What Do Women Want When It Comes To Sperm Donors? Not What You Think

What do women want? Now there’s a question worth answering. Not by me. But if, by some miracle, I was, ever able to accurately answer that question, as opposed to providing what I think might be the right answer, then I would be exceptional indeed.

Now before anyone jumps to conclusions, I don’t even come close to having an answer. I’m not even going to try. But some researchers in Australia have. Especially in relation to what women are looking for in the prospective father of their chid. And what researchers discovered might surprise you. It surprised me.

A study of online sperm markets shows women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a father for their children. Queensland University of Technology behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte and Benno Torgler conducted a survey of 70 women who were shopping for sperm donors via the web, instead of traditional fertility and IVF clinics.

Ok. But let’s just pause the narrative for a moment. Why would women be shopping for sperm donors on the Internet instead of the traditional methods and means? In Australia the answer is because of dwindling anonymity for sperm donors. In fact, around 95 per cent of the sperm donations are sourced from overseas, the vast majority coming from the sperm export powerhouse, the United States. One of the dwindling few Australian men willing to donate said his decision to donate sperm was influenced by the inability to conceive with his wife and the lengthy process of adoption. “I knew the trouble some couples go through to conceive and just how emotionally draining it can be – that feeling of helplessness at times,” he said. “I was happy to help other families overcome these challenges in any way I could.” But he is very much the exception. Unfortunately, most Australian men remain extremely hesitant to donate sperm because they fear they might be identified by their potential offspring at some future time. The shortage of sperm donors is an issue across the entire country. IVF Australia spokesman Professor Michael Chapman said the shortage continues to force many to turn to the United States for a steady supply of sperm. He said imported sperm was being used to alleviate waiting lists and shortages. “In New South Wales the waiting time for donor sperm for married couples is two to three months, while single women often have to wait six months,” he said. The discrepancy is due to some donors specifying that their sperm is only to be used by couples wanting to conceive a child. City Fertility’s chief executive Adnan Catakovic said his national organisation imports between 50 and 200 sperm donations from the US each year. Melbourne Law School Professor Loane Skene said the right of children to identify their genetic parents. once they become adults, has undoubtedly reduced the number of sperm donors in Australia. “Although the child can find out who their parent is once they turn 18, there are no legal rights associated between them – a genetic father can’t be made to financially support the child,” she said. So are donor children interested in meeting their genetic father? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. Donor children are often not interested in meeting their fathers but want to know that their genetic father is a person and not just a number . The law in Australia is very clear about separating parenting rights from donor rights.

Anyway, lets get back on to the topic we began discussing at the very start. And that is the research that suggests women value more than just money when it comes to choosing a prospective father for their children. One of the behavioural economists, Stephen Whyte, responsible for conducting the survey of 70 women shopping for sperm donors online said the results were totally unexpected. “We’re interested in cognitive, psychological or emotional factors that are involved when people make decisions,” Whyte said. “Probably the biggest economic decision you’ll make in your life is your choice of partner, and having any subsequent offspring.” But the women surveyed were motivated not by money or career when considering a prospective father. He said women using online sperm markets provided a unique opportunity for a study of this type, because it took the issue of “parental investment” – the amount of time a potential partner would invest in the child’s growth and welfare – out of the equation. “This is an opportunity for women to go out and choose a donor that fits their aesthetic, the purely physical characteristics that they’re after,” he said. “But the study actually shows the most important things to women when they choose a donor in this online market are behavioural traits, like kindness, openness and reliability.” Whyte said those were traits taught by parents, arguably making them unimportant when it came to choosing a donor, but women still rated them as most important. He said the study also showed women didn’t value men with a high-profile or high-earning careers as much as popular wisdom might suggest. “They’re putting behavioural traits at the top, physical aspects like eye colour and hair colour next, then, at the bottom, the least important things are income and occupation,” Whyte said. “It’s a step away from the evolutionary psychology argument that women favour resources or indication of resources in a partner, to help them bear the heavy burden in having kids.” The world-first research will be published in the Journal of Bioeconomics, but Whyte said it wasn’t the end of the story. “These sorts of sperm sharing websites have only been around for about five years, and what’s going to be interesting is will that change, and will more women seek to use these services?,” he said. “It will be interesting to do a larger study into the why – are they going to those services to get better contact than at current fertility or IVF clinics?”

He also said work would be done in examining the male side of the equation. “When we did the survey we collected both women participating, and men donating, but we’re still in the process of finishing the paper on the men,” he said. In fact the findings in relation to men could be just as crucial as women. Men forgo any right to anonymity when the donate sperm online. And that is what interests scientists like Stephen Whyte.  “But it’s the same thing… why are men happy to participate in this online sperm marketplace, when a regular donation at a clinic is completely anonymous? “ It’s a change in the way the human race is mating.”

You could say that again.

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