An advert from a Welsh "dream NI donor"
Procreation is a pretty vital aspect of human existence. But tragically, not all of us are equipped to pollinate and populate, whether that's because our junk doesn't work right or because we can't find anyone who wants to work with our junk. Luckily, science has done what it was invented to do and pulled out a number of methods to help prospective parents get around those problems – methods like IVF, artificial insemination (AI) and surrogate motherhood.
However, for those who find the concept of stepping into a hospital and walking out with a baby in their womb a little too abstract, there is a less traditional, 100 percent more tangible alternative: natural insemination (NI).
NI is exactly what it sounds like – sexual intercourse that's supposed to result in a pregnancy, AKA having sex to make a new human being. Only, instead of being the planned outcome of a relationship or accidental result of an awkward, naked grapple in the loft room at a house party, it's facilitated by the internet and allows you to meet up with a complete stranger with the specific aim of making a baby – sperm donation for the Tinder generation.
In fact, there are already a number of websites – Co-Parents, Co-ParentMatch and Tadpole Donations are just a few – that allow you to find a man who will personally put a child in you and then never speak to you again, if that's the kind of parenting experience you're looking for. But the potential issue with women using the internet to advertise that they want help conceiving a child is that it's bound to attract a certain percentage of guys who are far more interested in the process than the payoff. And isn't there something a little sinister in coercing sex out of someone under the pretence that you want to help them have a baby?
"Mrsperm88" being called out for using NI forums to search for a "johnny free shag".
I put that to Brad, a marine who moderates a couple of donor forums, and who has personally donated through NI three times and AI nine times. "Well, if it's still consensual, is that any different to someone renting a BMW for a date when they personally drive a Robin Reliant?" he answered, confusingly. "Or borrowing a pilot's uniform to get laid?"
Clearly, these comparisons don't make any sense, but they do serve to highlight the moral ambiguities involved in scouring forum postings for casual sex when you know the desired result is a new human life.
John Mayger, the Genghis Khan of the sperm donor community, has fathered more than 40 children. He opposes NI and sought to explain his reasons for doing so by positing a question: "How do you explain to a child that they were just a commodity so that the [biological] father could get laid? Is this not the ultimate indignity to a human being – being reduced to commodity status to be traded off against another commodity, like sex?"
Four of the children Mayger has sired have been his "own" kids while he was married and the rest have come through IVF and other methods. Despite contributing to two ongoing pregnancies, he was rejected by a fertility clinic 11 years ago as he was deemed too old and told that he already has too many offspring, but is certain that his sperm works "just fine" and has continued to donate privately.
Referring to NI as "ersatz rape" a couple of times, he continued asking questions: "What sort of rock spider would force his children's mothers into sex?" he demanded. "How do I uphold my own dignity and sense of self-worth knowing that I had to bribe or force her into sex [with the promise of children]? I will not destroy my ego for the sake of my sexual pleasure."
As trenchant as he may be in his views, it's hard to deny that John has a point. It's also hard to discount the idea that exploitation is at work here after scrolling through tons of ads posted by guys who claim that their "motivation is altruism" before going on to request that any woman who wants to contact them should send a photo of themselves. I'm not sure if it qualifies as altruism if there's an aesthetic screening process you have to pass through before you're deemed attractive enough to deserve some sperm.
Responses to an 18-year-old girl posting a message appealing for NI donors
I spoke to Sarah, a middle-aged professional currently on the hunt for an NI donor, who's run into a bunch of guys cruising NI forums for casual sex. "I posted a short 'ad' on a site because I'd heard it was the best site for it and I was intrigued," she told me. "But the response I got was largely creepy and I didn't feel comfortable meeting any of the men, so I haven't." Continuing, she explained that she would "still consider NI" if it was with "a current friend" or someone she trusted, but stressed that she won't be meeting up with anyone who contacts her online.
Brad, however, was enthusiastic about the internet's role in connecting women to men who want to have sex with them, so I asked him to elaborate on his personal experience of NI. "I have many friends who are lesbians," he explained. "I only donate to lesbian couples in stable, committed relationships. My ideal situation would be finding a lovely, well established lesbian couple, preferably under 30, who are both looking to conceive by natural means, would like to have at least three kids with the same donor and have plenty of access to the children as they grow up."
Brad's outlook suggests that NI can, of course, be a force for good. And there are plenty of stories posted to the NI forums that back him up, like the lesbian couple who recruited one of their ex-boyfriends to impregnate the fertile partner, keeping him in the picture as a sort of uncle-dad figure. Describing her experience of NI, the mother wrote, "Natural insemination is highly stigmatised – people consider it dirty, cheating, salacious, lustful, when it really isn't like that. It was an amazing experience."
That said, NI is a very new way of doing things (a spokesperson from the London Women's Clinic told me that they "don't offer that service, at all" and refused to discuss it any further) and, of course, anything new, unregulated and involving strangers using the internet to meet up, have sex and make babies is bound to come with its own unique set of pitfalls.
Natural insemination donors advertising their services online
While artificial insemination donors are protected by law if they donate through a licensed clinic, strangely, men who go round a stranger's house and have sex with them aren't entitled to the same legal protection. If the mother isn't married, the donor automatically becomes the child's legal father and can be instructed by law to pay child support until the kid is 18 – as one British NI donor discovered earlier this year. The child also has a legal claim to their father's inheritance.
And the repercussions can be just as undesirable for NI mothers; if the guy decides he wants to switch from no-strings donor to daddy he can legally appeal for custody, because "sperm donor agreements" mean literally fuck all in court. All of this is obviously more manageable if you already have some kind of relationship with your NI partner, but it can get a little more complicated when you've never met each other before.
Of course, whatever's said about natural insemination ultimately doesn't matter; it's a minefield of various conflicting reasoning and justifications – yes, some of the men on NI forums may well just be using would-be mothers for unprotected sex. But if that's exactly what the would-be mothers want, it's hard to berate them too much for being scumbags. You also need a pretty strong argument if you're going to wade into a discussion lamenting the way other people have chosen to go about conceiving their offspring.
I suppose the one sensible thing to apply to the whole approach is that it's probably best to make your NI partner someone you know and trust, rather than a man who's excitedly responded to an advert online and offered to travel halfway across the country just have to sex with you without a condom.
Follow Jak on Twitter: @JAK_TH
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