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For over 30 years, THE SPERM BANK OF CALIFORNIA has been involved in research about family-building through donor insemination. We are leaders in the field by tracking the outcome of each insemination attempt, maintaining records of conceptions since the establishment of our organization, and conducting research on the well-being of TSBC families and donors. Since 2000, Joanna Scheib, PhD, has guided the research program.
Research findings shape how we provide family-building options and inform the long-term services and support we provide the families, the donors and their respective families. We applied more than a decade of research to develop and implement a system for information release to adults with donors in TSBC's Identity-Release® Program. Please note that our published research has been primarily with self-identified cisgender women and men. In recognition and support of the transgender and nonbinary members of our community, we are working toward a more inclusive research program moving forward.
The Sperm Bank of California’s (TSBC) Key Research Findings
Donor-Conceived Adults Seek Connections with Peers with the Same Donor (Scheib, McCormick, Benward & Ruby, 2020)
After donor-conceived adults identified their donor through TSBC’s Identity-Release® Program, the research team asked about interest in others who shared their donor – their ‘same-donor peers.’ Almost all the young adults expressed interest and wanted to connect, and half had already done so. Those who had connected shared that these relationships provided unique support based on their shared experiences of growing up in a donor-conceived family, as well as providing identity-relevant information through having shared characteristics. Contact among same-donor peers was perceived positively. Connecting with same-donor peers can be an important resource for donor-conceived people, an option available to them and their families through TSBC’s Family Contact List.
Donor-Conceived Adults Seek Information About the Donor (Scheib, Ruby & Benward, 2017)
This study included programmatic information on 10 years of donor information releases, as well as interviews with over 80 donor-conceived adults who requested their donors' identity from TSBC’s Identity-Release® Program. The research team found that adults from one third of eligible families had requested their donor's identity, often when they were 18-20 years old. Donor-conceived adults who identified as women were more likely to make a request than those who identified as men. Adults with a single parent were more likely to request, while those with heterosexual-couple parents were less likely to request, some because they were not aware of their family having a donor. Adults requested the donor's identity based on identity-related reasons: because they wanted to know what the donor was like as a person, what the donor looked like and what characteristics they shared. Through that information, they could learn more about themselves, and further develop their sense of self. The majority planned to contact their donor (of whom >90% were open to being contacted), and had modest expectations about the outcomes of that contact.
Families That Share a Donor Have Unique Relationships (Goldberg & Scheib, 2016)
In a study with female-partnered mothers who used (sperm) donor conception (all identified as ‘mothers’), they described their connections with families who shared their donor via TSBC’s Family Contact List. While shared genetics among the children sometimes sufficed to describe the relationships as familial, especially from the children’s perspectives, most parents did not describe them that way. Instead they were significant, “not family or friends, but a unique type of relationship.” It was important to highlight that while these relationships were based on genetic linkages, they were distinct from the family with whom their children were being raised, including siblings and non-gestational parents. This research highlights the importance of developing terminology that is distinct from traditional kinship terms. We expect that different terms will resonate differently with parents and donor-conceived people, depending on their relationship (if any) with the people to whom they are connected. Terms varied - from "extended family," "donor sibling," or the traditional "sibling" to describe these relationships, to using "half-sibling," or no term at all (see also Scheib et al. 2020). We need terminology that honors this variation in relationships.
Why Donor Insemination? (Goldberg & Scheib, 2015)
In the same study with female-partnered and single mothers listed above, mothers were asked why they chose donor conception rather than adoption. (All identified as ‘mothers.’) While many considered had considered adoption, only a few actually took steps towards adopting. They wanted donor conception because they wanted the biological experience of parenthood, such as being pregnant or being genetically-linked to the child. The parents also noted issues with the adoption process, such as cost or structural barriers related to being female-partnered.
Experiences with the Family Contact List (Goldberg & Scheib, 2015)
In talking with female-partnered and single mothers (all identified as ‘mothers’) about matching with families on TSBC’s Family Contact List, parents shared that, most often, they sought the connection as support for their children. These connections could provide relationships with and support from people who understood the uncommon experience of growing up in a donor-conceived family. Parents also sought information about their children's shared physical and psychological characteristics. A smaller number wanted to create an extended family network, again for their children. However, some struggled with maintaining boundaries in these relationships. It's important that expectations about these family matches be clear and reasonable, for parents and children to benefit most from the unique relationships and support that come from knowing families who share your donor.
Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors (Scheib, Riordan, & Rubin, 2005)
In a first study of its kind, 12-17 year olds shared their experiences growing up knowing they were donor-conceived (DC), and the extent of their interest in the donor. These adolescents came from two-mother, single-mother and mother-father families, and all had donors who were willing to release their identity to DC adults. The majority of the adolescents said they had always known they were donor-conceived (all knew by age 9.5), and were comfortable with it. All but one felt that knowing had a neutral (because they had always known) if not positive effect on the relationship with their mother, and, when applicable, their other parent. Most were interested in what the donor was like as a person, and wanted a picture. Many planned to request the donor’s identity and make contact, with youths with one parent being significantly more interested than those with two parents. Youths also wanted TSBC to get the donor’s feelings about contact, rather than finding out themselves. In communicating with the donor, the majority explained that this would help them learn more not only about the donor, but also about themselves. Interest in a relationship most commonly was envisioned as a friendship; few hoped for a parent/child relationship. When asked, almost all were also interested in others who had the same donor.
