We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Supply, demand, regulators, middlemen

If there is one thing the BBC and Samizdata have in common, it is our coverage of all the important issues.

Simon Watson, 41, has been an unlicensed sperm donor for 16 years, donating once a week. “Usually one [baby] a week pops out. I reckon I’ve got about 800 so far, so within four years I’d like to crack 1,000.”

This is a whole new world of discovery for me.

The number of women using donated sperm to get pregnant is rising, but many find the cost of treatment at private clinics prohibitive. This has led some women to use unlicensed donors. […] Very few women are eligible for artificial insemination on the NHS as the criteria are very strict. Private licensed clinics cost between £500 and £1,000 for each cycle of treatment. Mr Watson charges £50 for his services […] “If you go to a fertility clinic people have to go through lots of hurdles – counselling sessions, huge amounts of tests and then charge absolute fortunes for the service – but realistically if you’ve got a private donor you can just go and see them, meet them somewhere, get what you want and just go,” he explains.

Regulatory hurdles push up prices for the end user, so the demand for cheap and cheerful is met elsewhere. But what about the supply side? Another BBC article, bemoaning the lack of donors, completes the picture.

Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain’s national sperm bank in Birmingham. […] Donors are paid £35 per clinic visit, but Ms Witjens said financial reward was not a good way to boost recruitment. “We might get more donors if we paid £50 or £100 per donation, but money corrupts. “If you feel you can make £200 a week for four months, you might hide things about your health.”

I would have thought women might want to be a bit pickier than have sperm from the kind of loser who gets out of bed for thirty-five quid.

So we have private services supplying a high cost, high quality product, but crowded and regulated out of providing better value or budget services. A state provider that manages to have nothing but shortages of supply and (I would guess) poor quality products. And a grey market filling in the gaps. This is not a new world at all: there is nothing new here. To make things better I would abolish the state providers and deregulate, creating an environment for reputable intermediaries to supply maximum value for money across the whole range of price points. If anything does change it will probably involve more rules and the criminalisation of the grey market, increasing costs and risks.

46 comments to Supply, demand, regulators, middlemen

  • Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain’s national sperm bank in Birmingham.

    Yes, because there was some monstrously idiotic ruling some years back that sperm donors could not remain anonymous and they might be liable for future maintenance costs. Before that, there was no shortage of guys willing to donate. Not we have 9. Well done, government.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    Tim, supposedly not liable to future maintenance costs: “While children will be able to access more information about the donor’s genetic origins, they will have no financial or legal claim.”

  • bob sykes

    !!??Unlicensed sperm donors??!! Is this a new euphemism for youths?

  • Cal

    It’s rather amusing that if the gentlemen injects the stuff into a bottle so the gentle lady can then inject it into the relevant orifice herself, then you apparently need a large regulatory system. But if said gentleman injects the stuff directly into the relevant orifice with no glass jar involved then no regulatory system is needed.

  • Tim, supposedly not liable to future maintenance costs

    True. But with the way men currently get shafted for maintenance costs any which way, who is going to want to rely on some activist judge not ruling otherwise in the future? Not me, and not most men. Not worth the risk.

  • rxc

    And instead of paying for the “injection” why don’t these women do what most others do – get a man to pay for everything in order to qualify for the “injection”, and then everything else, for the rest of their life.

  • Paul Marks

    As Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke pointed out (the case of Doctor Bonham and other cases) the Common Law recognises no such “crime” as offering a good or service without a piece of parchment called a “license”.

    “Licensing”, and other regulation, is strangling opportunity in business in all fields (let us not be distracted by this one small area – about sex and so on), both in Britain and the United States – especially opportunities for the poor.

    It is not just Common Lawyers (following Chief Justice Sir Edward Coke and Chief Justice Sir John Holt) who should oppose “legislation” and stand for the principles of law, Roman Lawyers should stand against “legislation” also, as Bruno Leoni showed in “Freedom And The Law”.

    As for the alternative point of view…..

    The false “debate” between the “conservative” Sir William Blackstone (of the Blackstone Heresy that Parliament can do anything it likes – hang people for having brown eyes, or whatever) and the “liberal” Jeremy Bentham (who denounced Blackstone for not backing legislation ENOUGH – demanding 13 Departments of State to control all aspects of ordinary life) should be rejected.

    A state of affairs where Blackstone and Bentham are presented as “the alternatives” is as bad as the false choice that John Stuart Mill presented the world.

    What choice?

    The choice, in J.S.Mill’s essay, between Jeremy Bentham (Bentham – the statist, with his 13 Departments controlling all aspects of ordinary life, and the person who dismissed any rights restricting the state as “nonsense on stilts”) as the great “liberal” and Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the great “conservative”.

    A drug addict romantic poet, who believed in Protectionism – that is the person that J.S. Mill presented as the “conservative” point of view.

