November 30, 2022

Sperm banks’ ‘he-man’ strategy to lure donors

Globally, the sperm donation industry is valued at more than US$3.5 billion

Sperm banks in the United Kingdom and Australia are using images and phrases associated with masculinity to attract donors because laws prohibit them from paying for sperm.

An article in the journal Marketing Theory analysed marketing strategies used by sperm banks in the United Kingdom and Australia and found they rely on masculine archetypes to create value for a commodity they cannot legally buy.

Globally, the sperm donation industry is valued at more than US$3.5 billion; greater acceptance of same-sex relationships and increased demand for fertility treatments are expected to drive further industry growth in coming years.

Sperm banks in the UK and Australia are disadvantaged as they are unable to pay donors or provide them with anonymity, they are subject to limitations on the number of donations any one male can provide, and the import and export of sperm are highly regulated.

These constraints have contributed to sperm shortages in both countries, particularly after the UK ended donor anonymity in 2005. To overcome regulatory constraints and increase donor numbers sperm banks began to donation as a confirmation of the donor’s masculinity.

This strategy relied on two archetypes of masculinity — the 'soldier' serving their country and the 'everyday hero' saving a damsel in distress. The researchers found that campaigns employing the everyday hero archetype sometimes use hypersexualised or romanticised images of men to intensify their appeal.

Examples of this are found in campaign posters showing athletically built men in swimming trunks or underpants but also in videos depicting men cooking barbecues or handing out roses to women.

“This has helped the industry in the UK and Australia to resolve their donor shortages to a great extent,” Dr Mimoun said. “It's very interesting that sperm banks are able to procure sperm for free as long as they sell it as a way to affirm the masculinity of donors, especially in today's context when the notion of masculinity is constantly challenged.”

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge  

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