Research about the Identity-Release® Program
Donor Information Releases to Adults
The first individuals with donors in the Identity-Release® Program turned age 18 in 2001. Since then, over 300 donor-conceived adults have obtained their TSBC donor's information. We interviewed many of these adults and are analyzing the data, to learn what happens after a person receives their donor's name and other information. The first study findings - Who Requests Their Donor's Identity - are now published in the peer-reviewed assisted reproduction journal, Fertility & Sterility. Findings indicate that origins information matters to a significant number of donor-conceived adults. Having an open-identity donor gives adults options. They can get more donor information, if they want it.
For more information, contact Executive Director, Alice Ruby.
Preparing for Donor Information Releases
Donors, Parents and Youth
We conducted three studies to identify the needs and perspectives of the both the donor and recipient families. Their insight guided the development of TSBC's process for releasing a donor's identity to a donor-conceived (DC) adult. Study participants represented the first group of individuals who could be involved with a release of donor information. This included donors who were from TSBC's Identity-Release® Program 10-18 years earlier, parents whose children were within six years of being able to get their donor's identity and the DC adolescents themselves who were between the ages of 12 and 17. Findings from the donors will be posted when they are published. The insight from the DC adolescents, the parents and the donors has helped inform open-identity sperm donor programs worldwide, as they prepare for their own releases.
TSBC Adolescents with Donor Origins
- TSBC youth represent some of the first generation to be raised with openness about their donor origins from an early age.
- Most were comfortable with their origins and felt that knowing had a positive or no impact on the individual relationships with their parents.
- Almost all were curious about the donor, with common questions being 'What's he like?' and 'Is he like me?'
- All but one wanted a picture of the donor.
- The majority stated that they planned to get their donor's identity and pursue contact -- not necessarily at age eighteen, but at some point in their lives.
- Many wanted to know how their donors felt about being contacted. Few planned to contact their donor directly, but instead would use a letter or email, or follow the donor's stated preference.
- Many felt that learning about the donor would help them learn more about themselves.
- None reported wanting financial support from the donor.
- Few felt they were seeking a parental figure.
Conclusions from the Adolescents
- Learning about one's donor origins at an early age does not appear to disrupt family relationships and likely contributes to many youths' comfort with their origins.
- Interest in one's donor is likely fueled by a normal curiosity about origins, that is common among many adolescents during their identity development. This interest may help individuals gain a better sense of themselves.
- Despite being eager to learn more about the donor, the youth also expressed concern about not intruding on the donor's privacy and life.
- These findings indicate that the stereotypical concern of "offspring showing up on the donor's doorstep" is inaccurate. This concern does not reflect the actual intentions of youth anticipating going through the process of obtaining their donor's identifying information.
- The vast majority of parents were pleased with their decision to use an open-identity donor - only one regretted it.
- Almost all parents, even heterosexual couples, had told their children about their donor origins, with most doing so by age 6.
- All felt that telling their children had at least a neutral, if not positive impact on the parent-child relationship.
- Almost all parents were curious about the donor, but few felt that their donor played an important role in their family's life.
- Some parents expressed concerns about how the information releases would go for their adult children.
- Despite these concerns, all but one parent were positive about their children having the option to identify and possibly meet their donor.
- Almost all parents expected that their adult children would want the identity of the donor.
Conclusions from the Parents
- TSBC families appear to be doing well.
- Parents do not regret telling their children about the family's donor origins and feel that it does not harm their family.
- Parents look forward to their adult children being able to learn the identity of the donor.
Short summary from parents, teens and donors: Scheib, 2004
Support: We greatly appreciate the youth, parents and donors who were willing to share their experiences with us and help guide how donor information is released. This work was supported by the Bay Area Career Women (administered by the Horizons Foundation), Gill Foundation, Gay and Lesbian Medical Association's Lesbian Health Fund, Rainbow Endowment, an Uncommon Legacy Foundation, and individual donations to our non-profit program.
- Scheib, J.E., Riordan, M. & Rubin, S. (2005). Adolescents with open-identity sperm donors: Reports from 12-17 year olds. Human Reproduction, 20, 239-252.
- Scheib, J.E. (2004). Experiences of youth and sperm donors in an open-identity program. In Psychology/Counselling Nursing, pre-congress course publication for the 19th annual meeting of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, Berlin, Germany, pp. 22-25.
- Scheib, J.E., Riordan, M. & Rubin, S. (2003). Choosing identity-release® sperm donors: The parents' perspective 13-18 years later. Human Reproduction, 18, 1115-1127.
Outcomes on the release process:
- Scheib, J.E., Ruby, A. & Benward J. (2017). Who requests their sperm donor’s identity? The first ten years of information releases to adults with open-identity donors. Fertility & Sterility, 107, 483-493.
Research Program Funding & Support
(Past & Current)
- TSBC Families & Donors
- Stephanie Bright (Bright & Associates) - Database & Programming Consultant
- Sasha & Kevin Alexander
- Lesbian Health Fund of GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality
- A & P Fund of the Horizons Foundation
- Gill Foundation
- Horizons Foundation - Bay Area Career Women's A Fund of Our Own
- Rainbow Endowment
- Uncommon Legacy Foundation
- University of California Davis Faculty Research Grants
- University of California Davis Consortium for Women and Research