    That is Mr Mill – the great defender of “freedom” and “liberty”.

    The voice for “liberalism” he presents is the statist Mr Bentham and the voice of “conservativism” he presents is Mr Coleridge.

    Real Old Whigs such as Edmund Burke do not get a look in.

    Bentham’s “Bowood Circle” could not refute Edmund Burke – and neither could Mr Mill’s “Westminister Review” people.

    As they could not refute Burke – they ignored him. Just as J.S. Mill ignored those who refuted the Labour Theory of Value in economics (pretending that “the theory of value is settled”) and his, Benthamite, theory of law.

    There are general principles here – and we need to stick to them.

  • James Waterton

    I always thought being a sperm donor allowed any bloke interested in the job to be an alpha male extraordinaire in terms of evolutionary science, allowing him to embarrass the comparatively feeble efforts of far fitter specimens than himself by casting his DNA far and wide via the laboratory.

  • Mr Ed

    This creates a potential risk of half-sibling marriages and couplings and a genetic bottleneck, and otherwise, it is c caveat emptor. Were a man with latent Huntington’s Chorea to be doing this, a genetic timebomb might go off half a century later. Just saying.

  • staghounds

    So the British Government could only get a little less than one man a month to wank for L35.


  • Fred the Fourth

    Some humor / commentary site (Cracked.com?) ran an article last year detailing the travails of an “official” sperm donor in the US. It was the usual story: donation occurs once the mass of paperwork outweighs the donor. No way could you get me to go through all that for less than $20,000 / year, assuming it was to be an ongoing thing.

  • Cristina

    What Mr Ed said.

  • llamas

    An old joke about governments, deserts and sand springs to mind.

    The NHS arguments about how ‘money corrupts things’ and how donors might hide the truth about their health if they were corrupted by too much money is just laughable. Firstly, of course, if you pay a decent price, you get to make the donor take a serious medical. And secondly – as opposed to the traditional method of impregnation, where we know all men always tell the truth about their health? I can’t believe that even an NHS bureaucrat could make that argument with a straight face.

    With current mores in the UK, I suspect that the risk of half-sibling marriages and genetic issues is already elevated quite nicely. And the NHS is its usual Januarian self, moaning about the unregulated activity that is taking place (less work for them to control) while at the same time making sure that the desired therapy is essentially unavailable under the NHS.



  • Mr Ed

    Frankly, who’d want to be a ‘middleman’ in this sort of transaction?

  • PaulM

    Bob Monkhouse once said the following “I opened a sperm donor clinic, only got three applicants, useless, one came on the bus and other two missed the tube”

    I cried with laughter, brilliant.

    (Bob Monkhouse was a Britsh comedian who wrote 99% of his own material).

  • Laird

    “He provides his own pot and syringe”

    Well, that’s disappointing, although I guess it provides a defense against prostitution charges.

    “The HFEA says one in 10 IVF cycles used donated gametes or embryos”

    Um, what about the other nine? If they’re not “donated” just where do they get them? Turn them out on a 3D printer?

  • Laird:

    I’d guess the other nine involve couples who are trying to conceive with each other; that is, they harvest a wife’s eggs and husband’s sperm and do the IVF before implanting the fertilized embryos.

    At any rate, Ann and Nancy Wilson figured this out over a quarter century ago

  • Julie near Chicago

    Good point. :>)!

  • Cristina

    Maybe from the desirous parents, Laird? 🙂

  • Fraser Orr

    Just one comment — only the government could create a shortage in women’s access to sperm.

    Makes those half empty bread shelves in the USSR look like a smorgasbord.

  • John in cheshire

    I find the whole business of sperm doners quite unsavoury, especially since it is clear there are thousands of people who are genetically related. There must be a significant possibility of some of these forming relationships with each other, what are the Moral and other implications for their offspring?

  • veryretired

    And to think I was donating it for free all over the place, every chance I got, all those years ago when I was young and skinny.

  • Fred the Fourth

    Mr. Orr: You are my new hero.

  • Rob Fisher

    I think Mr Orr has indeed won the thread. Why didn’t I think of that line?

  • Nicholas (Andy.royd) Gray

    Perhaps the NHS could use the song from the Monty Python film- “every sperm is needed in your neighbourhood”? Was it ‘Life and Death”?

  • Julie near Chicago

    I too vote for Fraser!

  • Regional

    Brother marrying sister.

  • In the late ’90s The Sun kicked up a right kerfuffle over a British lesbian couple having one of them get preggers because a gay friend of theirs wanked into a (rinsed) pickle jar as a favour. After all it is hardly an onerous task is it. The lesbian couple then inseminate from the pickle jar using the sort of plastic syringe dealie which you can get for next to nothing from basically anywhere. The Sun’s outrage over what they dubbed, “The pickle jar kid”.

