kids, even if he thought he was just helping out a friend or if the initial contract had it that he was supposed to remain a relative stranger.

Recognising that it’s probably not a good idea for society to erect a wall between children and their fathers - and perhaps also not a good idea to encourage men to disown their kids - several Western countries have banned anonymous donation.  Canada has made it illegal to pay someone for sperm.  In Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and now Britain, donors must agree to be identified to their children once they reach 18.  Unsurprisingly, the donor pool is drying up fast in some of these locales.  Even countries with liberal laws on same-sex relationships, such as France, Iceland, and Norway, have banned AI (and, in some cases, adoption) for gays and singles.  The contradiction is only superficial, a consequence of the way that we frame family making as primarily about adult rights and "intentionality."  What these European laws suggest is that you can support gay relationships, yet still think that it’s best for kids to grow up with a mother and father, preferably their own.

It would be a good idea for Americans likewise to abolish anonymous sperm donation.  But let’s not kid ourselves that such a ban would also put an end either to fatherlessness or to male fecklessness, both nourished by our cultural predilection for individual choice unconstrained by tradition, the needs of children, or nature itself.  To modify that preference, we’ll need something much more radical than government regulation.

Source: City Journal Spring 2007 © The Manhattan Institute

Why do so few people seem to realise that genes controlling more primitive limbic function - emotions, and the drives to eat, copulate, and compete - in other words, the basics of personality - come from the father for daughters?  If you want to understand who you are and how you got that way, knowing Dad is essential.

I had a recent experience that made me realise this at a very personal level - I discovered that my father had a daughter about whose existence he never knew.  When his girlfriend became pregnant, her mother isolated her, intercepting all communication.  He was hurt, not understanding why she suddenly shunned him.  His daughter that resulted - my older sister - as an adult had hired a private detective to locate him - unfortunately this was two months after our father had died.  I didn't find this out from his sister (my aunt) until after my mother had died many years later.  My sister sent me one letter (she lives in England), then ceased all communication.  I never knew why she chose not to get to know me - and I was quite surprised at the degree of disappointment I felt - I think largely because I sensed that getting to know her would in a very real sense allow me to know my father better.  By seeing the similarities I had with her, I would know what parts of me came from him.  This must be a weak version of what children who desperately want to know their fathers feel.  I can appreciate their longing.  I think that after the age of 6 - 12 (depending on the child), many (most?) daughters would be happier living with their fathers than their mothers (assuming a decent father, of course) because their personalities would mesh better.  Mothers' genes control the development of the conscious, "higher" levels of brain function - intelligence, that is (see Thank Dad for Drive - but Thank Mom for Brains later in this section).

Sperm Donors' Offspring Reach out into Past
But Those Searching for Roots Can Run into Rules and Dead Ends

by Judith Graham

Augusta, Georgia - There is no parenting manual for the questions that nag Bobby Gerardot.  What exactly is his relationship to Katie Whitaker, the 21-year-old who contacted him 3 years ago after discovering he was the sperm donor responsible for her birth?  Is he her father, with all that role entails?  If not that, what - a fatherly friend?  And how does he integrate Whitaker and her mother, who have moved to his hometown, into his life with two young sons and his wife, Lisa?

"I'm still trying to figure it out," said Gerardot, who readily admits that coming into contact with Whitaker has "shaken everything up."

As the first large generation of sperm donor babies comes of age, some are beginning to look for their biological dads, much as adopted children have sought out their birth parents.  The searches pit young people's desire to discover their roots against donors' expectations that their identities never will be disclosed.  Like so many new developments, this one is unfolding in large part on the Internet, where many sperm donor offspring are posting queries about their origins and claiming a right to know their parentage.  Increasingly, that right is being recognised abroad.  This spring, Britain became the latest country to say that children conceived this way can find out, when they turn 18, who the donor was.  Several other European countries have similar laws.

Dr Joseph Feldschuh of Idant Laboratories, a large sperm bank in New York City, is appalled by the developments.  "Most donors really don't want any kind of relationship with their offspring," he said.  "Eliminate anonymity and you eliminate a great many donors."

