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The role of humour in sperm donor recruitment

14 June 2010
By Professor Eric Blyth
Professor of Social Work, University of Huddersfield and Visiting Professor, Department of Applied Social Sciences, Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Appeared in BioNews 562
Unlike either oocyte or embryo donation, sperm donation presents a massive PR problem - masturbation. At least since Onan came to a sticky end (1), masturbation (aka 'self-abuse') has both suffered censure and has provided a fertile source for low-grade humour.

Various tactics have been employed to attract men to donate sperm. In jurisdictions where there are no externally-imposed restrictions on the use of enticements, financial inducement seems to work reasonably well and major US sperm banks adopt what may best be described as a casual approach to recruitment. The website of Xytex entices potential donors with the less than eye-catching slogan 'become a sperm donor with Xytex' (2). California Cryobank is a little more imaginative with 'Give the gift of family' (3). The website of Cryos International, which claims to be 'the world's largest international network of sperm banks, [offering] our services to clinics and private customers in more than 60 countries', is the epitome of low-key, providing no obvious indication that it is seeking to recruit donors at all (4).

More brash recruitment efforts have come from elsewhere. In 2005, the Albury Reproductive Medicine clinic in New South Wales, Australia achieved international celebrity (or notoriety) following its advertisement for potential donors in a University of Calgary student magazine to whom it was offering a two-week, all-expenses paid trip down-under (5).

Recent sperm donor recruitment campaigns in the UK have tackled the masturbation 'problem' head on - most notably the National Gamete Donation Trust's (NGDT) 'Give a Toss' campaign (6) (for non-UK readers of this commentary the campaign title cleverly - if not tastefully - played on the twin British slang meanings of 'toss'. First, as a euphemism for 'masturbation' - as in 'have a toss' or to 'toss off' - second, to refer to 'caring', as in the negative rendition of the term 'couldn't give a toss', meaning 'do not care').

The NGDT's latest sperm donor recruitment drive is a Manchester-based campaign 'Sperm Donation - Have you got the Balls' (employing a British euphemism for testicles) (7). The 'Have you got the Balls?' campaign, funded by the Department of Health, appears to be directed at the thousands of young men who support the two local rival Premiership football clubs, Manchester City and Manchester United.

Similar plays on words have been used by IVF Scotland and Shawfair Hospital in a poster recruitment campaign, two of which say 'You give us your oats, we'll give you your porage' ('oats' providing the basic ingredients for porage, a Scots staple diet, and also a slang term for sexual intercourse), and 'Rise and be a nation again' (a reference to Scottish history as well as - more obviously - to the erect penis). A third poster uses the Lord Kitchener 'Your nation needs you' approach (8). The most recent is graphically illustrated by the newly-instituted London Sperm Bank's phallic logo (9).

In 2009, the Progress Educational Trust applied British humour referring to the recent global financial turmoil with the title of its debate 'Banking Crisis: What Should Be Done About the Sperm Donor Shortage?' - although since pundits have been claiming a crisis in sperm supply for many years (and was there ever a time that service providers said they had sufficient donors?) - the notion of 'crisis' seems somewhat overdone.

It may be argued that concerns regarding the negative consequences of gratuitous prurience in sperm donor recruitment remain unfounded (10) and that the ends simply justify the means. However, if we are to have a reasoned debate, we need to know the impact of these campaigns on donor recruitment.
10) Blyth, E. and Ryll, I., Donor recruitment: is 'tackiness' the answer?
BioNews |  20 March 2007
1) Genesis 38:8-10
|  23 January 2022
2) Xytex
|  17 April 2010
3) California Cryobank
|  17 April 2010
4) Cryos International
|  17 April 2010
5) Sperm donors rush for Australia holiday offer
BBC News Online |  18 December 2003
6) Give a Toss campaign
|  17 April 2010
7) Sperm Donation - Have You Got the Balls?
National Gamete Donation Trust |  17 April 2010
8) Raper, V., Porridge for your Oats
BioNews |  22 March 2010
9) London Sperm Bank
|  17 April 2010
31 October 2011 - by Andrew Proven Donor 
A shortfall in donated sperm, we are told, has pushed potential recipients onto websites where private sperm donors hawk their reproductive wares. If only the officially sanctioned sperm banks were well stocked, the thinking goes, women would not have to venture into that murky world. But is that correct? What if sperm donation outside the official channels actually carried certain advantages over the clinic system...
26 September 2011 - by Luciana Strait 
The world's largest sperm bank, Cryos International, is turning away red-haired men as donors due to a lack of demand for their sperm. Its director, Mr Ole Schou, said the bank has reached its capacity of 70 litres of semen due to a surge in donations in recent years...
29 November 2010 - by Seil Collins 
The National Gamete Donation Trust (NGDT), together with fertility clinic Manchester Fertility Services, has launched an initiative to recruit sperm donors in the North-West of England....
13 September 2010 - by MacKenna Roberts 
A conservative health think tank has criticised the NHS for spending an estimated 700 pounds of public funds per year on pornography. Roughly one in three of the 92 NHS hospitals with fertility clinics surveyed by provide pornographic material to male donors to help them produce a sperm sample...
21 June 2010 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky 
The debate surrounding the rights and welfare of donor offspring has been gaining momentum over the past few years, and a growing number of countries have already banned anonymous sperm donation to ensure the right of offspring to access information about their donors...
26 April 2010 - by Ben Jones and Dr Vivienne Raper 
Should egg and sperm donors be rewarded with souvenir mugs and T-shirts? An independent think tank has launched a consultation to consider this and other radical ideas for increasing donations...
13 April 2010 - by Professor Eric Blyth 
The Bridge Centre's plea to 'think again' about arrangements for gamete donation in the UK takes yet another ill-founded and unsubstantiated swipe at the lifting of donor anonymity and its impact on donor services. The Bridge Centre also indicts the removal of anonymity, together with donor compensation arrangements, as responsible for the 'explosive growth of fertility tourism'....
12 April 2010 - by London Bridge Fertility, Gynaecology and Genetics Centre 
The regulations governing the reimbursement of donors and the withdrawal of donor anonymity in the UK have combined to ensure that there are insufficient egg donors to meet requirements...
12 April 2010 - by Sarah Pritchard 
The UK's first stand-alone clinic focused on recruiting new sperm donors, has announced its opening. The London Sperm Bank (LSB) - licensed by fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) - will incorporate two existing sperm banks, the Louis Hughes Sperm Bank, and the London Women's Clinic's (LWC's) own bank...
22 March 2010 - by Dr Vivienne Raper 
A Scottish fertility clinic is offering men free porridge if they donate sperm, in an attempt to tackle a sperm donor shortage...
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