Skip to main content

Rethinking reproductive selection: traveling transnationally for sperm

Abstract

Denmark has become a destination for fertility travelers in need of sperm. Through a careful ethnographic reading of how fertility travelers account for their journey to Denmark and their selection of sperm donors, I explore what comprises donor selection and ask: How can we understand accountability for inclusion and exclusion in the phenomena of donor selection that emerges when women and couples travel to Denmark for sperm? While the recently coined term ‘selective reproductive technology’ (Gammeltoft and Wahlberg in Annu Rev Anthropol 43:201–216, 2014) creates a framework for productive discussions on reproductive selection, this paper points out that the ontological premises of the notion of selection have political consequences and thus demand careful methodological examination. Based on ethnographic work on sperm selection in fertility travels to Denmark, this paper contributes a reconceptualization of the notion of the phenomena of selection. This reconceptualization reflects on and disrupts the ways in which inclusion and exclusion take place as selection emerges through both material and discursive elements, particularly national regulations, perceptions of race, the freezing ability of sperm, and the financial situations of those seeking treatment. To encompass such varying elements, the concept is analyzed by drawing on a relational ontology informed by the notion of the phenomenon, the basic analytical unit in agential realism (Barad in Meeting the universe halfway. Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Duke University Press, Durham, NC, 2007). This chosen reconceptualization may grant us the imaginative space to consider how the process of selection might be otherwise conducted.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. Seen from the perspective of sperm banks and fertility clinics, the regulation of the sale and use of gametes, however, has intensified at both the EU and the national levels (Adrian 2016).

  2. This number does not indicate the number of individual fertility travelers because it includes repeat visits by the same women. It also does not include fertility travelers using IVF combined with donor sperm.

  3. For a further description and analysis of sperm-bank donor selection, see Mohr (2004) and Wheatley (2015).

  4. Almeling (2011), who carried out field work at sperm and egg banks in the United States, made the same point in her study.

  5. I previously used a shorter version of the narrative told by Inken to critique ethicist Jacob Birkler’s discussion on donor selection with extended profiles (Adrian 2017). In this text, my focus was different, exclusively considering the ontology of selection.

  6. In 2018, insemination with anonymous sperm donation could be purchased for 4200 Dkr or US$647, including all the necessary ultrasounds and clinical visits but without the cost of medication. This service also included insemination at the clinic and an initial interview with a doctor (see the Copenhagen Fertility Center’s pricelist: http://www.copenhagenfertilitycenter.com/priser.htm). IUI was US$539 and did not include the cost of donor sperm. The price including sperm purchased from the Internet was approximately US$1144, but the cost of donated sperm differed depending on the use of anonymous or non-anonymous sperm donors. The price of sperm also varied between the two Danish sperm banks and their categorizations of the value of quality, such as the number of sperm per milliliter.

  7. European Sperm Bank, https://www.europeanspermbank.com/en/ [accessed 17 December 2016].

  8. Cryos International, https://www.cryosinternational.com [accessed 17 December 2016].

References

  • Adrian, S. 2006. Nye skabelsesberetninger om æg, sæd og embryoner: Et etnografisk studie af skabelser på sædbanker og fertilitetsklinikker. Linköping: Linköping Arts and Science. No. 370. LiU-Tryck.

  • Adrian, S.W. 2010. Sperm stories: Politics and practices of sperm donation in Denmark and Sweden. The European Journal of Women’s Studies 17 (4): 393–411.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adrian, S.W. 2016. Subversive practices of sperm donation: Globalising Danish sperm. In Critical kinship studies, ed. C. Kroløkke, L. Myong, S.W. Adrian, and T. Tjørnhøj-Thomsen, 185–202. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adrian, S.W. 2017. Etik på Grænsen—At vælge donor. In Kritiske perspektiver i helsefagene: Utdanning, yrkespraksis og forskning, ed. M. Feiring, I. Knutsen, T. Juritzen, and K. Larsen, 233–254. Oslo: Cappelen Damm Akademisk.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adrian, S.W., and C. Kroløkke. 2018. Passport to parenthood reproductive pathways in and out of Denmark. NORA—Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 26 (2): 112–126.

