Over the past decade I have undertaken research on the topic of donor conception, with a specific focus on sperm donors. This research has involved interviews with Australian sperm donors – both gay and heterosexual – focusing on their accounts of sperm donation. I have also undertaken a large-scale examination of sperm donors on an international website, focusing on the characteristics that most likely predict willingness amongst sperm donors to be identified to children conceived of their donations. I have also written about sperm donors’ depictions of lesbian recipients of their donations.
A full list of my research publications on the topic of sperm donation can be found further down the page, and are drawn on in the applications of research findings sections below.
Applications of research findings for practitioners
A key topic raised in the interviews with sperm donors or intending sperm donors was that of the importance of genetic material to them. This was often brought up in terms of genetic material being a legacy (leaving something behind in the world), responsibility for genetic material (having responsibility for the needs of children and recipients), and genetic material as a gift to others (helping others have children). These findings highlight that practitioners should be aware of the importance of genetic material to potential sperm donors, and that this has implications both for donors and recipients (as well as any future children born from donation). Furthermore, it would be useful for practitioners to explore why genetic material is important to sperm donors.
My research also highlights that donors may have different views about the process of donation and future relationships than recipients (and, of course, children again may have different views). In particular, the findings suggest that sperm donors view donation as meaning they have a right to a series of claims over recipients (especially birth mothers) and the children. These claims are about the men rather than the best interests of recipients or children, such as desires to visit children and how donors are positioned (e.g. donors may want to be positioned as akin to fathers). It would be useful for practitioners to explore motivations and expectations of potential donors and recipients prior to any arrangements being made. In particular, it is important for practitioners to consider, and encourage potential donors and recipients to consider, everything in light of what the best interests of the child might be. Furthermore, due to the potential differences in views, it is important for contracts between known donors and recipients to be clearly negotiated and set out prior to proceeding with the donation.
Additional findings from the research show that sperm donors experience considerable emotion work, including donation impacting on men’s identities, and experiencing negative effects relating to clinical testing prior to donating. These findings suggest that practitioners working with both donors and recipients need to keep in mind the impacts of sperm donation on the donors, alongside the needs of recipients and the best interests of future children.
The research findings also show that diversity amongst sperm donors and those seeking sperm donations to create a family needs to be recognised. In particular, sperm donors may be gay or heterosexual, and, as the research findings show, may have different motivations for donating, as gay men were more likely to be motivated by their relationships with recipients, to be interested in leaving a genetic legacy, and believing that should determine their own best interests, and heterosexual men were more likely to speak of their donation as an altruistic gift and to view adults as determining children’s best interests. Sperm donors also vary in that they may or may not already have children that they are raising. Arrangements may be made privately or through clinics. In addition, families created via sperm donations may be heterosexual couples, lesbian couples, or single women. The analysis of sperm donors on an international website further found that demographic characteristics such as age and relationships status influenced motivations for donating and willingness to be identified to children. For practitioners, these findings suggests that practitioners need to be aware of the diversity of both donors and recipients, and that services need to be provided which taken into account, for example, that some donors are gay men and that current practices in clinics may be targeted at heterosexual men and are at times homophobic.
Finally, the research findings suggest that gay men may not be aware of other ways to become parents other than sperm donation (e.g. surrogacy, fostering, co-parenting, adoption). Whilst sperm donation does not directly lead to parenting, some participants spoke about donating as a way to fulfil their reproductive desires. Practitioners may think about being involved in public awareness campaigns to highlight the range of parenting relations that gay men can be engaged in, so that gay men do not donate sperm because they think that’s the only way they can have a child.
Applications of research findings for (intending) parents and families
The research findings highlight a number of important issues relating to sperm donors and intending sperm donors that people seeking donor sperm need to consider. The findings showed that donors often spoke about the importance of their own genetic material, including in terms of wanting to leave something behind in the world, being responsible for their genetic material (and thus having responsibility for the needs of children and recipients) and viewing their genetic material as a gift to others. These findings highlight that the importance of genetic material to donors should be considered by recipients, as it is likely to impact on motivations to donate as well as how any potential contact after a child is born may be negotiated.
The research findings showed that donors and recipients may have different views about the process of donation, and what would happen after a child was born. In particular, donors often spoke about their own desires (such as wanting to visit children) and privileged these over what recipients and their children may want. It would be useful to explore these issues with known donors or information provided by donors from sperm clinics. These findings also suggest that contracts between known donors and recipients to be clearly negotiated and set out prior to proceeding with the donation.
