Wanted: sperm donors (redheads need not apply)

Tue, Sep 20, 2011, 01:00

SMALL PRINT:THINKING OF donating sperm? Redheads need not apply – at least not to the Cryos sperm bank in Denmark, where they have enough red-haired donors on stock already.

Reports of this story have been splashed across world media outlets and put the focus on the redhead ban. But the Danish facility, which is part of an international network of sperm banks, is imposing wider restrictions: they are not taking in any Scandinavians, whether blond, dark-blond red-haired or of any other hair colour, Cryos founder and director Mr Ole Schou told The Irish Times.

“We have too many. We have nearly 500 donors free of quarantine – the world’s largest selection,” he says. “And we have 600 donors on the waiting list. First time in history.”

However it’s the ginger hair that is grabbing the headlines, and the trait is still sought in some areas, according to Schou. “Ireland is among those countries that have the highest demand for red-haired donors – number three on the list behind Denmark and Germany,” he says, noting that the Danish Cryos facility has long supplied Ireland with sperm.

“The problem is that we have too many donors on stock with red hair. If the demand [increases] more than supply, we will take in red-haired again.”

So what kinds of physical traits do prospective parents generally look for in a sperm donor? People seek something similar to themselves, according to Schou, who describes how heterosexual couples look for similarities with the male partner, single parents tend to want sperm donors that look like themselves or “their dream prince” and lesbian couples generally look for a donor that resembles one of the partners.

Graham Coull, lab manager at the Sims clinic in Dublin agrees that for heterosexual couples, sperm donors tend to be matched to the male’s characteristics. He is not surprised by the redhead ban, noting that while Ireland may be one of the top-demanding countries for red-haired donors, in absolute terms the levels of requests here are still fairly low.

“If it’s a heterosexual couple, we match mainly to the male characteristics, and the only time we would be really matching red hair is if the male [partner] has red hair,” says Coull.

“And it’s rare that we would get single women or same-sex partners requesting red hair.” The clinic orders donated sperm through Cryos for use in various fertility procedures, including intra-uterine insemination and in vitro fertilisation.

Patients fill out a sheet detailing preferred characteristics, and Coull finds an appropriate sperm donor. “When it is a heterosexual couple, the most common characteristics in Ireland that we are asked to match are dark hair and blue eyes,” he says.