Men willing to donate sperm help to create more than 800 babies in Britain every year through fertility clinics and hundreds more through personal arrangement – but now we are facing a shortage of "sperm donor daddies".
As many as 1 in every 6 people will experience fertility problems, and for many infertile couples, lesbian couples and single women – a sperm donor is the only way of achieving their dream of becoming a parent.
But as their identity is protected through fertility clinic donations, little is known about the men who make conception possible. Only the children they create are allowed to learn their names – and then not until their 18th birthday. Here, the 'Sun' newspaper talks to three men who have donated their sperm.
Ian Mann, 30
IAN, a gay pub quiz host from London, wanted to help childless couples but stopped donating after learning he carries the cystic fibrosis gene. "I got involved with sperm donating a few years ago when I was at the Manchester Pride Festival. "There was a stand for an organisation called Pride Angel which connects sperm and egg donors with infertile and same-sex couples. "I was at the age where I might have been thinking about having kids. "The fact is, I wasn't – but it got me thinking about how could I help.
"I signed up at the website for Pride Angel, which offers a completely free service, but for a while I did not connect with anyone I felt comfortable donating to. "You're put in direct contact with whoever you're considering and you're encouraged to keep in touch with your donor family. "Having a child is a huge commitment and I wanted to be certain whoever I was helping was going to be up to the job.
"Around the same time, I also started donating to the London Women's Clinic (LWC), a renowned IVF clinic on Harley Street. "I was warned that any children resulting from my donations could get in touch when they turned 18. It didn't faze me. "I figured that the chance of them looking me up was pretty slim. "Why would they bother when they had been brought up by two loving parents? "I was told my sperm were pretty strong, so everything seemed great. Then I had a screening by the LWC. "My jaw hit the floor when the results came back that I was carrying a dormant cystic fibrosis gene. "It meant that if my sperm was paired with an egg that had the same gene, the child would have cystic fibrosis.
"The odds were tiny but, of course, it's a chance no one wants to take. All my donations were destroyed and that was the end of that. "I was pretty depressed about it and spoke to my mum. She said there was no history of CF in our family. It was just one of those things. "Since then, I've got in touch with a couple of women through Pride Angel who are desperate to become mums. We're sussing each other out and so far it's going well. "So long as they get tested to make sure they're not CF carriers as well, my faulty gene won't be an issue. "I wish other men would consider being donors. There are so many people out there who would make great parents and just need a little help."
Pride Angel comments: The chance being a cystic fibrosis carrier is 1 in 25 people, so it relatively common. Many people will go through life being totally unaware of carrying the faulty gene, as it will not result in you having a child with cystic fibrosis unless you conceive with another person who in a carrier. When two people with the single mutation have a child, there is a 25% chance that the child will have CF, 50% chance that the child will be a carrier and 25% chance that the child with not be affected.
It is wonderful news to hear about men like Ian who are happy to help childless couples create the family they are longing for.
Mark Jackson, 43
MARK, a railway signalman from Doncaster, has been a donor for seven years, helping at least two families. While partner Jenny, 33, with whom he has two sons and a stepson, accepts his decision, she wasn't always keen.
"Just over six years ago I was watching coverage of the tsunami in the Far East and I felt so insignificant, like nothing I did would ever make a difference. "As I was looking at those awful photos, I saw a news bulletin flash up about new anonymity laws for sperm and egg donors. "I decided to do some research online and found out about huge donor shortages and rising demand. It really struck a chord – tens of thousands of couples were being denied the chance to have a family. "Back then I had no desire to be a dad, although I wasn't ruling it out in the future. "But I knew I wanted to help. I really didn't mind if a child came knocking on my door in 18 years as long as someone's life had been made better.
"I looked on the website for the National Gamete Donation Trust, a government-funded charity, and booked an appointment at the Manchester Fertility Services clinic. "There I had the tests to show my sperm was freezable and, in 2005, I donated nine samples over a three-month period. "I had to make regular 150-mile round trips to the clinic, taking unpaid time off work and only getting very basic expenses. But that wasn't why I was doing it.
"Then four years ago I met Jenny. We hit it off instantly. She had an eight-year-old son from a previous relationship and I knew she wanted another child. "In September 2008 we had Lewis. It was then that she became cautious about my donating sperm, worrying about Lewis having half-brothers and sisters turning up in years to come demanding to be part of our family. "She didn't understand that I just wanted to help other couples have what we had had. "But she knew I wouldn't back down and would carry on donating until I had helped my full quota of ten couples to have a child. "I think we accepted our differences. I have donated 19 times in total.
"Last year Jenny and I had another baby boy, Finley, and I think it was about then she started to understand me better. "As we got older she realised how many of our friends were having problems conceiving. "For someone to help them out by donating sperm, or eggs for the woman, was amazing. "She now talks openly to friends and family about what I do. "If it wasn't for the fact we want another baby she would donate her eggs.
"It's a tragedy so many people are denied three IVF attempts because of postcode lotteries – to pay thousands of pounds yourself isn't always possible. "In a couple of years I'll be too old to donate. I want to encourage more men to make someone's life better."
Dave Selkirk, 27
DAVE, a barman from south London, spent a year donating sperm and could have helped father up to 20 children. "I think of it as a charity donation. Not everyone has a lot of money to give – but any man can donate his sperm. "Blokes go out and get girls pregnant on one-night stands, yet there are lots of desperate people out there who can't have children.
"It costs me nothing to give it but to the person who receives it, it's a child. "I started donating when I moved to the UK from South Africa. At first it was just to pay my grocery bills after I got into a bit of debt. "You were allowed to donate up to twice a week and got £15 a time. "But then it became more than that to me. "I felt a sense of fulfilment thinking that I had helped others. "You can help a maximum of ten families and most will have one or two children. "It's all anonymous but it is in the contract that the children can contact you when they turn 18. "The parents are never allowed to contact you.
"So yes, it would be strange if in 18 years' time 20 kids came knocking at my door saying I was their dad. "I had to speak to a psychiatrist at the clinic about this and they talk through the options. "It's difficult to know exactly how I'd react until it happens but I feel I'd be ready to cope. "I was single when I made my donations and now I have a girlfriend. "It was something I had to discuss with her and she knows that it's a very real possibility. "She was none too pleased but it's something we talked through and right now, we're happy."
Article extracts: 22nd September 2011 www.thesun.co.uk
Ever considered donating sperm to help lesbian, single or infertile couples? visit www.prideangel.com