COVID-19 has upended the lives of Black Market Sperm Donors

The New York Times has pumped up a huge load of great articles recently about the sperm donation industry.

In "The Case of the Serial Sperm Donor," Jacqueline Mroz explores the labyrinth of regulations—and the lack thereof—around how many times a single donor's sperm can be used in a given region or country. But instead of just a list of regulatory facts and details, Mroz cleverly examines these complications through the narrative of a Dutch man who has, by best estimates, probably fathered upwards of 200 kids, all in the Netherlands.

A patchwork of laws ostensibly addresses who can donate, where and how often, in part to avoid introducing or amplifying genetic disabilities in a population. In Germany, a sperm-clinic donor may not produce more than 15 children; in the United Kingdom the cap is 10 families of unlimited children. In the Netherlands, Dutch law prohibits donating anonymously, and nonbinding guidelines limit clinic donors to 25 children and from donating at more than one clinic in the country. In the United States there are no legal limits, only guidelines from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine: 25 children per donor in a population of 800,000.

Regulation is even more scarce internationally. There is little to stop a sperm donor from donating at clinics in countries other than his own, or at global agencies like Cryos International, the world's biggest sperm clinic, in Denmark, which ships semen to more than 100 countries.

But even more weirdly fascinating is Nellie Bowles', "The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand," also in the New York Times. Bowles' piece largely examines the subculture of private sperm donation Facebook groups for direct-to-consumer product exchanges, which has been upended after the coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into the $4 billion dollar institutionalized sperm-sale industry:

To meet this demand, men provided sperm at a steady rate for years, some banks said. But the coronavirus changed things. Existing donors were scared to go in. New donor sign-ups stopped for months during lockdown and never really bounced back at some banks. Several banks said that they had a lot of old frozen sperm in storage, but that it could last only so long.


As people have been fighting over remaining sperm at the banks, thousands of women have been trying to find another way.

In the last six months, many have joined Facebook groups to look for the off-brand megadonors, the sperm kings. These guys have no family limit. They do not pay much attention to F.D.A. rules.


Some in the known-donor world can also become territorial, claiming certain geographic regions and ousting new men who try donating to women in those areas. Two of the biggest sperm donor Facebook groups — Sperm Donation USA and USA Sperm Donation — are in a cold war with each other.

There's so much going on here that I never thought about, and it plays out like an HBO series. I am totally here for true-crime-esque tales about sperm.

The Case of the Serial Sperm Donor [Jacqueline Mroz / The New York Times]

The Sperm Kings Have a Problem: Too Much Demand [Nellie Bowles / The New York Times]

Image: Public Domain via PxHere

(Full disclosure: I am an employee at Wirecutter, which is owned by the New York Times Company, which publishes The New York Times.)