For months, Beth Gardner and her wife, Nicole, had been looking for someone to help them conceive. They began with sperm banks, which have donors of almost every background, searchable by religion, ancestry, even the celebrity they most resemble. But the couple balked at the prices—at least $2,000 for the sperm alone—and the fact that most donors were anonymous; they wanted their child to have the option to one day know his or her father. So in the summer of 2010, at home with their two dogs and three cats, Beth and Nicole typed these words into a search engine: “free sperm donor.”
A few clicks later, the couple slid into an online underground, a mishmash of personal ads, open forums, and members-only websites for women seeking sperm—and men giving it away. Most donors pledge to verify their health and relinquish parental rights, much like regular sperm-bank donors. But unlike their mainstream counterparts, these men don’t get paid. They’re also willing to reveal their identities and allow any future offspring to contact them. Many of the men say they do it out of altruism, but some also talk unabashedly of kinky sex and spreading their gene pool.
Curious, Beth and Nicole posted to a Yahoo Group, and within days they had more than a dozen suitors. “We got some weirdos,” says Beth, a 35-year-old tech professional near San Diego. But most of the donors were “very nice and obviously well educated.” After careful vetting—consisting of a homemade questionnaire, interviews, reference checks, and STD tests—the couple settled on a 30-something professional and arranged the donation.