Sperm Bank Business Grows, Thanks in Part to Acceptance of LGBT Community

Sperm Bank Business Grows, Thanks in Part to Acceptance of LGBT Community

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The team at Seattle Sperm Bank with their custom built “Sperm Bike.” (Photo: Seattle Sperm Bank).
Seattle Sperm Bank with their custom built “Sperm Bike.” Photo: Seattle Sperm Bank.

By Giraldi Alabanza

Demand for donor sperm is growing  nationally, while countries around the world are experiencing shortages due to various reasons.

Eric Kendall, a clinic liaison for European Sperm Bank USA located in Seattle’s University District, says that U.S. demand for donor sperm has been growing by about 15 percent each year.

There are a multitude of reasons for the growth in demand, such as a rise in male infertility, more women wanting children later in life, and a growing acceptance toward the LGBT community.

While people involved in this business don’t usually ask about a client’s marital status or sexual orientation, Kendall admits that more women are looking to have children.

“I think it’s less taboo for single women and lesbian couples to have families,” Kendall says.

Kendall believes that with more attention being given to marriage equality and other LGBT issues, women are more comfortable with having their own children no matter their orientation.

With offices and labs in Copenhagen and Aarhus, Denmark, the European Sperm Bank is the leading cryobank in Europe. In 2008 they established the ESB-USA which opened a laboratory in Seattle. Since then, ESB-USA has helped thousands of single women and couples, both lesbian and heterosexual, to conceive children that they otherwise could not have on their own.

“Most of what we produce now here in Seattle gets sold to the rest of the world,”  says Kendall. “The Danish labs work as a distributor for us.”

These tanks each contain up to 500 vials of sperm samples which are kept cool with liquid nitrogen. (Photo: Giraldi Alabanza).
These tanks each contain up to 500 vials of sperm samples which are kept cool with liquid nitrogen. Photo: Giraldi Alabanza.

While the ESB exports 70 percent of its donated sperm to countries around the world, there is no imported sperm that comes into the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of sperm and other tissues from countries with mad cow disease in 2005.

“So sperm can go out of the U.S., it just can’t go in”, Kendall says.

There are financial incentives for men to donate sperm, but Kendall says that finding enough good donors remains the company’s biggest challenge. Donated sperm must be processed, frozen, and then thawed out, while still being effective throughout the procedure. According to a study conducted by Standford University, only 5 percent of male applicants can actually donate sperm.

Even when the bank finds a donor, there’s the problem of finding different men with various physical traits to give women a large amount of options in terms of how they want the child to look.

“A lot of times, they may want the donor to resemble the partner”, says Kendall. “We do our best to photo match and come up with a male donor who has similar facial features as the female partner, which is very common.”

A quick look at the sperm donor catalog provided by ESB shows a varied selection of donors, complete with baby pictures to show what the child could potentially look like. Traits such as ethnicity, height, and even blood type are shown to give as much freedom of choice to the client as possible.

Alan Dowden, donor coordinator for ESB-USA, emphasizes the demand for donors of all ethnicities.

“I remember reading an article a couple years ago about ‘redheaded donors need not apply,’” says Dowden. “And that’s ridiculous. We’re looking for donors of all ethnic backgrounds.”

To cope with the need for donors, the ESB-USA is looking to expand to areas with large amounts of healthy young men, typically found in large universities. Frederik Andreasson, ESB-USA’s Chief Financial Officer, named Phoenix, San Diego, and the Georgetown neighborhood in Washington, D.C. as potential markets that the company is looking to expand to.

While the city of Seattle has one of the highest LGBT populations by percentage in the country, it surprisingly offers little growth in regards to demand for sperm.

“For us, it’s not like the day gay marriage was legalized that we [saw] a huge uptick,” Andreasson says, “because it’s always been allowed for lesbians to use donor sperm. I think it’s been widely accepted in the state of Washington before the legislation came into effect.”

Andreasson believes that Washington state has been ahead of the general U.S., and says that the U.S. as a whole is moving forward in regards to advocacy for the LGBT community.

“I think it’s more of an acceptance to the people and also some of the legal rights that come with domestic partnerships,” says Andreasson.

Dowden believes that the Washington LGBT community offers a unique position in terms of advocacy for sperm banks. More awareness could bring in more donors, which would translate to helping more women start their own families. And for Dowden, the best part about his work is the peace in knowing that he has helped someone else.

“They send us a baby picture and say, ‘Thanks for the babies!’” he says. “That’s kind of cool, to be honest.”

The European Sperm Bank USA Seattle Sperm Bank is located in 4915 25th Ave NE, Suite 204. For more information, visit www.europeanspermbankusa.com, or call (206) 588-1484.

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