    Google Scholar 

  • Almeling, R. 2011. Sex cells—The medical market for eggs and sperm. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barad, K. 1998. Getting real: Technoscientific practices and the materialization of reality. Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 10 (2): 87–128.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway. Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Benjamin, R. 2018. Black afterlives matter: Cultivating kinfulness as reproductive justice. In Making kin not population, ed. A. Clarke and D. Haraways, 4–66. Chicago: Prickly Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergmann, S. 2012. Resemblance that matters: On transnational anonymized egg donation in two European IVF clinics. In Reproductive technologies as global form. Ethnographies of knowledge, practices, and transnational encounters, ed. M. Knecht, M. Klotz, and S. Beck, 331–356. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Birkler, J. 2012. Helt Uden Grænser. København: Munksgaard.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bleakley, L. 2011. Redheaded donors are being turned away at sperm bank, BBC. 21 September. Accessed 4 Feb 2018.

  • Clarke, A. 2005. Situational analysis. Grounded theory after the postmodern turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Colen, S. 1995. ‘Like a mother to them’: Stratified reproduction and West Indian childcare workers and employers in New York. In Conceiving the new world order. The global politics of reproduction, ed. F. Ginsburg and R. Rapp, 78–102. Berkeley, CA: California University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cooper, M., and C. Waldby. 2014. Clinical labor: Tissue donors and research subjects in the global bioeconomy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Copenhagen Fertility Center. Pricelist. http://www.copenhagenfertilitycenter.com/priser.htm. Accessed 5 Feb 2018.

  • Cryos International. https://www.cryosinternational.com. Accessed 17 Dec 2016.

  • Daniels, C. 2006. Exposing men. The science and politics of male reproduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • European Sperm Bank. https://www.europeanspermbank.com/en/. Accessed 17 Dec 2016.

  • European Union Cell and Tissue Directive. 2004. http://eur-ex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2004:102:0048:0058:EN:PDF. Accessed 30 Aug 2013.

  • Franklin, S., and C. Roberts. 2006. Born and made. An ethnography of preimplantation genetic diagnosis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Funes, S.L. 2017. Egg donation in the making: Gender, selection and (in)visibilities in the Spanish bioeconomy of reproduction. In Bioeconomies. Life. Technology and Capital in the 21st Century, ed. V. Pavone and J. Gove, 253–278. Palgrave: Switzerland.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gammeltoft, T. 2014. Haunting images. A cultural account of selective reproduction in vietnam. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gammeltoft, T., and A. Wahlberg. 2014. Selective reproductive technologies. Annual Review of Anthropology 43: 201–216.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gerrits, T. 2016. It’s not my eggs, it is not my husband’s sperm, it is not my child. In Critical kinship studies, ed. C. Kroløkke, L. Myong, S.W. Adrian, and T. Tjørnhøj-Thomsen, 65–80. London: Rowman and Littlefield.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ginsburg, F., and R. Rapp. 1995. Introduction. Conceiving the new world order. In Conceiving the new world order. The global politics of reproduction, ed. F. Ginsburg and R. Rapp, 1–18. Berkeley, CA: California University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Graham, S. 2017. Being a ‘good’ parent: Single women reflecting upon ‘selfishness’ and ‘risk’ when pursuing motherhood through sperm donation. Anthropology & Medicine 25: 249–264.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haraway, D. 1991. Situated knowledges: The science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective. In Simians, cyborgs, and women. The reinvention of nature, ed. D. Haraway, 183–202. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Haraway, D. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_meets_OncoMouse™: Feminism and Technoscience. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Herbrand, C. 2016. Mitochondrial replacement techniques: Who are the potential users and will they benefit? Bioethics 31 (1): 46–54.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hudson, N., and L. Culley. 2011. Assisted reproductive travel: UK patient trajectories. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 22: 573–581.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inhorn, M. 2010. ‘Assisted’ motherhood in global Dubai: Reproductive tourists and their helpers. In The globalization of motherhood: Deconstructions and reconstructions of biology and care, ed. J.M. Maher and W. Chavkin, 180–202. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inhorn, M. 2015. Cosmopolitan conceptions: IVF Sojourns in global Dubai. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Inhorn, M.C., and Z.B. Gürtin. 2011. Cross-border reproductive care: A future research agenda. Reproductive Biomedicine Online 23: 665–676.