    The sheer complexity and expense demanded for a procedure that kids can do is stunning but not quite as stunning as the “medicalisation” of it which seemed to be The Suns beef. Yeah pay (superannuated multi-millionaire Labour peer for fanny mechanics*) Lord Robert Winston 10 grand to get up in the pudding club and it is a wonderful thing! Do it on a total budget of a couple of quid (someone had to eat the pickles) and it is evil. It is about outrage over something so straightforward not being a cash-cow for them what know better.

    I mean pregnancy is something we have achieved since we were things living in the sea. And generally without significant financial transaction or involving our white-coated overlords. Just Google “Dick Seed” (yes, that is his name).

    *From Viz.

  • bobby b

    They don’t trust us to get into unregulated taxis, visit non-certified manicurists, carry unregistered guns, eat non-inspected food, buy a simple wooden casket from a non-mortician, or hire unlicensed handymen.

    It must damn near kill them to think we might be procreating without their approval.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Who is this “we,” kemo sabe? You given birth to real human kidlet lately?


  • Andrew Duffin

    What Tim Newman said.

    Both times.

  • Laird

    What bobby b said, too.

  • DP

    Dear Mr Ed

    @ January 13, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Lance Percival had something to say on this matter:



  • Not that I know of but if so I claim my 35 quid.

  • And don’t call me kemo sabe. My native American soul is destroyed by such phrases.

    I once had a bison burger in VA. Now I have a spirit guide.

  • llamas

    Paul Marks mentioned Bob Monkhouse.

    As living proof that things are not what they always seem to be, this much-respected mainstay of UK ‘family’ television in the 1960s and 1970s had another life entirely – including authorship of more than 100 ‘pulp’ pr*n novels.

    In the oft-imitated-but-never-matched tones of Maurice Micklewhite – notalottapeopleknowthat.



  • Mr Ed


    That was ‘PaulM’ not ‘Paul Marks’.

    To be fair to the late Bob Monkhouse, he did say that he was mocked when he said that he was going to be a comedian, but as he pointed out ‘They’re not laughing now, are they?’.

  • Vinegar Joe

    I volunteered as a sperm donor all thru college.

    “Women sense my power and they seek the life essence.” – General Jack D. Ripper

  • Long-Lost Cousin

    I mean pregnancy is something we have achieved since we were things living in the sea.

    ..which is great up until you meet a couple with medical issues requiring huge medical intervention.

    And don’t call me kemo sabe. My native American soul is destroyed by such phrases.

    That’s how great the Lone Ranger’s and Tonto’s relationship were: Kemosabe is Paiute for “shithead” and Tonto is Spanish for “Dumbass.”

  • Snag

    Why is the issue of genetic problems any more of a problem than if he were inseminating these women without the medium of a test tube? Are people suggesting that all sexual encounters be entered on a government database?

  • PeterT

    Snag, it is because genetic diseases often occur when a person inherits the same bad gene from both parent and father. It isn’t enough to have the bad gene from just either. But the more related the population is to each other, the more likely it is that they will have similar genes (duh) so the chance of offspring receiving two bad genes; one from each parent, is heightened.

    Obviously it is possible for a man to father hundreds of children through sexual intercourse, but this is not your usual case.

  • Snag

    I’m well aware of that, I’m asking the difference between a guy who fathers multiple children by sperm donation, or by copious copulation. Such behaviour is far from unknown, and in small towns could be just as deleterious.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Haven’t had much time to follow this debate, but i see no mention of Woody Allen.
    I seem to remember a movie where the Woody character says that he should get a job more suited to his talents and inclinations, such as sperm donor.
    If anybody can remind me which movie that was, i’ll be grateful.

  • Rich Rostrom

    First, it seems ridiculous, and destructive, that thousands of single women are choosing to have children without a husband. This is an obvious bad idea, yet apparently is being embraced with enthusiasm.

    (Yes, it is a bad idea. With technology, innovations such as nuclear power or GMO food must be condemned unless it can be proved beyond any doubt that there is absolutely no risk of any bad effect. With familial and sexual practices, every wild deviance must be approved unless it can be shown that it is certain that every case will result in disaster. Single motherhood is a less bad alternative to abortion or infanticide or marriage to a psychopath. It’s still bad. There is abundant evidence that children raised by married heterosexual couples have, on average, better outcomes than children of divorce, or bastards.

    Choosing it voluntarily encourages male irresponsibility and fecklessness; it is abandonment of the hard but very important task of forming and maintaining marriages, an essential building block of a healthy society.)

    Second, it seems bizarre that someone embarking on a twenty-year commitment that will cost $100,000 or more, besides taking up most of one’s energy and freedom, balks at spending a few hundred dollars up front to insure it starts well.