With a birth rate of 1.09 and a declining population, there is a sense of urgency in China about reversing its dismal demographics. The IVF industry –540 authorized ART medical institutions and 27 human sperm banks –is a band-aid solution, but it is marketing itself as a solution for infertile couples.
One innovative but incredibly vulgar tactic has been adopted by the the Henan Human Sperm Bank, China’s biggest. It has created a competition for the highest quality sperm for university students in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province. Over 50 days they can make up to 20 sperm donations, with the potential to earn up to 6,100 yuan (about US$850) for their contributions.
The semen samples are assessed on four criteria: sperm concentration, volume, structure, and motility (the speed at which sperm move).
To be eligible, candidates be between the ages of 20 and 45, at least 1.65 meters tall, and have no history of smoking, alcoholism, drug use, or promiscuous sexual behaviour. Additionally, they are required to abstain from sexual activity for about a week before donating and must maintain personal hygiene (including taking a shower before their visit to the clinic).
The competition was announced by the sperm bank on social media, with a headline playing on a Chinese idiom about seeking greatness from excellence, with a pun on “jingzi,” the Chinese word for sperm.
Winners of the competition will be celebrated as “nameless heroes” by the organizers, a title that has sparked ribald boasting on social media. Some users on the micro-blogging platform Weibo even pledged to donate in proportion to the number of likes their comments received, while others promised multiple donations in a single day. One user even stated his willingness to forgo compensation if he secured the top position and had his name announced nationwide.
Sperm banks across the country have faced challenges in attracting donors, primarily due to high rejection rates. A 2021 study involving the Henan Human Sperm Bank, said that married men with children and higher education are more likely to have their sperm accepted. However, even if they meet health and education criteria, donors often face rejection due to suboptimal sperm quality, including malformations, sexually transmitted infections, and chromosomal abnormalities.
Sperm donors can be anonymous in China. The nudge-nudge, wink-wink media reports about who will have the fastest and most virile sperm failed to mention anything about the rights of the children conceived after this competition.