Unregulated Internet Sperm Donation is Far Removed from the Glossy Brochures of IVF Clinics

The personal price girls and women pay for pregnancy and live births is so frequently underestimated. Whilst our society prefers to focus upon the joyful aspects of pregnancy and motherhood, often with a consumerist slant – pregnancy and babies generate revenue, little attention is ever paid to the personal safety or the inherent risks of pregnancy. Here, we refer not to the obstetrics or medical complications of gestation, but those dangers flowing instead from intimate and/or familial bonds with the male partner and/or the father of the unborn child. Pregnancy and violence for many women is interwoven. It is a time when some women will experience violence in their relationships for the first time or the perpetrators will increase the quantity or severity of violence during the gestation. Indeed, over one third of domestic violence starts in pregnancy (Lewis and Drife, 2001, 2005, McWilliams and McKiernan, 1993). Violence in pregnancy is also a significant cause of miscarriage and stillbirth (Mezey, 1997).

The unregulated world of Internet sperm donation is a brutal assault on the senses; it is far removed from the glossy marketing brochures depicting safe, pedestrian, and orderly, approved fertility clinics. In contrast, the cyber platform of sperm donor websites and social networking sites are a myriad of misogyny and rape culture where the chances of a woman avoiding rape, sexual abuse, or a string of other harmful and abusive behaviors, comes down to potluck rather than her application of sense and sensibility. The man with the best career and family pedigree is just as likely to engage in criminally abusive behaviour as his poorer cousin.  

For the uninitiated, unregulated Internet sperm donation constitutes a non-medicalized world that lures women with the promise of easy pregnancy and the family they long for, without any complications. What could appear easier than logging online to find an altruistic man to donate his sperm to create new life? The want, the need, and the obsession, to have a child when one lacks sperm, is a powerful emotion, which has been given the opportunity to burgeon into an achievable dream with the advent of unregulated online sperm donor websites and SNS. For many that dream has already reached an impasse with the increasing difficulty of accessing IVF – free at the point of delivery. And where one door to pregnancy closes, another is already gapping wide open, and it can be accessed from the comfort of one’s own home (workplace, café, etc.), without GP appointments, and the unforgiving financial costs associated with HFEA fertility clinics for donor insemination.

The cultural and media representation of sperm donors as altruistic and only too willing to help women realise their dreams of motherhood is a significant factor that leads women en masse into cyberspace to locate the future father of their children. Like many facets in our cyber-driven age, things are not what they first appear to be when one takes the plunge into this murky world of unregulated sperm donation; it is a cyber and cultural milieu where pregnancy and babies can be had for a price. That transaction is often financial and it is also frequently a trade in gender based abuse. Whichever way one looks at unregulated Internet sperm donation, it is a boundless trade; what legislation does exist, goes woefully unenforced by the HFEA. This is not “donation” in the altruistic sense; it is a trade, which is premised upon the exploitation of women with the inevitable winners and losers.  

Where There’s a Way, There’s Research

Blogging is something that I haven’t engaged in much during 2015. It has been a year largely dedicated to researching unregulated Internet sperm donors and cyber-enabled violence against women. It has involved extensive additional covert and overt fieldwork and analysis, coupled with the writing of safety guides, and the establishment of an educational campaign on the dangers associated with using unregulated Internet sperm donors. In essence, it has been a busy year.

With the airing of BBC Radio 4’s Out of the Ordinary, “Desperately Seeking Sperm,’ and the piece in the Daily Mail, ‘Unmasked: Sperm donor cowboy who’s ‘fathered 40 children…with 15 on the way’ as doctors warn of health time bomb of siblings born in 50-mile radius’, which exposed Declan Rooney (Upton North) as a man who prolifically fathers children via the Internet and SNS,  a catalytic type-thing happened. I was inundated with mail and comments. Unsurprisingly, many women contacted me to share their experiences of violence and abuse meted out by men they had met via unregulated Internet sperm donor sites or SNS. Similarly, a vociferous group of men – (and a few women) – clone like, all adhering to, and celebrating rape culture, thought it appropriate to contact me to voice their chagrin. I was intrigued by their anger, their abusive outrage, and their collective sense of entitlement to abuse women and to continue to impregnate women unfettered; I realised there was more fieldwork to be done and the production of my research report would just have to wait. It was time to jump back into the field.

