Serial sperm donor Adam Hooper has children in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Sweden—but he’d never been to New Zealand, where his first international sperm tour kicked off this week.
The two-month stint, which he’s dubbed “Lord of the Donors: A Journey to Middle Earth,” will see the 36-year-old father-of-20-something travelling in a motorhome for a string of more than 50 tour dates across the country.
“I’m heading down to Hobbiton, and then I’m making my way down south to Wellington and then going down the South Island,” he told VICE World News. “Obviously I’m not trying to overpopulate one specific area.”
The nationwide tour is mainly for the purposes of spreading awareness, talking to the media, and potentially recruiting new donors—but Hooper says he’s open to making some inseminations along the way. “That’s sort of what a sperm tour’s about, I guess.”
In November he’ll go to Mauritius. Next year: France and the UK.
“I’ll do a couple of countries per year, put the word out there, and show people that there’s a different way of doing things,” he explained. “It’s just about getting word of mouth out really, and telling guys what it’s really about.”
Hooper is the founder of Sperm Donation World: a global organisation, built around an online community of donors and aspiring parents, who connect via social media platforms like Facebook and try to conceive outside the regulatory channels of fertility clinics. It’s a booming industry. Since launching in Australia in 2015, Hooper’s organisation has grown offshoot communities in Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines, the UK, and the U.S. The Australian Facebook group currently has more than 15,000 members; the American nearly 22,000.
Yet while Hooper has been credited with helping hundreds of individuals struggling to have children, the unregulated, “DIY” sperm industry has stirred controversy due to its lack of official oversight, with some pointing to heightened risks around accidental incest, STDs, and exploitation. These reservations were highlighted on Wednesday, when fellow super donor Kyle Gordy, a U.S. citizen, was detained at Fiji’s Nadi International Airport while on his way to join Hooper’s New Zealand tour.
Gordy, who has 47 children around the world and is the expectant father of a further 11, told the New Zealand Herald he was pulled aside by Fijian authorities during his layover and put on the phone to Immigration New Zealand. They told him his visa was cancelled as he wasn’t honest about the fact that he was travelling to the country to donate. He’s now been deported back to the U.S.
Hooper laughs it off and suggests that for people like him and Gordy, making enemies is par for the course.
“Someone has probably complained saying, ‘Hey this person’s coming in to impregnate the whole of New Zealand,’ so immigration probably was waiting for him,” he said. “They were trying to get me out as well, but I was a bit smarter in telling people different dates that I was flying over.”
“Kyle is, I guess, not as naturally intelligent.”
Private sperm donation has grown into a serious cottage industry, with Hooper and Gordy the faces of a growing trend. They’re two of an increasing number of veritable sperm bros, men vocal in their criticism of the mainstream fertility industry, and who promote alternative pathways through online communities. To some people, these voluntary donors—who’ll meet you at a bar, visit you at home, and assist you via intercourse or a cupful of cum—are biological philanthropists. To others, they’re renegades: sperm cowboys who fail to fully appreciate the potential ripple effects that might flow in their wake.
Professor Stephen Robinson, an expert in reproductive medicine from the Australian National University’s medical school, said that while there’s nothing new about people receiving sperm through informal arrangements, the rise of social media “has really opened up the floodgates”—particularly when it comes to the possibility of global transactions.
“It’s just a totally new paradigm,” Robinson told VICE World News. “People travelling around to different countries is a new thing, and I think social media’s really been a big player in that… It’s obviously been going on, but not anywhere to the extent that it appears to be now.”
Hooper agrees, claiming that social media, technophilia, and dating apps have all changed the way people think about intimacy and approach interpersonal relationships.
“It’s growing really quickly,” he said. “The average relationship doesn’t last like it used to, so we’re seeing these trends now with the rise of technology, and with that rise, this is also allowing another new avenue for people creating families.”
Hooper attributes the paradigm shift to would-be donors and parents being fed up with the cost and effort involved in traditional fertility clinics. His hostility towards the fertility industry and suspicion of professional clinicians is pronounced, as he compares them to second-hand car salesmen.
“At the end of the day they’re salesmen: they want to go play golf, they want to drive around in their Ferraris. When you’ve got an industry driven by those sorts of incentives, of course you’re not going to get the full diagnosis of the situation.”
While it varies between countries, the average price for one cycle of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) is typically about $12,000 to $14,000 in the U.S., while artificial insemination can cost between $650 and $3,500. Hooper says he and his donors provide their insemination services for free. While he might sometimes charge for fuel, he claims that the satisfaction of helping people and “changing the world in a unique way” is ample recompense.
“I think the first time I’ll find out how many children I have, it will come from one of the children themselves. They’ll probably go through and count. But the oldest kids right now are only six years old.”