The findings highlighted that there was diversity amongst sperm donors and potential sperm donors in terms of sexuality, relationship status, age, whether they already had children, and whether they had already donated sperm previously. These demographic factors were shown to impact on motivations for donating and willingness to be identified to children. Overall, it is important to explore these issues when seeking a donor as they differ between men.
Resources for practitioners
Fitzgerald, O., Harris, K., Paul, R. C., & Chambers, G. M. (2017). Assisted reproductive technology in Australia and New Zealand 2015. Sydney: National Perinatal Epidemiology and Statistics Unit, the University of New South Wales.
National Health and Medical Research Council. (2017). Ethical guidelines on the use of assisted reproductive technology in clinical practice and research. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.
ACART (Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology) (Aotearoa/New Zealand)
Resources for (intending) parents and families
Sperm donation/ART – government sources
Government of South Australia – SA Health – Donor conception register
NSW – Health – The central register
Sperm donation/ART – additional sources
AccessAustralia – Australia’s National Infertility Network
AccessAustralia – Australia’s National Infertility Network – Fact sheet: Donor insemination
Health Law Central – Gamete and embryo donation
Rainbow Families Queensland – Donors and co-parenting
Reproductive Technology Council (WA) – Donor assisted conception
Sperm Donors Australia (an initiative of City Fertility Centre)
The Conversation – Your questions answered on donor conception and IVF (by Damian Adams, Deborah Dempsey, Fiona Kelly, Loretta Houlahan, and Roger Cook)
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – Donor conception
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – Thinking of donating sperm, eggs or embryos?
AccessAustralia – Australia’s National Infertility Network – Community forum
Bubhub – Fertility assistance
Essential Baby – Donor conception support
Raising Children Network forum – Parents with fertility issues
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (UK) – Donating your sperm
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (UK) – Using donated eggs, sperm or embryos in treatment
Infertility Network (Canada)
National Gamete Donation Trust (UK) – Sperm donor
New Zealand Government – Donating sperm or eggs
NHS Choices (UK) – Using a sperm donor: what you need to know
Books/sources with personal stories
ABC – Sperm donors anonymous documentary
Donor Conception Network – Donor conceived adults: Personal stories
Health Talk Australia – Experiences of conceiving, IVF, surrogacy and adoption
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – One sperm donor’s personal story
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – We were sperm donors
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – Experiences of donor conception – Chantele’s story
Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) (Victoria) – Experiences of donor conception – Louise’s story
Assisted Reproduction: Books for Children – Sperm donation
Creating a Family: The National Infertility & Adoption Education Nonprofit – Books for children conceived through sperm donation
My research publications
Riggs, D. W. (forthcoming). Diverse pathways to parenthood: Translating research to practice. Elsevier.
Riggs, D.W. (2016). Gay sperm donors. In A. Goldberg (Ed.) The Sage encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies. London: Sage.
Riggs, D. W., & Peel, E. (2016). Critical kinship studies: An introduction to the field. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Scholz, B. & Riggs, D.W. (2014). Sperm donors’ account of lesbian recipients: Heterosexualisation as a tool for warranting claims to children’s ‘best interests’. Psychology and Sexuality, 5(3), 247-257.
Riggs, D.W. & Russell, L. (2011). Characteristics of men willing to act as sperm donors in the context of identity-release legislation. Human Reproduction, 26(1), 266-272.
Riggs, D.W. & Scholz, B. (2011). The value and meaning attached to genetic relatedness amongst Australian sperm donors. New Genetics and Society, 30(1), 41-58.
Riggs, D.W. (2009). The health and well-being implications of emotion work undertaken by gay sperm donors. Feminism & Psychology, 19(4), 517-533.
Riggs, D.W. (2008). Lesbian mothers, gay sperm donors, and community: Ensuring the well-being of children and families. Health Sociology Review, 17(3), 232-240.
Riggs, D.W. (2008). Using multinomial logistic regression analysis to develop a model of Australian gay and heterosexual sperm donors’ motivations and beliefs. International Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, 6(2), 106-123.
