Page URL: https://www.progress.org.uk/witmt2ben

Altruism was not my main motivation: Ben's story

This case study forms part of the Progress Educational Trust (PET) project 'When It Takes More Than Two', supported by the Wellcome Trust.
It incorporates links to terms in an accompanying Glossary.

Donating sperm seemed to me like a very worthwhile thing to do. But if I'm honest, my motivation wasn't purely altruistic. In fact, altruism was just a small part of it.
Matey marketing to increase the number of sperm donors - like the 'give a toss ' campaign - didn't motivate me either. In, fact I find that type of 'blokey' talk is insulting. Sure, that sort of humour has its place, but in this context it is patronising and egg donors aren't recruited using this type of approach. So please, credit men with a bit more intellect and sensitivity.
So why did I become a donor? My wife doesn't want children, and I find more than an hour spent in the company of other people's offspring invariably leads to the realisation that parenthood just isn't for me.
The penalty is that I am not passing my genes on. The thought is a troubling one - that there is this line that can be traced all the way to me, through a line that traverses millennia of striving for betterment, suffering and hardship, famine and disease, cave-dwelling and serfdom - just ending here, casualty of my lifestyle choice.
I emailed a private sperm bank and they replied the following day. The donor liaison officer I dealt with had a great attitude - she was friendly and professional. She was also extremely thorough. I was amazed how much time the clinic invested in me, when there was such a small chance that I would make the grade.
If the clinic hadn't responded to my enquiry so quickly and been so well organised, I am not sure whether I would have persevered.
I wouldn't describe myself as physically exceptional, and I was towards the upper age limit for donating sperm, so I was discouraged to read in an article in the clinic that less than 5% of men who come forward are suitable as sperm donors. I worried that years of wearing tight underpants might have taken their toll.
The donor liaison officer asked me why I wanted to be a sperm donor. I bigged up the altruistic elements, and played down the megalomaniac bid for immortality aspect. I didn't want her to think I was doing this for the 'wrong' reasons. She expressed surprise at how deeply I'd thought about it, which actually didn't seem to me to be that deeply at all.
We filled in the forms and she explained the procedure, it seemed that there were ample opportunities to jump ship if I felt like it later on in the process.
I was given a small plastic pot with a white label on it and a biro, I had to write my name and date of birth on it, and once it contained a sample leave it on a small table next to the doorway of the room opposite which I could see contained a microscope and various other bits of lab equipment. I was shown to a cubicle.
I was surprised to find myself in a small, very clean and perfectly ordinary toilet cubicle with a harsh white light and whining extractor fan. This was possibly the single most un-erotic moment of my life. The sheer unsexiness of the environment, coupled with the idea of someone waiting for me to perform and then scrutinising the result, was a serious barrier. I leaned back on the wall, breathed deeply and looked in the cupboard under the sink. There were some pornographic magazines in there. I closed it again. Eventually, I was able to relax and 'produce' my sample.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that my sperm passed the test. More screening tests followed, and more forms. I learnt that I could place restrictions on who receives my donations - I could, for example, prevent lesbians from using my sperm if I wanted to. I told the donor recruitment officer that I was very surprised that such conditionality was even legal, but she explained that as the recipients could be very specific about the ethnicity or religion of donors, then in the interest of equality the rules allowed donors to be equally fussy.
She explained that one donor specified he didn't want his sperm used by Muslims. I wondered if recipients could specify 'no bigots'?
Another thing I had to do was a 'pen portrait' of myself, to tell potential recipients what I am like, and also a goodwill message to potential offspring. This was very difficult, and I am conscious that I probably over-thought it horribly. Writing something that didn't come across as platitudinous drivel was a real challenge.
Knowing that at some point in the future, I may get a knock on the door from the young adults my sperm donation helped to create, is exciting. However, it is not something that I sit and worry about, or even think about that much. If and when it happens, I just hope that the kids aren't angry with me, as I am aware that meeting me and being donor-conceived may not necessarily be a positive experience for them.