Girls Are Utilizing Social Media To Discover Sperm Donors Throughout The Pandemic
A year ago, 35-year-old Anica Leon-Weil hadn’t planned a baby, let alone the sperm of a stranger she had met online. But the pandemic spurred her to re-prioritize: she moved back to Santa Cruz, California to be closer to her mother, and the time inside made her want to nest. “I was thinking about having a child alone. I was in a good place financially and professionally, and the way life had slowed down made it at the right time,” she says. All she needed was a sperm donor. After speaking to a friend who went to a sperm bank, she knew this wasn’t right for her. “I was impressed with how unaffordable banks are for a service that feels impersonal,” she says.
So she looked for another option: Facebook groups that connect sperm donors and donor seekers. In one, she met Kyle Gordy, the founder and one of the group’s most prolific donors – 35 biological children and more on the way – and after a brief interview and sharing STI information, she met him while staying in a hotel room ovulating window. She opted for natural insemination (which means sex, although Gordy and many other donors usually offer their sperm in a cup for artificial insemination or mail it frozen). Leon-Weil, a marriage and family therapist, is currently 15 weeks pregnant. “It may seem strange to some people, but I tried to think of it this way: If I had met someone in a bar and got pregnant at this point in my life, I would have kept it. That felt more ethical because Kyle was on board with the level of contact I wanted with a donor in the future. “Plus, the service was free.
Semen sourcing through social media has grown in popularity since the pandemic began – Gordy’s group of private sperm donors grew by around 8,000 members over the past year. People are more interested in raising families than ever, and many different types of people need sperm to do this, such as lesbian couples, single women, and straight or male couples struggling with fertility. But the cost of semen (sometimes $ 1,000 per vial) has priced people out, and many sperm banks are facing a shortage of donations. “When the pandemic broke out, fertility services were interrupted. The sperm banks stopped accepting donations for a while, and when they started again, not all donors felt safe because they feared they might get COVID, “said Parham Zar, founder and director of the Egg Donor & Surrogacy Institute in Los Angeles. At the same time, the urge to have children seems to be even greater. “People’s focus has shifted to what’s most important in life, and for many that’s family,” notes Zar.
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These aren’t the only problems sperm banks have faced lately. They are notorious for their lack of regulation, which has resulted in huge sibling groups and ethical issues related to the supposed anonymity of donors. Those who donate themselves provide their own background, usually with the aim of sounding appealing in the donor catalog (money is at stake, after all) and there is no system for verifying that this information is true. The basic STI and genetic tests that many banks do can only go so far as to ensure a healthy child. Without background checks or mental health assessments, conditions can (and have been) unwittingly disclosed.
“You are playing Russian roulette with it,” says Cassandra Bach, fertility trainer and mother of a child conceived by donors. When she decided in 2010 to become pregnant through a donor from a sperm bank alone, she was told that the sperm from the donor she selected would not be given to more than 40 families. When her daughter was 2 years old, Bach joined the Donor Sibling Register (DSR), a nonprofit that helps connect people conceived by donors with biological relatives (many parents join in so their child doesn’t join an unknown Half siblings can be together). Over time, she discovered that her daughter had 114 half-siblings from four countries on three continents. “The sperm bank followed siblings through self-reports, and not everyone reports when they had a child,” says Bach.
In addition, many donors donate to multiple institutions, and banks can sell sperm to other banks. They all have their own tracking system and do not share how many children are born from each donor. “Although the bank has tried to limit the number,” says Bach, “it’s like they have a train that can’t be stopped as soon as it starts.”
“Although the bank has tried to limit the number, it’s like they have a train that can’t be stopped once it starts.”
These are the reasons the industry needs massive reforms, says Wendy Kramer, director and co-founder of DSR. Many parents of children conceived by donors are pushing for mandatory background checks on donors, as well as mandatory reporting of where else they donate, and accurate tracking of the number of children created by donors. Clinics “need to force donor reporting when their medical history changes,” says Kramer. “Many of the people who donate to these banks are 19 year old children. So you get a snapshot of a day in the life of a healthy young person. His father could die of a heart attack or cancer later in life and you wouldn’t know. “She has been pushing for change for years, but progress is slow. “The thing is, it costs money to keep accurate records and do a proper review,” says Kramer.
A long touted professional in using a sperm bank has been the promise of donor anonymity. But the idea is no longer realistic with home DNA testing kits, and some experts argue that complete anonymity is harmful to people conceived by donors anyway. In fact, 94 percent of those conceived by donors strongly support the ability to access information about their sibling number and the identity of their donor, and 99 percent would like details about their donor’s medical history, according to a recent survey. “Ideally, children will find out early in life that they were conceived by donors, or they will find out later through a DNA test or a family member,” says Kramer. “In any case, they will have questions and may want to get in touch and all parties should understand and be open to it.”
For those looking for sperm outside of the banks, there are sites like the well-known donor registry and apps like Modamily that they can match with donors. But a lot of people, like Leon-Weil, find semen quickly through social media. Private Facebook groups like Sperm Donation USA have tens of thousands of members and encourage their success rate to collect more.
While it seems a little reckless to get semen from a stranger on the web, this type of sourcing has its advantages. For one, it’s cheaper. Many of the men in these groups offer their sperm for free or only ask for travel expenses. They also provide an opportunity to learn more about where your sperm is coming from. Donors and parents are free to stay in touch, which means parents can get updated health information about the donor throughout their child’s life. Parents can find donors willing to have a relationship with the child in the future if their child is interested (surveys show that there are many). Parents can also ask a potential donor to do a genetic test to see if they are honest about the number of children they have given birth before agreeing on it.
Money Matters: Sperm banks are a $ 4 billion industry, and ethical leadership can add up.
The disadvantages? While donors can do STD and genetic testing to make sure they don’t have common diseases or potentially problematic mutations that they could pass on to their mother or child, some viruses, like HIV, can take some time to show up on a test (which is why The semen is quarantined for six months and re-tested at banks before use.There is also more potential for legal issues in the future if, for example, a donor changes or changes their mind about wanting to be in the child’s life Parent decides to seek donor support for children. In sperm banks, donors and parents sign papers to protect them from these situations. Getting sperm outside of a bank means it is up to the individuals involved to take their own legal precautions says Amira Hasenbush, attorney and founder of All Family Legal, who mi t collaborates with clients who have children with known donors (no sperm bank). Many sperm recipients have a lawyer sign a “sperm donation agreement” that all parties have to sign. If a non-mutilated parent is involved, they may want to apply for confirmatory adoption (also known as a second parent) to ensure that they are considered the rightful parent of the donor-fathered child across state lines. And while money is often not a factor for group donors, motivations are different. “Some donate altruistically, others are driven by lower instincts to produce as much as possible. You have to come to terms with why they are doing this, ”says Hasenbush.
Ultimately, it is up to parents to decide what feels right for them as they start their family. “This process was so good for me,” says Leon-Weil. “I can see why some people might feel uncomfortable, but I don’t find it embarrassing. There should be no stigma for doing it that way. “For Bach, some of the quirks of the donor concept actually brought family joy. “We met 25 half-siblings of my daughter, and she tells people about her family with pride,” says Bach. “The nuclear family is no longer the norm, and we need to shift our thinking to the idea that all families, no matter how they were created, are beautiful.”
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