Short, E., Riggs, D. W., Perlesz, A., Brown, R., & Kane, G. (2007). Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) parented families: A literature review prepared for the Australian Psychological Society. Melbourne: Australian Psychological Society.
Other research publications (selected)
Godman, K. M., Sanders, K., Rosenberg, M., & Burton, P. (2006). Potential sperm donors’, recipients’ and their partners’ opinions towards the release of identifying information in Western Australia. Human Reproduction, 21(11), 3022-3026.
Hammarberg, K., Johnson, L., & Petrillo, T. (2011). Gamete and embryo donation and surrogacy in Australia: The social context and regulatory framework. International Journal of Fertility & Sterility, 4(4), 176-183.
Kelly, F., & Dempsey, D. (2016). The family law implications of early contact between sperm donors and their donor offspring. Family Matters, 98, 56-63.
Ripper, M. (2007). Fishing for taddies: Emotion work in lesbian women’s search for sperm donors in South Australia. Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 3(1), 16-24.
Ripper, M. (2008). Australian sperm donors: Public image and private motives of gay, bisexual and heterosexual donors. Health Sociology Review, 17(3), 313-325.
Ripper, M. (2009). Lesbian parenting through donor insemination: Implications for the hetero-normative family. Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, 5(2), 81-95.
Wise, S., & Kovacs, G. (2014). Secrecy, family relationships and the welfare of children born with the assistance of donor sperm: Developments in research, law and practice. In A. Hayes & D. Higgins (Eds.), Families, policy and the law: Selected essays on contemporary issues for Australia (pp. 81-87). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Baccino, G., Salvadores, P., & Hernández, E. R. (2014). Disclosing their type of conception to offspring conceived by gamete or embryo donation in Spain. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 32(1), 83-95.
Baetens, P., Camus, M., & Devroey, P. (2003). Counselling lesbian couples: Requests for donor insemination on social grounds. Reproductive BioMedicine Online, 6(1), 75-83.
Borneskog, C., Sydsjö, G., Lampic, C., Bladh, M., & Svanberg, A. S. (2013). Symptoms of anxiety and depression in lesbian couples treated with donated sperm: A descriptive study. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 120(7), 839-846.
Bos, H. (2013). Lesbian-mother families formed through donor insemination. In A. E. Goldberg & K. R. Allen (Eds.), LGBT-parent families: Innovations in research and implications for practice (pp. 21-37). New York: Springer.
Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority. (2014). Egg and sperm donation in the UK: 2012–2013.
Indekeu, A., D’Hooghe, T., Sutter, P. D., Demyttenaere, K., Vanderschueren, D., Vanderschot, B., . . . Colpin, H. (2012). Parenthood motives, well-being and disclosure among men from couples ready to start treatment with intrauterine insemination using their own sperm or donor sperm. Human Reproduction, 27(1), 159-166.
Jadva, V., Freeman, T., Kramer, W., & Golombok, S. (2009). The experiences of adolescents and adults conceived by sperm donation: Comparisons by age of disclosure and family type. Human Reproduction, 24(8), 1909-1919.
Mamo, L. (2005). Biomedicalizing kinship: Sperm banks and the creation of affinity-ties. Science as Culture, 14(3), 237-264.
Moore, L. J., & Grady, M. (2014). Putting “daddy” in the cart: Ordering sperm online. In M. Nash (Ed.), Reframing reproduction: Conceiving gendered experiences (pp. 185-202). Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Nordqvist, P. (2011). Choreographies of sperm donations: Dilemmas of intimacy in lesbian couple donor conception. Social Science & Medicine, 73(11), 1661-1668.
Nordqvist, P. (2012). Origins and originators: Lesbian couples negotiating parental identities and sperm donor conception. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 14(3), 297-311.
Scheib, J. E., Riordan, M., & Rubin, S. (2003). Choosing identity-release sperm donors: The parents’ perspective 13-18 years later. Human Reproduction, 18(5), 1115-1127.
Scheib, J. E., Riordan, M., & Rubin, S. (2005). Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: Reports from 12–17 year olds. Human Reproduction, 20(1), 239-252.
Van den Broeck, U., Vandermeeren, M., Vanderschueren, D., Enzlin, P., Demyttenaere, K., & D’Hooghe, T. (2013). A systematic review of sperm donors: Demographic characteristics, attitudes, motives and experiences of the process of sperm donation. Human Reproduction, 19(1), 37-51.