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Introducing the Online Sperm Donation Project: New ways of creating families

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

multicultural kids and parents

Welcome to the Online Sperm Donation Project blog! I’m Rhys Turner-Moore, the project lead, and in this first post, I’d like to introduce the project, what we’re hoping to do, and where we’re up to so far…

The Online Sperm Donation Project is a four-year research project on sperm donation that’s arranged via connection websites and social media groups. Sometimes, this is known as ‘informal’, ‘self-arranged’, ‘private’ or ‘non-clinical’ sperm donation. In the first part of the research, we hope to explore the families and relationships in online sperm donation, what influences people’s experiences, and what the impacts are. We’re interested in the highs and the lows and everything in between! To find out about this, we are planning to…

  • talk with people who recently started looking for a sperm donor online (which some people call ‘recipients’) and their partner (if they have one). If they later conceive with donated sperm, we hope to speak to their donor too;

  • talk with donors who are donating their sperm online and their partner (if they have one). If a recipient later becomes pregnant with their sperm, we hope to speak with them, as well;

  • follow people’s online sperm donation journey over time by talking with them again after a year or two years;

  • talk with site owners about their experiences;

  • look at the information available on connection websites and social media groups for site members;

  • join connection websites and social media groups for a year as a researcher to understand how people communicate and make connections.

There’s been lots going on behind the scenes so far…

We’ve been preparing what we’ll need for this first part of the project. For example, videos and leaflets that explain what’s involved in taking part in the research and a topic guide of the kinds of things we would like to ask people about. The research conversations will be an opportunity for people involved in online sperm donation to tell us their stories and experiences from their point of view. We recognise that people involved in online sperm donation are experts in their own lives and we want to hear what they have to say. We hope that, by talking to lots of different people involved in online sperm donation, we will be able to understand the ‘bigger picture’ of what’s involved in online sperm donation and also appreciate the more subtle similarities and differences in people’s experiences and what’s working well or not so well for them personally.

We have also applied for, and been given, ethical approval for the research. As researchers, it’s important that we stick to a strict code of research ethics (for example, by the British Psychological Society), including keeping an open mind and treating people with respect, protecting their identity, keeping their information confidential and stored securely, and doing research that is of a good quality and that contributes to society’s knowledge and understanding.

We have also been working on our website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube – follow these for more frequent updates on what’s happening! And we’ve been getting the word out about the project in other ways, too. For example, see our press release.

We’ve recently started looking for people to take part in the research, including people in the UK who started looking for a sperm donor online in the last three months, and people in the UK who donate sperm online. You can find out more about taking part in the research here.

In the second part of the project, we hope to work with people involved in online sperm donation to identify and create the changes that are important to them. To do this, we’ll work with recipients, donors, and site owners during workshops over seven months. Together, we will look at the findings from the first part of the research and imagine ‘ideal futures’ for online sperm donation. We will then work together to start to make these ‘ideal futures’ a reality - and see what changes hopefully happen. More on that in a later blog post!

Our project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - a publicly-funded body in the UK that supports independent, impartial, ethical and high quality research in the social sciences that aims to make a difference in shaping our society.

It’s a big project and there’s a large team working on it. This includes a team of 10 researchers from five different organisations, as well as a group of people who have experience of online sperm donation – whether as a recipient of sperm, a donor of sperm, or as an owner of a connection website or social media group. This group is sometimes known as a ‘Public Involvement group’ and we are so delighted that we have a Public Involvement group on the project: they advise us on each part of the project, so that we can make sure that we are guided by people who know what online sperm donation is like and understand what might be useful. We’re looking forward to introducing our Public Involvement group members in a later blog post.

In our next blog post, we’ll share more about the first part of the project and an update on how it’s going so far…


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