Black market of sperm thrives in China as infertility rises

2016-06-01 09:31Global Times/Agencies Editor: Li Yan

The declining quality of Chinese men's sperm has resulted in rising demand for sperm donation and a shortage of supply at sperm banks. This has spawned underground sperm trading, in which donors and wannabe mothers meet privately for sperm collection and injection and sometimes even sex. Experts warn these practices can be ethically and legally challenging.

It was 9pm in Yuexiu district, Guangzhou, and Duan Xuan (pseudonym), aged 31, was sitting in a pub when he received a phone call from his wife. He told her he'd be home late that night. Turning off the phone, he then said to the woman next to him: "If you choose me, I can promise you'll get pregnant with a boy."

This was not a tryst between adulterous lovers, but the scene of an underground sperm donation in China.

Duan, the donor, must produce fresh sperm in a public space, such as the toilet of a pub or a hotel room, to prove the sperm is his, and then present it to the infertile couple in an ice box. The wife will then inject the sperm into her uterus so as to get pregnant.

The rise of China's underground sperm market highlights how hard it is to get sperm legitimately, and infertile couples that are unable or unwilling to go through the laborious process of getting semen through sperm banks, are increasingly resorting to finding donors online to fulfill their dream of having children.

Sperm shortage

Research has shown that the quality of Chinese men's sperm is declining. The sperm bank at Shaanxi Province's Northwest Women and Children's Hospital has received over 10,000 sperm donation applications since it was established in 2011. But though the number of men applying to be donors has increased, the percentage of those that pass the bank's health tests has been dropping.

Although hospitals usually offer each donor 3,000 to 5,000 yuan ($455-750) in compensation, it's not easy money to earn. To ensure the quality of their sperm, donors usually need to donate at least 10 samples to finish the entire donation process. During the first few visits, they need to pass a series of all-round health checks and their sperm is sent for testing.

Zhang Zhou, vice director and doctor at the sperm bank, told China Business View that when the bank was first established, about 30 percent of donors passed the tests. By 2014, that percentage had dropped to 15 percent. In 2015, over 1,000 men applied, but only 100 were found to be qualified.

The low qualification rate has led to a shortage of sperm at most sperm banks. In the Northwest Women and Children's Hospital for example, over 1,400 couples applied for sperm donation but there were only 100 donors in 2015. The hospital relies heavily on their stored sperm to fulfill demand.

"Donate 40 milliliters of sperm, and you'll receive 5,000 yuan from the government," read an ad posted on the WeChat account of Hubei Province's sperm bank. The account also says that due to a severe sperm shortage, it is in urgent need of Wuhan-based donors aged between 22 and 45. To attract more donors, some sperm banks have even put up posters in residential neighborhoods.

The majority of sperm donors are college students. However, although the pay is attractive, the Changjiang Times found that most college students are unwilling to donate due to psychological and physical pressure and the negative image that's associated with sperm donation.

Ms. Ruan, aged 37, said she had decided to go through artificial insemination with donated sperm due to her husband's infertility. However, after visiting several sperm banks, most told her that she would have to wait at least one year due to a shortage of sperm. Even when her turn eventually came, the health checks, operations and possible failure might take another year. "The process is too long for us, we had to think of another way," Ruan told the Changjiang Times.


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