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DNA Tests Are Outing Sperm Donors: What This Means

 The booming DTC (direct to consumer) genetic testing industry is causing divided opinions.

On the one hand, some users have happily connected with long lost or unknown relatives after sending their DNA samples.

On the other, more donor-conceived people are using ancestry sites to figure out who their biological parents are. Some have been amazed to learn they have dozens of half-siblings.

Donors who submitted their sperm decades ago under the promise of anonymity are also having to contend with unintended exposure. What does this mean for them, their progeny, sperm banks, DNA testing companies, and other interested parties? 

Changing dynamics of the sperm donor industry

Sperm donation

Although the first successful pregnancy using frozen sperm was reported in 1953, the industry became popular in the 1970s. At the time, it was available mainly to childless heterosexual couples.

As society became more liberal, new ideas started taking shape. Being a single parent was no longer a taboo, and same-sex relationships also became more acceptable.

At the same time, science improved the chances of heterosexual couples conceiving, even when the man had low sperm count. This meant the industry was losing its traditional customer base and started being more accommodative to single parents and same-sex partners.

While this new market proved lucrative, clients had new demands. They frowned upon the traditional anonymity associated with sperm donation. Most wanted their children to have a chance to know their biological fathers.

Technology makes the world smaller

Donor Sibling Registry

Technological advances come with their pros and cons, depending on who’s affected. When DNA profiling became popular, law enforcers used it to solve cases that had baffled them for years.

As internet use grew, it became easier to connect with others in far-flung states. At the same time, the first generation of donor-conceived children was coming of age and naturally wondering about their biological fathers.

This curiosity and growing internet proliferation led to the founding of online registries, such as the Donor Sibling Registry (DSR) in 2000. By entering a donor number, one could identify all their half-siblings registered in the system.

The rise of DTC genetic testing kits made it even easier to identify relatives. Other than providing your genetic profile, the best DNA test kits offer additional services — these range from health reports to detailed family trees.

By linking users to their half-siblings and donor’s relatives, they can figure out who their biological father is even if his genetic profile is not available in the database.

Ethical concerns

Free DNA Testing

DNA testing companies are unwittingly exposing sperm donors and killing the anonymity that was a hallmark of the industry. People who once donated sperm as carefree college students eager to earn a few bucks are now being confronted with stark reality.

Other than having their own families, they also have to think about several other children, some whose ages are decades apart. At the root of this debate are the rights of various parties.

Sperm banks insist donors deserve the right to privacy, which recipients agreed to when they signed contracts. Recipients, on the other hand, say their children have a right to know their biological fathers.

Some also claim their children were not signatories to anonymity contracts, so they’re under no obligation to adhere to them. Tech-savvy teens have been known to research about their biological parents even without their other parent’s knowledge or consent.

One of the most worrying concerns surrounding DTC kits and sperm donors revolves around fertility fraud. It involves doctors who used their semen to impregnate clients while telling them the samples were of their preferred donor.

After taking at-home DNA tests, their donor-conceived offspring figure out the deceit. Some have called for such doctors to be treated as sex offenders because the act is tantamount to sexual assault.

As more sperm donors are outed, legal challenges against them might increase. Even though anonymity agreements protect them, some sperm recipients might still sue them for child support.

The trend is also worrying for the sperm banking industry. It might cause a drop in donations because potential donors are afraid of unforeseen consequences.



The continued growth of at-home DNA testing services has a ripple effect in various other fields. These include sperm donation, law enforcement, insurance, and pharmaceutical industries.

Popular companies such as 23andMe, Ancestry, and FamilyTreeDNA already have millions of consumers.

As the number grows, more sperm donors are bound to be exposed. While this is good news for donor-conceived children, their biological parents might not always share the same enthusiasm.


About the Author Charles M.

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