Tracking Down Donors

Young people also are trying to find their donor dads by asking sperm banks to make contact on their behalf (some will, most won't), delving into their mother's medical files and following any clues, such as the donor's occupation.  Ann, who lives on the East Coast and asked that her last name not be used, suspected her mother's gynæcologist was her sperm donor and sent him a package with a DNA sample, inviting him to have it compared to his own.  When the package was sent back with a curt "`I can't help you' response," Ann searched through the university's archives in his hometown, hoping to find a visual clue in a college yearbook picture.  "There was instant familiarity," she said, describing her reaction upon finding the doctor's photograph.  "He has the same face as my daughter, the same eyes as my son.  I just knew."

The booming sperm bank business in the United States largely is unregulated, and no one keeps track of how many donors father how many infants.  Conservative estimates put the number of offspring from anonymous donors at more than 30,000 a year, or 1 million total, but this is little more than guesswork.  Men are paid about $65 to $100 per sample.  Experts say as many as 80% of offspring never have been told how they were conceived.  Those who do know tend to be intensely curious about their donors, according to the few research studies conducted.

In a survey of adolescents published in November in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers at the University of California-Davis found that the thing the children wanted most, other than the donor's name, was a picture.  "They are not looking to establish a father-son/daughter relationship and [they] are not looking for financial or other support," said Eric Blyth, a professor of social work at the University of Huddersfield in England, who has written extensively about the topic.  What they want, he says, is "a more complete sense of their identity."  But with sperm banks committed to privacy, making any kind of connection isn't easy.

The only information Lindsay Greenawalt, 21, of Canton, Ohio, has to go on is this: The donor was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with brown hair and blue eyes, and he left the sample at Xytex Corporation in Augusta in 1984.  After years of wondering "Who is he?  Do I look like him?  Does he like the same stuff I do?" she contacted the sperm bank 2 years ago.  But her donor had been told his identity would never be disclosed, and Xytex would not make any sort of contact on Greenawalt's behalf.  Frustrated, the college student is considering filing a lawsuit to gain access to whatever medical information the company has.  "I feel my right to know who I am and where I come from has been taken away," she says.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine is sympathetic to the desires of offspring for more information, especially about a donor's health history.  But the organisation also says contracts ensuring anonymity must be honored, spokesman Sean Tipton said.  "We have all these agreements with donors saying, `We'll never tell,' and it'd be wrong to back out on them," agreed Sheridan Rivers, sales supervisor at Xytex.

When Carol Pace found out her first husband was infertile and pursued sperm donation, she was advised not to tell her child.  At the time, sperm donation was a taboo subject, thought to be damaging to a man's ego and destructive to his family.  "As a woman dealing with the prospect of infertility, all you want is that baby," said Pace, 51, of Center, Texas.  "It never even occurred to me this child might want to find her biological father some day."  But that is the goal of her daughter, Eve Andrews, 17.  The man Andrews calls "my dad" died when she was 7, and although she has a close relationship with her stepfather, she says she wants "to know the other half of me ... the person who is responsible for me being here."  Andrews is planning to ask the sperm bank, California Cryobank, to forward a letter to her donor when she turns 18.  "There's a lot of unanswered questions in my life and I guess I want the answers," she said.

Bruce Schaefer, 63, who spent 16 years supplementing his income as a sperm donor until 1992, understands the impulse.  Schaefer recently put a notice up with an Internet chat group, saying he'd be interested in talking to any offspring.  In all the years Schaefer sold his sperm, he says he didn't think much about children; he only recently started imagining sons and daughters he's never met.  "I'd be curious to see what they might look like, what kind of people they are ... and it might be fun to send Christmas cards," said Schaefer of Wheaton, Maryland.  So far, no one has responded to the notice.

Some sperm banks are changing their practices in response to changing expectations about access to the donors.  California Cryobank, the nation's largest sperm bank, late last year began an "open donor" program, in which men agree to have at least one contact with a child when he or she is 18 or older.  About 1/3 of donors choose open arrangements, while 2/3 seek anonymity, said Dr Cappy Rothman, California Cryobank's medical director.

A large competitor, the Genetics and IVF Institute, which runs sperm banks in Virginia and Minnesota, also is launching an open donor program this fall.  The concept was pioneered at the Sperm Bank of California in 1983.  Since the first offspring from that program turned 18 in 2001, 15 out of 120 eligible men and women have come forward for information, said Alice Ruby, executive director.  Some donor-child pairs now "see and e-mail each other often," Ruby said, "but others met once or twice and that was enough."  Some offspring haven't contacted the donors yet, "maybe because having a little information was all they needed" or because they're waiting until they graduate from college or have children of their own, she says.