    Google Scholar 

  • Koch, L. 2006. On ethics, scientists and democracy. Writing the history of eugenic sterilization. In The history of contemporary science, technology and medicine, ed. R.E. Doel and T. Soederqvist, 97–112. London and New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Knecht, M., M. Klotz, and S. Beck. 2012. Reproductive technologies as global form: Introduction. In Reproductive technologies as global form. Ethnographies of knowledge, practices, and transnational encounters, ed. M. Knecht, M. Klotz, and S. Beck, 11–26. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kroløkke, C. 2009. Click a donor: Viking masculinity on the line. Journal of Consumer Culture 9 (1): 7–30.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kroløkke, C. 2014. West is best: Affective assemblages and Spanish oöcytes. European Journal of Women’s Studies 21 (1): 57–71.

    Google Scholar 

  • Layne, L. 2013a. Creepy’, ‘freaky’, and ‘strange’: How the ‘uncanny’ can illuminate the experience of single mothers by choice and lesbian couples who buy ‘dad. Journal of Consumer Culture 13 (2): 140–159.

    Google Scholar 

  • Layne, L. 2013b. Intensive parenting alone. Negotiating the cultural contradictions of motherhood as a single mother by choice. In Parenting in global perspective. Negotiating ideologies of kinship, self and politics, ed. C. Faircloth, D.M. Hoffman, and L. Layne, 213–228. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Legislation Number 460. 1997. Lov om kunstig befrugtning.

  • Legislation Number 535. 2006. Lov om ændring af lov om kunstig befrugtning I forbindelse med lægelig behandling, diagnostic, og forskning m.v.

  • Legislation Number 602. 2012. Lov om ændring af lov om kunstig befrugtning i forbindelse med lægelig behandling, Diagnostik og forskning m.v., børneloven og lov om adoption.

  • Luce, J. 2010. Beyond expectation: Lesbian⁄Bi⁄Queer women and assisted conception. Toronto: Toronto University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Luna, T.Z. 2010. Marching toward reproductive justice: Coalitional (re)framing of the march for women’s lives. Sociological Inquiry 80 (4): 554–578.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mamo, L. 2007. Queering reproduction. Achieving pregnancy in the age of technoscience. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marcus, G. 1998. Ethnography through thick and thin. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin, L.J. 2015. Reproductive tourism in the United States: Creating family in the mother country. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Meelhus, M. 2012. Problems of conception. Issues of law, biotechnology, individuals and kinship. New York: Berghan Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mohr, S. 2004. Semen—An ethnography of donating sperm in Denmark. Copenhagen: University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.

    Google Scholar 

  • Moore, L.J. 2008. Sperm counts. Overcome by man’s most precious fluid. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nordqvist, P. 2011a. ‘Dealing with sperm’: Comparing lesbians’ clinical and non-clinical donor conception processes. Sociology of Health & Illness 3 (1): 119–124.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nordqvist, P. 2011b. Choreographies of sperm donation. Dilemmas of intimacy in lesbian couple donor conception. Social Science and Medicine 73: 1661–1668.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pande, A. 2014. Wombs in labor: Transnational commercial surrogacy in India. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Payne, J. 2013. Europeanizing reproduction: Reproductive technologies in Europe and Scandinavia. NORA—Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 21 (3): 236–242.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pavone, V., and J. Gove. 2017. Introduction. In Bioeconomies. Life. Technology and capital in the 21st century, ed. V. Pavone and J. Gove, 1–24. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Petchesky, R.P. 1987. Fetal images: The power of visual culture in the politics of reproduction. Feminist Studies 13 (2): 263–292.

