Meeting the Sperm Donor: The Kids Will Be All Right

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals

Sperm Donor picture

In "The Kids Are All Right," a sperm donor causes a stir when he shows up to meet his biological children. But that's Hollywood. Credit: AP Photo/Focus Features, Suzanne Tenner


Any parent who used a sperm donor and has seen "The Kids Are All Right" has reason be stressed about the idea of the donor dad popping up in their child's life.

In the movie, the donor, played by Mark Ruffalo, wreaks emotional peril and causes a train wreck of disruption to the domestic order created by a lesbian couple (played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their two teens.

But, hey that's Hollywood. In real life, experts say, there's no reason to freak out about some guy suddenly landing on your doorstep when you're already frazzled by the teen years. All that hype about psychological scars is just hype. Researchers have found meeting the donor dad doesn't harm kids' mental health, and, in fact, can be a positive experience, Reuters reports.

Researchers at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the University of Cambridge in the U.K. explored a profound and universal question faced by many kids who have been conceived with the help of a sperm donor: Who is the biological father and what would it be like to meet him?

"There is considerable debate about the potential impact of having been conceived by a known or unknown sperm donor on an offspring's psychological adjustment, especially during the vulnerable period of adolescence," researcher Dr. Henny Bos tells Reuters.

As reported in the journal Human Reproduction, Bos led a study of 78 teens born to lesbian mothers via artificial insemination and followed them throughout their lives as part of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, designed to document the development of the first generation of lesbian families with children conceived through donor insemination.

The researchers looked at the children in five waves: first at insemination or during pregnancy, and, subsequently, at ages 2, 5, 10 and 17, according to the study.

A third of the donor dads were known to the families. Slightly more were permanently anonymous, while the identities of 18 could be released once the child reached the age of 18, Reuters reports.

The researchers found no differences in mental health -- such as social and attention problems, or depression and anxiety -- between the groups, Bos tells the news service.

Most of the kids with unknown donor dads said they intended to meet their donor dads if the opportunity presented itself, Reuters reports, adding that a second study, also reported in Human Reproduction, found donor parents said they would likely welcome this contact.

Despite the anonymity of their original donation, more than eight in 10 biological moms and dads said they'd be willing to be in touch with their offspring.

What's more, the 23 sperm donor dads who met their biological kids say it was a positive experience, Reuters reports, and now they see their kids regularly.

"The other interesting finding was how contact was not only between the donor and the child, but sometimes included other family members, too," lead researcher Dr. Vasanti Jadva of the University of Cambridge tells Reuters.

But the reunions weren't all blissful.

Some conflict emerged in the study, according to Reuters. One donor who'd been seeing his child became upset after suddenly being cut off by the kid's mother. Researchers also found that some donors were united with as many as 20 biological sons and daughters.

"We do not yet know what the full consequences might be for donors of finding such large numbers of offspring or how offspring themselves may feel about having so many half-siblings," Jadva tells the news service.

Following the findings of the study, the U.K. removed donor anonymity so that donors are all identifiable, Jadva tells Reuters, and identifiable donors are on the rise in the United States.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.