A year after it was established, Britain’s national sperm bank has admitted to having just nine registered donors, forcing it to launch an advertising campaign asking men to “prove their manliness” by donating sperm.
Laura Witjens, chief executive of the National Gamete Donation Trust, told The Guardian that despite the slow start she wanted to create a situation where “there is an abundance of donors, so no woman ever feels she has to go on Gumtree to get sperm”.
“If I advertised saying ‘Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are’, then I would get hundreds of donors.”
She intends to borrow tactics from Denmark, who “proudly say, this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, Lego and sperm.”
“It’s a source of pride,” she added.
Despite the small number of donors she remained defiant, saying: “If we had nine donors, we could technically create 90 families, who otherwise would be forced to go elsewhere.”
Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show an increase in demand from sperm, especially from lesbian couples, the number of whom seeking treatment increased by more than 20 per cent between 2012 and 2013. At some London clinics, same-sex couples now make up one third of patients seeking donations.
The HFEA figures also showed a rise in the amount of imported sperm, mostly from Denmark and the US.
Witjens said that a high number of men were needed for just one donor to join the banks as they needed to be screened to make sure they have especially strong sperm. “If 100 guys inquire, ten will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys,” she said.
Applicants need to attend the clinic two times a week for up to four months and must abstain from ejaculation for at least two days before each visit. They must then attend a further check-up six months later. They are paid £35 per session.
She said that despite the lack of available donors, potential parents still had high standards for the sperm they selected.
“We get asked for 6ft donors, when the average height is 5ft 7in in Britain, so you are effectively ruling out 90 per cent of the donors. And they all want doctors or barristers, but the reality is the majority of those professionals have not got time. So you actually get young guys with flexible jobs.”
The bank’s ad campaign will likely be ready for November and will ask men to give an “alternative Christmas gift.”
Witjens said: “We can get there, we can have enough in three to five years. We just need the push.”