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UK national sperm bank has only nine donors

7 September 2015
Appeared in BioNews 818

A year after it opened, the UK's national sperm bank has only nine registered donors, says its chief executive Laura Witjens, who is planning a major new recruitment drive at the end of this month.

Borrowing from successful campaigns in Denmark, which is one of the biggest exporters of donated sperm, Witjens is planning a 'superman' advertising campaign, appealing to male vanity.

'If I advertised saying "Men, prove your worth, show me how good you are", then I would get hundreds of donors,' she told The Guardian. 'That's the way the Danish do it. They proudly say – this is the Viking invasion, exports from Denmark are beer, lego and sperm. It's a source of pride.'

Based in Birmingham, the UK's national sperm bank was set up a year ago as a partnership between the National Gamete Donation Trust and Birmingham Women's Hospital to counter the shortage of sperm donors in the country. It was funded with a one-off government award of £77,000 but is now expected to be self-sustaining.

Demand for donated sperm has increased year on year, from same-sex couples as well as from older single women wanting children. As a result, one-third of donated sperm used in the UK is imported – mostly from the USA and Denmark.

Witjens says the 'superman' theme of the proposed recruitment campaign also has a serious side – donors must have exceptionally strong sperm that can survive the freezing and thawing process.

'If 100 guys enquire, 10 will come through for screenings and maybe one becomes a donor. It takes hundreds of guys,' said Witjens to The Guardian. Donors must come to the clinic twice a week for up to four months, and refrain from sex or masturbation for two days before each visit, before being tested again after six months.

Although donors receive just £35 per session, Witjens did not think that more money was the answer to the sperm shortage: 'We might get more donors if we paid £50 or £100 per donation. But money corrupts. If you feel you can make £200 a week for four months, you might hide things about your health.'

After the initial campaign at the end of September, another will follow in November asking men to consider giving 'an alternative Christmas gift'. In January 2016 the sperm bank will start shipping its first batches of sperm to clinics around the country, and this income will provide further opportunities for advertising, Witjens told The Guardian.

31 October 2016 - by Lucas Taylor 
The UK National Sperm Bank is no longer recruiting donors, after signing up just eight men in the two years since it opened...
14 March 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
An IVF clinic in the UK has announced that it will offer sperm donors the chance to nominate a friend or family member for free IVF treatment....
18 January 2016 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
A man from Luton, Bedfordshire, claims to have fathered 'in excess of 800 children' through unlicensed artificial sperm donations...
11 January 2016 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
Britain's largest sperm bank has been turning away potential donors who have dyslexia...
6 July 2015 - by Ceri Durham 
Banking on Birmingham: the National Sperm Bank was a half-hour documentary on BBC Radio 4 that looked at the opening of a new national British sperm bank in Birmingham...
26 January 2015 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
The world of unregulated sperm donation is revealed as an underground market of desperation, exploitation and remarkable characters.
3 November 2014 - by Sean Byrne 
A national sperm bank set up by a £77,000 grant from the UK's Department of Health has now opened for business....
11 August 2014 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
The first national sperm bank is to be opened in England this October after receiving a £77,000 grant from the Department of Health...
16 April 2012 - by Dr Rosie Morley 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a new strategy to increase awareness of egg and sperm donation and to improve the care of donors. It aims to address perceived obstacles to donor recruitment aired during its consultation on gamete donation last year....
Other UK clinics and sperm banks don't seem to have difficulties recruiting donors ( - 07/09/2015)
Other UK clinics and sperm banks, particularly in London and Manchester, don't seem to have difficulties recruiting donors.  There were 586 new UK sperm donors registered in 2013.
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