Men and Women

Sperm donation boomed during the pandemic. Is that a feminist victory?

By Stephanie H. Murray The Week

2021 was full of surprises: The Capitol riot was a bit of a shock; COVID-19 variants sprung up left and right; and, perhaps strangest of all, sperm was all over the papers.

That’s because the pandemic caused a serious shortage in the market for sperm. Many people have put off having children while COVID runs its course. But among those with male infertility or no male partner, the luxury of working remotely, and the means to pay for some sperm, the pandemic offered a golden opportunity to make dreams of a family a reality. But just as demand skyrocketed, donations fell, and in the resulting shortage, women turned instead to unregulated Facebook groups with names like “Sperm Donation USA.” The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Esquire all ran features on this growing underground world of sperm philanthropy.

The picture that emerged should give the feminists among us a lot to mull. Artificial insemination by donors is part of a range of assisted reproduction tools that allow people to have children outside the bounds of a heterosexual relationship between two fertile people. It opens up procreative possibilities not only for couples struggling with infertility, but also for women who, for whatever reason, aren’t in a committed relationship, as well as lesbian and gay couples.

In other words, sperm donation is supposed to liberate people from traditional gender roles. But the recent spotlight on informal donation practices suggests it often does exactly the opposite.

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