My friend’s lesbian sister became pregnant a while ago. She found her sperm donor through one of several Dutch websites where women who want kids and guys who will donate sperm contact each other. I visited those websites and found a weird community where single women, lesbian couples, and couples in which the male is infertile can find happiness in the form of a small cup of semen and the pregnancy it leads to. But it is also a place where women will unabashedly ask for tall blond guys with blue eyes and a high level of education, where there are some obvious predators looking for sex, and where some guys with an otherwise normal family will secretly donate sperm to father as many children as they can, influenced by a skewed reading of Darwin. On these unusual message boards, one guy’s name kept appearing on my screen: Ed Houben. He posted vigorously, offering his semen to many women. And apparently, many took his offer—Ed has 46 children and six women are pregnant by him as I write this. Recently, Ed had a reunion with 16 women who used his semen to get pregnant. Several of his kids, ranging from the ages six months to four years, attended as well. In total, 30 people were there. Um, what the fuck?
Vice: How did you start donating sperm on the internet?
About five years ago, I found out that there’s a big shortage of sperm donors. I’ve always wanted to help other people, from the moment I saw my brother’s girlfriend take care of him on his deathbed. At first, I thought I could do that by getting my first-aid diploma. But helping people have kids has a bigger impact and it’s such a positive thing. Nobody can take that away from me.
But still, 46 kids is a bit much, isn’t it?
Well, it is, but I would quit immediately if there wasn’t a shortage of donors. People sometimes think I’m a weird guy for having so many kids, but I see it as helping others out. I don’t have selfish motives, other than the good feeling it gives me to see other people happy.
So how does it go? You post a message, you meet, have the sex, and bang—pregnancy?
No. When I make contact with women on the internet, I always have email conversations with them before I even plan anything. That way, I can get a feel for what they’re like, and whether they’ll make a good parent or not. Then, if the woman and I have a good feeling about it, I’ll make an appointment. I used to travel all over Holland, Belgium, and sometimes even Germany to donate, but now I ask people to come to the city I live in, Maastricht. Then they book a hotel. I would invite those people to my house, but I’ll wait until my mother moves out of my place to the retirement home. When those people check into the hotel, I stop by and withdraw myself to the toilet to masturbate. There’s no sex involved. When I’m done, I usually sit and wait until the woman is done inseminating herself and then I leave. We repeat this process until the woman is pregnant. After that, we sometimes keep in touch, or I hear nothing from them ever again. It depends on what the mother wants. The only thing I don’t do is accept parental responsibilities. I’m clear about that up front.
If you have 46 kids now and 6 are on their way, it must cost you a lot of time.
The time it costs me varies from week to week. It depends on the ovulation of the woman. That doesn’t happen in set intervals, and because the semen has to be inserted before the ovulation, I can be called upon at any time of the month. A couple of weeks ago, I had to inseminate five women in one weekend. One on Friday, two on Saturday, and one on Sunday and Monday. Of those five, two became pregnant.
You’re a pretty fertile guy then. What kind of measures do you go through to keep your sperm of high quality?
I never wear jeans or tight pants. The scrotum must hang cool at all times. I never take a hot bath or a sauna. Besides that, I rarely ever drink and I regularly take folic acid tablets and fish oil caps. But the average fertile man doesn’t really need all of that. A friend of mine told me he heard the strangest yell ever when he was riding his horse. Through some bizarre accident, a rider behind him had managed to entangle his left nut in a piece of rope, and his sack tore off. Now that would really fuck up your fertility.
Right. How was it to see so many of your kids at the same place recently?
At first, I was really focusing on the organizational part of the day, because I wanted to make sure everybody felt comfortable with it. There were people from Belgium, Holland, and Germany, and I was afraid they wouldn’t get along. But after a while, people who spoke the same language sat next to each other and it was a pleasant day. The kids were introduced to me, but after five minutes they started playing with each other and I sort of lost their interest. It was like: “Oh, that’s Daddy. Now what else can we do?” It was what I expected. In the afternoon, it became nappy time for most of them, so everybody left. Parents later told me they thought it was a nice way for them to meet each other and for their kids to meet me.
Aren’t you afraid to grow really attached to those kids while not being able to see them all the time?
I like to hear how it goes with the kids and I befriended some mothers. But when the babies are born, I don’t have feelings of fatherhood. I’m a cold one at that. That’s why I can cope with the hardships of sperm donation. And it’s also different, because I’m a guy. A woman feels the child kicking and growing for nine months, I just give away two hundred million sperm cells. I can’t wave goodbye to all of them.
Are you sure about that?
Well, not entirely. Last year, one of the women who carried my baby gave labor early. The child grew out of the womb and was born after 20 weeks of conception. It lived for one hour. When the mother called me up to tell me, I cried for the first time since my brother’s funeral. I was five when he died. Fortunately, some of the mothers of my children were there for me. The ones who became my friends.
Do you have a girlfriend?
No. I’m a shy man, so I never approach women on my own. I don’t go out much either, so there’s no meeting women that way. I also believe in love at first sight, which makes it even more difficult. Some women I donated sperm to fell in love with me, but the feeling was never mutual.