The fertility and sperm donation industry could be ripe for an Uber-style upset, with hopeful parents seeking donors increasingly going online to find a progenitor and are finding the options more "agreeable".
An academic study from Queensland University of Technology behavioural economist Dr Stephen Whyte, recently published in the international Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, has found recipients are often able to find a more diverse and socioeconomically desirable range of potential donors online than in the databases of sperm banks.
Fertility clinics often have lengthy waitlists for recipients due to an imbalance of supply and demand, and already having a potential donor in mind can vastly expedite the process of falling pregnant.
Whyte said that the popularity of online platforms is driven by a more holistic view of donors than the de-identified information available through clinical settings (on top of avoiding a very awkward conversation with a friend who has decent genes).
“Connection websites are growing in popularity with the UK-based PrideAngel site having more than 27,000 members even just four years ago,” Whyte said.
“Websites like these are a new cyber conduit for donors and recipients. Compared to the traditional clinical sperm banks and assisted reproductive technology providers, this online marketplace is far less constrained for participants.”
That includes being to more freely negotiate preferred donation and ongoing parenting arrangements, Whyte added.
The study also found that online-only donors (ones who never donated anonymously) were more likely to be in a committed relationship, suggesting that knowledge is desirable for recipients by signalling their ability to successfully coordinate with a partner. The findings also suggest exclusively-online donors are less likely to identify as heterosexual.
“Formal donation by males (technically) only requires them to attend a clinic and provide a sample at their convenience. Informal donation is a two-sided interaction requiring logistical precision in coordinating timing and travel as well as alignment with a recipient’s fertility needs and some level of emotional or psychological support.
The data collected from the survey of 7,700 PrideAngel users suggest this overall level of detail and connection between donors and recipients leads to a more agreeable arrangement.
“These developing cyber economies operate outside regulatory frameworks and record-keeping which makes very difficult to conduct research into the micro-level behaviour of participants,” Whyte added, highlighting that online donation isn’t as tried and tested as traditional methods.
“Future research could focus on establishing a greater understanding of the catalysts for males to participate or transition between both clinical and informal sperm donor settings, as well as develop a more accurate picture of the motivations beyond those participating in the informal [online] marketplace,” he said.