Zhejiang sperm bank urges males to donate, citing volunteer shortage and quality decline

Society & Culture

A sperm bank in eastern China pays $760 for a donation, but a scarcity of donors and rigorous quality conditions for would-be sperm donors have left the bank with severe shortages.

sperm bank

Facing mounting pressure to attract qualified donors, a sperm bank in southeastern China has stepped up its social media game and reached out to local newspapers to spread the word about its urgent need for volunteers. 

In a recent interview (in Chinese) with Qianjiang Evening News, the Zhejiang Sperm Bank revealed that it was struggling to meet growing demand from couples seeking fertility treatment because although the number of people interested in donating has increased in recent years, only a small fraction of them were found suitable. 

The problem is heightened by the prevailing social taboo surrounding the practice of sperm donation among the general public, according to Shèng Huìqiáng 盛慧强, a fertility expert and director of the institute. He added that despite the clinic’s years-long efforts to make the idea of sperm donation more acceptable and appealing among college students, a considerable percentage of local residents still had low awareness of and negative attitude toward the method. 

And that’s exactly why the sperm bank has turned to social media to entice potential donors. “Sperm donations only occurred when human civilization developed to a certain level. Giving one’s semen to others is a humanitarian act. Your small step is a giant leap for society,” the bank wrote (in Chinese) on March 17. 

In other posts that come across as more straightforward advertisements, the bank also mentioned that it pays 5,000 yuan ($760) for each successful donation. To put that in perspective, the average monthly income in the city of Hangzhou, where the bank is located, is  6,734 yuan ($1,024), according to figures for 2019.

Sheng explained that the sperm bank was exploring different ways to communicate the importance of its work to the general public, but he also stressed that convincing more volunteers to sign up for the task wouldn’t fully overcome its shortage, given that there has been “a considerable decline” in sperm quality and quantity in recent years.

“Out of 1,500 applicants last year, about only 400 were considered to be eligible to become volunteers, whereas in the early years of the bank, the approval rate was nearly 40%,” Sheng said. When asked about the cause, the director pointed to a variety of factors, including a lack of physical activity and sleep deprivation. 

In addition to sperm quality, there are several other requirements to qualify as a donor. The Zhejiang Sperm Bank is only interested in men between the ages of 20 to 40, at least five foot four inches tall, and with no hereditary conditions like color blindness or severe shortsightedness. Those who suffer hair loss are usually screened out, too. 

Plus, the whole process requires more than just a quick visit to aim into a cup: It’s a long-term commitment that requires several physical checkups and at least five sessions to complete one donation. On top of all of that, to prevent the spread of HIV and other diseases, Chinese health authorities require that sperm be frozen for six months, and the donor retested, before it can be used.

Since its establishment in 2005, the Zhejiang Sperm Bank has helped bring more than 12,000 children into the world. In the past few years, the clinic assisted an average of 2,000 Chinese people in fulfilling their dreams of parenthood each year. But its beneficiaries are limited to married couples, as single women in the country are still barred from accessing sperm banks and other assisted reproductive technology such as IVF and egg freezing.

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