    Google Scholar 

  • Petersen, M.N. 2016. Becoming gay fathers through transnational commercial surrogacy. Journal of Family Issues 39 (3): 693–719.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polkinghorne, D. 1995. Narrative configuration in qualitative research. Qualitative Studies in Education 8 (1): 5–23.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rapp, R. 1999. One new reproductive technology, multiple sites: How feminist methodology bleeds into everyday life. In Revisioning women, health, and healing: Feminist, cultural and technoscience perspectives, ed. A. Clarke and V. Olesen. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rapp, R. 2000. Testing women, testing the fetus: The social impact of amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ravn, T. 2017. Strategies for life: Lived realities of solo motherhood, kinship and medically assisted reproduction. PhD dissertation. Aarhus University, Politica.

  • Roberts, D. 1997. Killing the black body: Race, reproduction, and the meaning of liberty. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Róisín, R. 2009. Lesbian motherhood: Gender, families and sexual citizenship. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmidt, M., and L.J. Moore. 1998. Constructing a ‘good catch’, picking a winner: The development of technosemen and the deconstruction of the monolithic male. In Cyborg babies: From techno-sex to techno-tots, ed. R. Davis-Floyd and J. Dumit, 21–39. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Statens Serum Institut. 2013. Assisteret Reproduktion.Tal og analyse. København: Author. https://sundhedsdatastyrelsen.dk/da/tal-og-analyser/analyser-og-rapporter/andre-analyser-og-rapporter/assisteret-reproduktion. Accessed 4 Feb 2018.

  • Søndergaard, D., and L. Højgaard. 2010. Multimodale konstitueringsprocesser i empirisk forskning. In Kvalitative metoder. En grundbog, ed. S. Brinkmann and L. Tanggaard, 315–339. Hans Reitzels Forlag: København.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sørensen, T.K. 2012. Skal sæddonoren være mægler eller violinist? Jyllandsposten sektion 1: 8–9.

    Google Scholar 

  • Taylor, J.S. 2008. The public life of the fetal sonogram: Technology consumption, and the politics of reproduction. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Thompson, C. 2005. Making parents. The ontological choreography of reproductive technologies. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Twine, F.W. 2015. Outsourcing the womb: Race, class and gestational surrogacy in a global market, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wahlberg, A. 2018. Good quality. The routinization of sperm banking in China. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wahlberg, A., and T. Gammeltoft (eds.). 2018. Selective reproduction in the 21st century. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wheatley, A. 2015. Good soldiers, good guys, and good parents: The meanings of donation and donated tissue in the context of the Danish donor sperm industry. PhD dissertation, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh.

  • Wu, C. 2011. Managing multiple masculinities in donor insemination: Doctors configuring infertile men and sperm donors in Taiwan. Sociology of Health & Illness 33 (1): 96–113.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

Thank you to the fertility travelers I interviewed, the editors and reviewers for careful reading and commenting, and the Danish Research Council on the Humanities for providing funding for the collective research project (Trans)Formations of Kinship: Travelling in Search of Relatedness, 2011‒2015, Project Number 95-26112. The author declares that she has no competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stine Willum Adrian.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author had no competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Adrian, S.W. Rethinking reproductive selection: traveling transnationally for sperm. BioSocieties 15, 532–554 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-019-00159-3

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/s41292-019-00159-3

Keywords

  • Phenomena of selection
  • Selective reproductive technology
  • Fertility traveling
  • Sperm donation
  • Agential realism
  • Feminist materialism