Good soldiers, good guys, and good parents: the meanings of donation and donated tissue in the context of the Danish donor sperm industry
Wheatley, Alison Louise
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Denmark is a major exporter of both anonymous and identity-release donor sperm worldwide, and is home to one the world's largest sperm bank networks. The country's legal framework allows for sperm donors to make the choice whether to be anonymous or to release their identity to potential offspring, in contrast to the majority of European countries which require either anonymity or identity-release donation. As such, it represents a chance for researchers to draw comparisons between donors who have explicitly made these different choices. This thesis draws on data from thirteen in-depth semi-structured interviews carried out with donors at a major Danish sperm bank. I suggest that neither the traditional ‘beer money for the weekend’ nor the currently-popular ‘wanting to help’ narrative of sperm donation tells the full story; the experiences of these donors cannot be expressed fully using an altruistic gifting model, but neither are they fully captured in terms of the capitalist exchange of labour; as ‘help’ or as ‘work’. Donor virility, and by extension masculinity, is represented through sperm quality and the discourse of “good sperm”, which then explicitly informs donor payment, complicating the relationship between donors’ embodied experience, their pride in their ‘product’ and the various ways in which semen as a substance is understood: “good sperm” could make a donor into a ‘good guy’ who could help with the falling national birth count, whereas sperm that was “bad” could be reframed as the product of donors’ lifestyles or as ‘good soldiers’ fighting against the freezing process. Donor accounts of sperm donation were also informed by the wider web of connections that are formed through the process of sperm donation: real, potential, or imagined connections between donor and offspring, donor and their imagined ‘good’ recipient, offspring and donor families, and donors and the wider Danish nation in terms of the production of so-called ‘Viking sperm’ and the extension of the ‘help’ discourse through the falling Danish sperm count.