The truth about Katie Whitaker's background came out in a heated argument with her mother in fall 2000.  "I was going through my rebellious period, running with the wrong crowd, drinking, sneaking out at night, and mom figured out I'd been lying to her," Whitaker said.  "I told her, `Well, I've been lying to you all your life too,'" said her mom, Carol Tweedle, 50. "`Your father is not your biological father. ... You're a product of artificial insemination.'"

Whitaker wasn't hurt or angry, she said, but gradually a sense of confusion grew.  In particular, she remembers standing in front of the mirror one morning thinking, "I don't look like anyone I know."  It's a strange feeling "to be seeing my face and think part of me comes from someone my mother never even met," she said.  After several contacts with the sperm bank, Xytex, a sympathetic employee agreed to make contact with Gerardot early in 2002.  Gerardot was at home eating lunch when the call came.

"I was like, hold on, this wasn't supposed to happen," said Gerardot, who spent the next few weeks talking about little else with his wife.  Eventually the couple asked Whitaker to send a letter.  "No matter what contact we have, half of my chromosomes are yours," the teen said in the handwritten note.  Two things clinched the deal for Gerardot: his own experience of being an adopted child who had searched for his birth parents and a photo of Whitaker looking straight into the camera.  "I looked at that picture and I saw myself and I knew, this was the real deal," Gerardot says.

Things progressed quickly.  Gerardot wrote back, Whitaker called, they spoke on the phone for almost 3 hours, she and her family drove to Augusta for a visit.  More visits followed, and in 2003 Tweedle, who had divorced, decided to move with her daughter to Augusta so the relationship could be something more than long-distance.  The Gerardots, who have two young sons, opened their home and their hearts to Whitaker.  "They've taken me to barbecues and trips to the zoo, and they've taken me being a pain-in-the-butt teenager and hitting bottom," she said.

As connections have deepened, Lisa Gerardot and Carol Tweedle have become friends.  Tweedle and Whitaker baby-sit for the Gerardot boys.  Tweedle and Bobby Gerardot spend Father's Day and Mother's Day together, with all the kids.  "It's like I knew him before I met him because he and Katie are so alike," Tweedle said.

Still, there are plenty of challenges for Gerardot, who describes himself as "reeling" from the intense emotional impact of the encounters with his daughter.  "There's no book you can go to and learn what is the etiquette," he said.  "I mean, Emily Post has written a lot of things and that's not one of them."  What is he supposed to do, for example, when Whitaker messes up in school, just as he did?  Or when she wears blouses cut so low, he doesn't even want to imagine what the boys are thinking?  Tell her off?  Do nothing?  Talk to her mom?

"To think about all the interactions and make sure they're appropriate and healthy and don't hurt people, it's taken a tremendous amount of energy," Lisa Gerardot said.  "Be prepared that it absolutely is not going to go the way it is in your head," she added.  "It may be better, it may be worse, but it's not going to be what you expect."

There is agreement in this unusual extended family that something is being overlooked in the anonymous sperm donation model: the children.  And that, they believe, is a terrible oversight.  "People don't want to comprehend the power of a biological connection," Lisa said.  "These kids, they're going to find their donors, they're going to look for their half-siblings - it's going to happen because there's a fundamental drive to do it, and these sperm banks need to start counseling families that this is what could come."

Source: 19 June 2005 from the Chicago Tribune © 2005, The Chicago Tribune photo source:

Mechanical from the Start

A human DNA molecule can have 10 billion atoms; most cells have 46 DNA molecules.  If an atom were a brick, it would take 1,000 times the number of bricks in the Empire State Building to construct a DNA molecule.

I read recently where researchers in Hawaii used freeze-dried sperm to make live mice.  The sperm was dead, though the DNA remained intact.  (They reconstituted the sperm by adding water.)  I found this to be very significant as it implies that DNA isn't, by itself, alive.  Only the egg is alive.  Sperm are apparently merely mechanical messengers.  That also means, perhaps, that dead men could father children.[1]  (Who will pay child support?)

Possibly we could dig up the remains of heroes: great leaders, scientists, or artists and try to resurrect their talents.  The technique is also used to help infertile human males.

I read a story once about a professor who brought tadpoles to the lab in a beaker and told his students they were whale sperm.

