By Dylan Stone-Miller

Sperm banks promise anonymity and reasonable birth limits to get donors in the door and committed to the process, but these might not be promises they can keep. It is also important to understand that gamete banks in the United States mostly regulate themselves

As a former sperm donor with at least 96 donor offspring at this time and whose anonymity was compromised long before any of the children turned 18, there are five things I wish I had known before donating. I am not against donating sperm; it is beautiful to help families have children. But I am against the unethical practices of certain companies, and I hope to offer the transparency I was not lucky enough to receive when I donated 12 years ago.

  1. No law stops sperm banks from creating an unreasonable number of children using your sperm.

Producing a large number of donor offspring is not uncommon in the sperm donation industry, and with little regulation this creates a host of public health issues and psychological burdens, particularly for the donor conceived people (DCP) who did not have a choice in the matter. 

As a donor, having a large number of donor offspring can be emotionally taxing for a number of reasons, ranging from the inability to maintain a connection with all of them while maintaining your own life to the emotional investment you naturally develop in each of their lives, which are full of their own ups and downs. Despite all of the emotional distress incurred, this is an untested area of the law, and potential legal remedies are unclear. 

With a reasonable number of offspring and the proper investment in your own mental health, donating sperm can be an incredibly enriching experience. So if you are considering donating, I suggest asking the company what measures they take to adhere to any limit set out in their donor contract. Many companies continue to distribute gametes even after hitting their stated limit. 

The company with which I donated told me they kept distributing vials until parents reported births equal to the limit, which led to significantly more children than the limit the company promised because many parents do not report their children’s births to the sperm bank. As mentioned, I now have 96 known donor offspring, and am reminded by the company that many more parents tend to report births once the children approach the age of 18, which is when they can legally reach out to me. I expect to have many more donor offspring reported 8-10 years from now.

  1. Sperm banks can split each donation into as many as 5-8 sellable vials, and they are financially motivated to distribute them all.

If you think the number of donations you provide is the maximum number of children a sperm bank can produce, think again. Instead, quintuple that number, then consider how each vial of sperm goes for as much as $1,000 – $2,000. I donated three times a week for multiple years with the promise that after the limit was reached the remaining genetic material would go to research. I was unaware that the company split each donation into multiple sellable vials.

  1. The limited information shared with the recipient parents is often not enough to satisfy their children’s curiosity about you, but it can be more than enough to find you directly online at any time.

When I donated, I shared things like my contact information, photos of myself, my and my family’s medical history, my parents’ professions, and a short paragraph about myself. Most of this information made it into the file the recipient parents obtained about me.

This is the information they and their children (my donor offspring) have, and if you can imagine being a child with only this information about your genetic father, you can probably see how this may not be nearly enough information to answer lingering questions. Donor conceived children often ask questions about their donor that the parents raising them simply cannot answer, which leaves the children in a state of curiosity that can become difficult as they enter adolescence

The turmoil experienced by a curious but unsatisfied donor conceived child can be difficult for the parents as well. Imagine your child asking for information about your donor and not knowing what to tell them. What would you do to find out more and provide your child with answers?

I was identified by several of the recipients of my genetic material about ten years after I started donating, even though I was not expecting to be contacted for another 8-10 years. My identification was achieved even without genetic testing sites such as 23andMe and the recent developments in facial recognition technologies. Some found me on Facebook, others via Google searches, and the first recipient parent reached out to me on Instagram.

The bottom line is that there is no such thing as anonymity. If you donate, be prepared to be identified online at some point. And if you want to attempt to satisfy the curiosity of your donor offspring and their families, then share all that you can, including regularly updated medical information after donating.

  1. Helping to create donor offspring shifts your priorities and impacts every relationship you have.

Once I knew I had donor offspring, traditional goals of fatherhood and raising children fell away, and this impacted my family and dating life.

Imagine telling your parents that one of the reasons you do not want to raise children of your own is because they already have 96 genetic grandchildren and it would be a public health issue for you to have more children. Now imagine the disappointment, sense of overwhelm, confusion, and other emotions your parents might experience when you are honest with them about having donated. If you choose to donate, as difficult as it may be, it is important to tell your family, if not to maintain your integrity around something so important, then to prevent accidental incest between your donor offspring and future generations of your traditional family.

My ex hated that I donated. Now that we are no longer together and I am dating again, I have to consider exactly when to tell each prospective partner about my donations. Should I tell them on the first date? The third? The tenth? One way or another they need to know. Otherwise, at the very least, I risk them finding out the hard way when a donor offspring or recipient parent contacts me. 

According to every single former donor I have met, you cannot just sweep your donor children under the rug. I have heard some absolute horror stories of trying to do so, and it is not something I could morally do.

If you have a partner, there are a number of conversations you need to have with them. Your commitment to transparency, honesty, and communication becomes even more important after you have donated sperm.

  1. Shirking your moral responsibility to connect with your donor offspring would be absolutely detrimental to their mental health.

Someday, should you choose to donate, you will inevitably be given the choice to see the faces of the people you helped to create. It is an emotionally and physiologically moving experience, and it will be up to you to choose whether to connect with them in some way. 

What I most wish I had known before donating is that 91% of donor conceived people report wanting some kind of connection with the donor, ranging from a casual friendship to mentor to parental figure. As a donor you have a moral responsibility to do what you can to meet the needs of your offspring, and I promise there will be a part of you that wants to fulfill this responsibility when you see their faces.

I’m not a DCP, so if you want to truly understand the experiences of DCP and how your actions as a donor might affect them, see the results of the We Are Donor Conceived survey. I wish I had known and understood these perspectives before I donated, and I am glad I do now.

If you are a donor, former donor, or considering becoming a donor and want any support, please reach out to me at [email protected]. You are not alone.

About the author

Dylan Stone-Miller is a former sperm donor and a software engineer. He serves as the director of sperm donor resources and content for USDCC. Since the recipient parents of his genetic material found him online, Dylan has traveled the world to connect with them and their children.

Top Image by Matthew Feeney via Unsplash