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The Online Sperm Donation Project: One year in

Back in June 2023 – which feels like a lifetime ago now - we had our second Team Development Day. These days are for everyone involved in The Online Sperm Donation Project (i.e., our academic research team and public involvement group members) to come together to discuss and reflect on what has been happening on the project over the previous year, undertake shared learning activities, and this year… eat cake (see picture above)!

We kicked off the day with a review of our first year covering things like, how many people we have spoken to and their overall personal characteristics, for example, their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and past experiences of online sperm donation. As a team, we discussed whose voices were missing from our research and subsequently, which stories we had not yet captured. At the time of writing, we have interviewed 13 recipients with diverse characteristics yet most of the 14 donors that we have spoken to identify as straight, single, cis-men.

The remainder of the team development day was all about preparing to read, and reading, participants’ online sperm donation stories. Our research assistants produced a series of mini-vignettes that captured aspects of the participants' stories. We acknowledged that these stories would likely impact the team personally; for example, because some of the stories contained challenging or upsetting content. For our public involvement members who have lived experience of online sperm donation, there was a chance that these stories would resonate with their own experiences too. Considering this, we discussed strategies to help us look after ourselves and each other now and in the future. At one point, Allan Pacey, one of the co-investigators on the project, was up on his feet giving us a visual representation of what it might mean to compartmentalise our feelings. We also discussed the possibility that we might not have the same interpretations of the data and how to make sure everyone felt heard. We agreed that it was important to listen to some of the quieter voices in the room and we welcomed alternative explanations.

My favorite part of the day came after lunchtime: reading and discussing the mini-stories. It was great to get the insight of our public involvement group on the data that we had collected so far for the project. In my smaller group, we spoke about several things concerning the stories that David read aloud to us, including (but not limited to):

  • The range of reasons that people might want to remain anonymous in OSD, such as for their own or their family’s privacy and (perceived or actual) safety

  • Frustrations at the policies that make it difficult for LGBTQ+ people to start families

  • The personability of what “DIY donation” can offer and the beauty of doing things differently

  • A need for education and guidance on things like conception, choices, what to ask a donor or recipient, and when

I think that all of the academic team will agree that hearing the views of people with lived experience, on the data that we had collected, was invaluable. It helped us to contextualise our data and importantly, see things in a different light. Thank you!


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