During this period, my blog has been pretty empty – it is fairly typical for researchers not to discuss the minutia of their research findings until post publication…hence my blogging silence over recent months. I could, of course, just blog for the sake of blogging and avoid discussing my fieldwork and my additional research findings; I could choose instead to blog about the fine details of qualitative data management, coding, or the analysis of a large data-set, but I shall save my readers from that type of boredom as it can make one’s eyes feel pretty numb unless one has a liking for qualitative research and data management.


‘Stay Safe in Cyberspace’ New Guide from the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation

The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation has produced a new guide. It is entitled ‘Stay Safe in Cyberspace.’ This is a detailed guide on cyber-safety as well as cyber and digital abuse in the online sperm donor community. It is a must read for all women considering using the Internet for donor insemination. The guide is also essential reading for those working in midwifery, policy, academia, journalism,  the police and the criminal justice system.

Stay Safe in Cyberspace Guide, The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation

Internet Sperm Donors and Sexual Violence Poster Campaign

The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation is running a poster campaign to highlight the issue of sexual violence perpetrated by men using Internet sperm donor websites.

SDA Foundation Sexual Violence Poster Campaign 1SV

Sadly, the online sperm donor community is characterised by a profound rape culture where many men believe it is acceptable to rape or to sexually assault women during the ‘donation process.’ Such violence, however, is not confined to conception; women are also being sexually abused during pregnancy and in the postpartum period.

SDA Foundation Sexual Violence Poster Campaign 2SV

The thing about cyber life is that sperm donors often use numerous aliases – both male and female – to conceal their true identity. This ultimately means that it can be most difficult to obtain an accurate account of their character and whether they are safe to have a child with. It is imperative for women to remember also that just because some women had a good experience with a man they met via an Internet sperm donor website does not translate into the next woman having a similar experience. Sperm donors do not sexually assault or rape every women they meet; they are selective and tend to target victims carefully.

SDA Foundation Sexual Violence Post Campaign, Teenagers, 1SVT

Teenage girls and young women are particularly vulnerable to the abuse committed by men using Internet sperm donor websites, and not least since the online/offline male culture blurs the lines between consensual and non-consensual sex.

The bottom line is that without consent, it is either sexual assault or rape.

‘Get Wise…Know Your Sperm Donor Language,’ New Guide from the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation

A new guide is available from the Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation, entitled, ‘Get Wise…Know Your Sperm Donor Language.’ This is a succinct guide on the language of Internet sperm ‘donation.’ It defines and explains the commonly used language associated with ‘donation methods,’ most of which are sexual and can easily cloud the boundaries between consensual and non-consensual sex.

The guide is intended for women opting to use the Internet for donor insemination, but it will also be beneficial for those working in midwifery, policy, academia, journalism, the police and the criminal justice system. 

‘Get Wise…Know Your Cyber Sperm Donor Language,’ The Sperm Donor Abuse Foundation

European Conference on Domestic Violence 2015

In September, I shall be joining 450 delegates, 250 of whom will be delivering research papers at the European Conference on Domestic Violence. I too will be presenting a research paper at the Conference, besides attending the thought provoking sessions of colleagues, and meeting many who are working in the field of violence against women internationally.

The paper I am currently preparing concerns cyber-enabled gendered crime in the unregulated sperm donor community. Internet sperm donor sites and social networking sites, such as Facebook, are virtual places where women gather in order to meet men who “donate” their sperm – fresh gametes – in person. Intimate and sexual relationships are frequently forged within this reproductive context and as such when violence occurs, it often falls under the definition, ‘domestic violence,’ which has implications for criminal and civil laws.

There is a strong correlation between reproduction/pregnancy and violence against women. The cyber sperm donor community comprises a high risk masculinised arena, where online and offline lives conflate, and where one in two women will experience harm and violence. The research paper I shall be delivering at the ECDV will take issue with this violence and abuse. The paper is entitled,  ‘This is Domestic Violence Too: Unregulated Internet Sperm ‘Donors’ and Violence Against Women Trying to Conceive, During Pregnancy, and in the Postpartum Period.’