[1]    The first recorded incident of this - a wife becoming impregnated with her husband's sperm after he died has now occurred.

Fertility Industry Booms Online

Los Angeles - More and more people have literally found life on the internet as the estimated $US3 billion fertility industry moves increasingly online.  But as with all online commercial ventures, shopping on the Web can carry risks.  In this case, the internet may provide consumers - often people desperate to have a child - a faster and more discreet way to find egg or sperm donors.  But it can also lead to lost money and broken dreams, say fertility experts.

"It's not surprising that much of this business is migrating into cyberspace.  Most people don't mind buying a Lands' End item at the store, but it's awkward to buy eggs in public," said Professor Debora Spar of Harvard Business School, an advocate for regulation of the US fertility industry.  While procuring an egg online still involves more than simply clicking on a shopping cart, says Spar, many people do not realise all the steps and attention required to adequately match, screen and coordinate recipients with donors.

Other experts say hopeful recipients may be asked by less reputable egg donor sites to pay large, nonrefundable sums upfront to see profiles, or be made to wait for months for donors that never materialise.  The cost of a donated egg has soared from about $US2,500 ($NZ3,717) a few years ago to as much as $US35,000 in some cases as lack of regulatory oversight has enabled a new breed of marketers called "egg hunters" to act as Internet brokers between recipients and donors, said Dr Drew Moffitt, co-medical director of the Arizona Reproductive Medicine Specialists, an infertility practice.  Indeed, a random Google search of the phrase "egg donor" called up nearly 1.2 million links.  Some proclaimed things like "Hot & Smart Egg Donors," while others bore ads aimed at students by offering sums like $US7,000 for eggs to pay for books, college and "elective" surgery.  "The introduction of the egg hunters has been one of the things that has led to the escalation of fees. The real loser in this whole game winds up being the recipient," said Moffitt.

Experts say women should also be wary of big payoffs that often blind them to the realities and risks of being a donor, which can be a time-consuming and invasive process.  Some may also later regret that another woman is raising children they helped to create, they said.  "I am shocked because every time I go online, there are another 5 egg donor agencies, promising things like lots of instant money and even plastic surgery in exchange for eggs," said Shelley Smith, director of Los Angeles-based The Egg Donor Program, established in 1992.

To be sure, the US Food and Drug Administration does regulate the handling of any human tissue, while two professional groups; the American Society of Reproductive Medicine ( and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technologies ( provide standards for the practice of reproductive medicine.  But Moffitt said many of these so-called egg hunters are usually not SART-certified.  "As far as the Internet is concerned, the good news is that we can work with couples from as far away as Australia and allow them instant access to hundreds of donors," Smith said.  "But the bad news is that it objectifies the donors and takes away the human contact people should feel when they are building their families.  It's not like buying a car from a catalog," she said.

The egg donation process at certified centres takes various steps.  The potential recipient and the sperm of the would-be father are tested to make sure a pregnancy is viable.  Donors are screened psychologically and for infectious diseases and take hormones to induce the production of several eggs, while the recipient takes hormones to get her menstrual cycle in sync with the donor's.  The recipient undergoes anesthesia when eggs are retrieved and then prepared for fertilisation in a lab.  Two to three days after they are fertilised, the embryos are ready to be transferred to the recipient's uterus.  Smith said her program usually takes 2 - 3 months, starting with a consultation with the recipients, who then select a donor with the help of a coordinator.  The $US5,550 fee covers attorneys, insurance and meetings with a licensed geneticist.  Smith said some red flags to watch for when searching egg donor sites is whether or not they have a post office box, carry liability insurance or have licensed practitioners.  "There are websites built by people who are profiting from the desperation of infertile couples and who walk away in the middle of the cycle," she said, adding that she knows of couples who have lost almost $US25,000 in some cases.  She also warned of the bait-and-switch tactic used by sites which often post a beautiful egg donor who in fact is no longer donating eggs despite their claims to the contrary.

"It's absurd that we have this business involving the creation of life and it's completely unregulated," said Harvard's Spar, author of The Baby Business: How Money Science and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception.  The book, she says, is an argument for regulation of the industry.  "While most people tied to these sites are from the medical industry, there are some bad players, which is why I argue that regulation is in the best interest of all players," she said.

Source: 27 November 2006

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