Facebook sperm donations groups are on the rise, and they’re terrifying

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Updated May 29, 2024 at 09:24 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

In a world where fertility treatment remains inaccessible for many, a shocking new trend has emerged: the use of unregulated Facebook groups for sourcing sperm donors, with thousands of people left feeling like they have no other option. This practice while offering a glimmer of hope for those struggling to conceive, comes with significant risks and legal uncertainties, and could even be considered illegal, as highlighted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

The phenomenon of selling sperm through social media platforms is rapidly gaining traction, with Facebook serving as a primary hub for connecting alleged donors with individuals or couples seeking reproductive assistance. However, the motivations behind this trend might not always be as straightforward as they seem.

From the glamorous world of Keeping Up with the Kardashians to our favourite influencers, IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is often hailed as a medical marvel. This procedure involves collecting eggs from ovaries and fertilising them with sperm outside the body and creating embryos that are then placed in the uterus. While IVF is the ultimate solution for those struggling to conceive, it’s an intensive process that can drain your bank account faster than you can say “baby fever.” In short, if you’re not swimming in cash, good luck making it happen.

Then comes intrauterine insemination (IUI), which is a less invasive procedure that involves fewer drugs than IVF where “the highest quality sperm are selected and injected into the uterus where they are left to fertilise the eggs naturally,” as stated on the HFEA’s website.

The cost of a single cycle of IUI at a private clinic ranges from £800 to £1,600, plus around £1,000 for a vial of donor sperm, on top of consultations and health tests. It’s not hard to imagine why often same-sex and heterosexual couples from low-income households find it nearly impossible to self-fund the six cycles needed to qualify for NHS funding, while single women must be prepared to either pay out-of-pocket or take on loans for private treatment from start to finish.

Adding to the complexity, each local Clinical Commissioning Group (clinically led groups which included all of the GP groups in their geographical area) has the discretion to allocate funds as they see fit, creating a “postcode lottery” for regulated fertility treatment. Consequently, even if couples manage to self-fund the required six IUI cycles, their access to NHS-funded treatment will still depend heavily on where they live.

Understandably (as well as worryingly), this has led to the rise of several groups on platforms like Facebook, offering a seemingly accessible alternative. However, these forums come with significant risks, ranging from potential exploitation and deception to serious legal ramifications for both donors and recipients.

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I decided to dig a little deeper and joined one of these Facebook groups for sperm donors. What I found was astonishing, to say the least. Many men posting there were offering their sperm through NI (natural insemination). It felt like I was sifting through a thrift store, hoping to find a gem that didn’t scream ‘scam’ like all the other posts were. Unfortunately, most messages shared on the group ranged from openly racist posts and body-shaming comments about a wannabe mother’s appearance to downright homophobic remarks.

Several men interacting with potential recipients were pushing for natural insemination, driven by the misguided belief that it would be more effective than using a syringe. The thing is though, seminal fluid can carry pathogens, including HIV.

When The Sun looked into the ‘black market’ of men offering their cut-price services to women desperate to have a baby, it spoke to prospective mothers who claimed that they “were bombarded with texts pressuring them into sex and sent X-rated, unsolicited pictures.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook administrator alerted the tabloid to the existence of a “sperm mafia,” in which well-known donors use extortion and threats to get even with their “rivals.”Speaking to The Sun, the director of the nonprofit Donor Conception Network, Nina Barnsley, stated: “We’ve heard some horror stories.”

The real problem is these online groups are unregulated by the HFEA, meaning there’s no guarantee the donors have been screened for STDs. There’s also no way to verify the quality of the sperm or the donor’s genetic background, meaning inheritable genetic diseases could easily be passed on.

However, not all comments were negative, some seemed much more sincere when inquiring about potential AI donors (artificial insemination). You see, for many, the decision to explore Facebook groups for sperm donation stemmed from financial constraints and limited access to NHS-funded fertility treatment.

As previously mentioned, facing exorbitant costs and bureaucratic hurdles, a lot of hopeful parents saw social media as their last resort in their quest to start a family. While it is illegal to sell sperm in the UK, many donors on Facebook operate on a donation-only basis, charging only for expenses such as travel or accommodation.

What for me remains a question, is the motivation driving these donors. Some cite altruism or a desire to help others in need, while others may harbour more complex motivations rooted in ego or a sense of empowerment.

SCREENSHOT decided to turn to Reddit to try and garner some more understanding into exactly how people regard the idea of men selling their sperm online, and indeed how safe people think it really is.

One user wrote: “Many of the UK groups are run by the same 4-5 people, who between them have 1000s of children. They are unethical, some of them have serious genetic problems, promote each other, and have their own agenda. You’ll get the worst outcome/people if you rush, aren’t clear on what you want, and don’t take your time to get to know someone.”

Another netizen also emphasised the need to tread with caution: “It’s definitely hit or miss. There are good donors there, but also ones there for the wrong reasons. There’s also been a large increase in scammers within those groups. Be cautious in your search, ask a lot of questions, verify if possible, and do not send money upfront. Hope that helps!”

In the face of this growing trend, policymakers and regulatory bodies must take decisive action to address the shortcomings of current fertility treatment options and combat the rise of unregulated sperm donation. By prioritising the safety and well-being of those seeking to start a family, we can ensure that all individuals have access to safe, ethical, and affordable reproductive care.

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