Even with 20-something children and a global reproductive empire, Hooper isn’t leaving nearly as big a genetic footprint as some. Famous serial donors like “Sperminator” Ari Nagel, Clive Jones, and a U.S. man going by the name of Joe Donor all claim more than 100 children each, with the latter purportedly planning to father 2,500 overall.
Hooper says his offspring probably figures in at around a fifth of that—although he can’t put an exact number on it, since he makes a point of not counting his kids.
“It’s probably approaching around 20 families now that I’ve actually helped—in the next couple of years it might be 25 families—but yeah, I’ve never actually sat down and physically counted,” he said. “I think the first time I’ll find out how many children I have, it will come from one of the children themselves. They’ll probably go through and count. But the oldest kids right now are only six years old.”
The industry is much bigger than just a few hyper-fertile giants, though. Type “sperm donor” into the Facebook search bar and it’s easy to get a sense of how deep the pool really goes: hundreds of public and private groups across countries like Canada, Ghana, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Scotland, and South Africa, many of them boasting thousands of members.
The 37,000 collective members of the Sperm Donation Facebook groups are a mix of prospecting parents and donors, whom Hooper vets in order to ensure they’re not “seedy,” “perverts,” or in it for the wrong reason. He attributes his auditing process to gut instinct, claiming he’s always had a good sense for these things. But for hopeful donors, he says, a review of their personal Facebook account is usually the best way to tell.
“One of the benefits of Facebook is you can actually see how people interact on their walls and stuff… I’ve been doing this for going on eight years, so it sort of comes like a sixth sense for me now; the alarm bells rise real quickly,” he said. “We haven’t had any rapes, we haven’t had any STDs, we haven’t had any assaults. So it’s been working well for over seven years.”
In celebrating his success via those metrics, though, Hooper highlights just a handful of the health and safety dangers that come with this unregulated industry. Experts have raised concern around custody issues, financial obligations, and privacy complications, as well as the danger that children might meet one another in the future and, not knowing they’re related, form sexual relationships.
“Social media has made the connectivity [between donors and patients] so much easier—it’s as easy as setting up a Facebook page—but the complexity has not changed one bit. In many ways, the social media angle increases that complexity and increases the potential for harm,” said Robinson. “Women and couples seeking the treatment are vulnerable, the children born are potentially vulnerable, and we need to put this at the forefront of our mind.”
Robinson points out that formal fertility clinics are highly regulated and involve extensive record keeping, ethical, psychological, and emotional assessments, and multiple layers of safeguards to ensure safety and privacy. And while he understands people’s concerns around red tape, delays, and financial costs, he insists that those regulations are there for a reason.
“Hard work goes into preserving the integrity of these things to keep people safe,” he said. “If you’re some bloke who thinks he can just make an off-the-cuff judgement on people’s lives, I think that really flies in the face of what the evidence is telling us.”
“I understand people are anxious about cost, they’re anxious about choice, but they need to bear in mind that this is, I think, one of the most important decisions ever… It’s not a Barnum and Bailey circus. It’s one of the most important decisions a person will make.”
On the third day of his tour, Hooper heads out in Auckland to meet a prospective client, have a chat, and “see where it goes from there.” If they connect, he might give her a donation. This will be a drop in the bucket as far as Sperm Donation World’s total output is concerned though. Hooper estimates that in Australia alone the company facilitates between 500 and 700 births per year. Since 2015, he claims the organisation would be responsible for “easily over 5,000” children born around the world.
Most of those, historically, have been via artificial insemination, partly because of the predominant preference of clients and partly because of the legal protection it gives to donors, who in many countries aren’t obliged to pay child support if the pregnancy didn’t occur via natural insemination. But that’s changing. Hooper says there’s “definitely a rise of people now wanting to do it more naturally.”
Despite Hooper’s almost aggressively positive outlook on the growth of the unregulated sperm donation industry, though, there are horror stories. Last year, Australian authorities flagged concerns around the number of people gravitating towards social media for informal sperm donation, amid reports that some women were being sexually assaulted by would-be donors or pressured to engage in natural insemination.
This, too, is something that the regulated sperm donation industry aims to protect against, as donors are put through not only genetic and medical screenings but also psychological tests to make sure they don’t have what Robinson describes as “non-altruistic motives.” While there are a number of legitimate reasons why people might pursue the informal pathway, Robinson adds, people need to be mindful of the dangers as they gravitate towards this expanding, murky industry.
“I understand people are anxious about cost, they’re anxious about choice, but they need to bear in mind that this is, I think, one of the most important decisions ever,” he said. “It’s not a Barnum and Bailey circus. It’s one of the most important decisions a person will make.”
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