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Just keep swimming

November 21st, 2016 | by editor
Just keep swimming
Science
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A sperm donor drought has swept the UK. Fewer men are choosing to donate their swimmers than ever before.  The National Sperm Bank in Birmingham has stopped recruiting having only successfully taken seven men in the last two years.

This is in part due to a change in the law in 2005. On his or her 18th birthday anyone who was donor conceived could request DNA testing to find out who left the deposit 18 years previously. The donor has no legal obligation and is not named on the birth certificate, but the fear of being found is stopping men donating.

Couples also seem to prefer anonymous donors, so have resorted to importing sperm from abroad. The majority of anonymous samples come from the USA or more commonly Denmark (the sperm capital of the world). In fact, along with Lego and Carlsberg, sperm is one of the Denmark’s biggest exports. These companies circumvent the ‘anonymity’ law, exploiting a loophole allowing them to send the seedy packages direct to houses. They arrive complete with ‘self-fertilisation devices’. The largest company in Denmark for a brief time stopped taking donations from ginger-haired men due to a lack of interest, although this was likely a publicity stunt.

In the UK, the older generation is stepping up to fulfil demand. Donations among older men have increased due to the (perhaps incorrect) expectation they won’t be alive when any future children start knocking. Unfortunately sperm quality declines with age; sperm motility decreases and the risk of autism, mental health problems and learning difficulties increases.

Sperm which pass the initial testing for genetic abnormalities, infectious diseases, and quality control measures undergo a freezing and thawing process six months after their initial deposit. All of this means 90% of samples are rejected, and the spermatozoa never meet their significant other. Even when a donor does successfully produce a viable sample, couples often wish donations ‘come’ from 6ft barristers or doctors. Unfortunately the average male height in the UK is 5ft 7, and donors are required to visit clinics twice a week – unlikely on a busy professional schedule.

Each year, 2,000 children are born using donated eggs, sperm or embryos and the number is steadily increasing. Demand from same sex couples and older women mean more sperm donors are required.  Denmark increased its numbers by linking sperm donation to masculinity with campaigns promoting Viking invasions and men becoming ‘Supermen’.  If the idea of sowing one’s seed far and wide does not appeal, donor centres hope altruistic donations will increase.

A black market has arisen to plug the gap in donations. Donors advertise on websites such as Gumtree usually with unscreened, untested and unsafe sperm often for free. There have been stories of men exploiting women who are searching for donors. Registered services can eliminate this problem and stop couples turning to the black market. University students could make ideal donors; they have the time to donate and couples likely desire their future graduating gametes. Donation centres normally compensate their visitors with an average of £35 per session – it perhaps could be more, but too large a financial incentive may cause gentlemen to lie about their previous health problems.

If you are considering donating, you will have to refrain from ejaculating for two days before your deposit as this ensures a higher quality sample. You should also refrain from alcohol, marijuana, tight-fitting underwear, smoking and stress – all of which can lower your count.  Men need to come and give generously, so everyone is able to have children.

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