As the legal supply of seed dwindles, infertility is becoming more and more common in China. Research conducted in 2012 shows that over 40 million people in China are infertile, accounting for 12.5 percent of the population at child-bearing age. This is over four times higher than in the 1980s, when the infertility rate was about 3 percent.
The increasing demand and shrinking supply at State-sanctioned sperm banks has spawned a murky underground sperm donation market, which has grown increasingly popular in recent years.
A website called China Sperm Donation has become the most popular forum for donors and sperm-seekers looking to meet each other. Many prospective donors post their information on the website to attract recipients. Some say they work as public servants or have studied overseas to prove their intellectual ability, and some make claims about the longevity of their grandparents and even great-grandparents to show they have good genes.
However, the number of prospective donors seem to far outnumber prospective recipients, as the forum on which donors post their information has over 130 pages, while the forum for sperm-seekers only has 8 pages.
A statement on the website says that due to the increasing number of fraudsters using the forum, it now offers an authorization service, and those who have proved their identities to the website will be marked as trustworthy users. But even this seems far from enough for a long and complicated process like sperm donation.
If one types "sperm donation QQ group" into a search engine, thousands of results will show up. Duan said he met the infertile couple on a QQ group called "self-service sperm donation," and he was promised several thousand yuan in return for his genetic material.
These practices are illegal in China. According to the regulation on sperm banks, issued in 2011, companies and individuals are not allowed to provide commercial services involving sperm collection and donation.
But since the donor and the recipient both do it voluntarily, these QQ groups and forums have existed for a long time with little interference.
Duan told New Express Daily that he is a manager at an advertising agency, and tried to prove it with a photo of his computer desktop, which was full of documents entitled "ad projects" and "ad materials." The background of the desktop is a smiling one-year-old, which Duan claims is his son. The photo has been used by Duan to prove his virility.
Like Duan, thousands of men post their information on sperm donation forums and QQ groups. While most of them claim they are healthy, good-looking, virile and are able to provide health check reports upon request, it's almost impossible to prove their real identity and the authenticity of their health reports. Most of the donors can get between 1,000 to 8,000 yuan for each donation, whether it is successful or not.
While many donors use Duan's method - called "indirect donation" - some offer the more controversial method - direct donation - which is a euphemistic term for having sex with the wannabe mother.
While many of these practices are seedy, as most men who offer direct donation are simply attracted by the free sex and money they can get from a deal, still some women are willing to take the risk.
Xiaohua (pseudonym), a villager who lives in Xi'an, Shaanxi, told China Business View she had to resort to having sex with a donor after years of suffering from the stigma of her husband's infertility. However, that didn't result in pregnancy and she eventually got pregnant through in vitro fertilization in a hospital.
Experts say both of these methods are highly risky, ethically, hygienically and legally. Sperm, for example, can be polluted by the container and injector used, and if the donor has HIV or venereal disease, the recipient may be infected. In the case of a direct donation, the fact that the donor has slept with the recipient is regarded by many as unethical even if the donation is successful.
And even though the donor and recipient can sign a contract stating that the recipient's husband is the only legal father, such a contract is not legally valid. This may result in legal problems for the child's mother and the donor, who's the biological father.
To help Chinese couples to make babies, many sperm banks are now allowing men who want to have a child later in life to store their sperm. In 2014, 286 men preserved their sperm at the Northwest Women and Children's hospital.
Doctor Zhang said most men who store their sperm are those who are suffering from serious diseases and are taking treatment such as radiation therapy. Saving their sperm will allow their partners to get pregnant even after they've been treated.