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Sperm donation finds online market

SHUTTERSTOCK/ GLOBE STAFF ILLUSTRATION

There is an acute shortage of sperm worldwide. Not in general, mind you, but due to rapidly increasing demand from prospective parents for sperm donors, there haven’t been enough gametes to go around.

As a result, an informal marketplace for sperm donation has sprung up online. There, women and prospective donors interact freely on message boards and websites, chatting while perusing each other’s profiles. It’s a sharp contrast to a formal fertility clinic setting, where sperm donors are preselected and may be coached to generate a profile that will sell.

Now, one of the first studies of this new online marketplace has quantified what women really want in a sperm donor — and it’s not, as you might expect, a gorgeous guy with a sparkling personality. Women prefer sperm donors who are intellectual, shy, and systematic, according to a study published in the journal Applied Economic Letters.

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“You would think that an extroverted male should be able to sell themselves better, but that’s not what we saw,” says author Stephen Whyte of Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

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Whyte, a doctoral candidate in economics, was interested in the dynamics of how women and sperm donors match, yet no fertility clinics would share their files with him. So Whyte turned to the online sperm market. Here, both donors and recipients were eager to talk.

Initially, Whyte surveyed women seeking donors. In a paper published last December, he and his adviser, economist Benno Torgler, found that women consider personality characteristics of a donor more important than physical appearances.

Next, the researchers surveyed 56 men who participated and compared each one’s success at producing offspring to his behavioral traits. Men were more successful at being selected and producing offspring if they were intellectual, shy, and systematic rather than extroverted or lively. Women also tended to decline the sperm of fretful men.

Whyte also found that 73 percent of selected donors maintained some kind of ongoing contact — by mail, phone, online, or even in person — with at least one of their donor children.

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“It wasn’t too shocking, because these men obviously want to be known to the recipient,” says Whyte, who will continue to study the online interactions. “This is a completely new market. It’s going to be interesting to see how it develops.”

MEGAN SCUDELLARI