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What to Know About the Lack of Diversity in Sperm and Egg Donors

People of color may have a harder time finding prospective donors of their race or ethnicity. Here’s why, and what to do.
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profile picture of Nicole Yoder, MD
Fertility Specialist at Spring Fertility
Published
March 29, 2022
unrecognizable employee at sperm bank arranging sperm samples
Image: BSIP/Getty Images

Everyone’s path to parenthood is unique. Whether you’re part of a same sex couple, a single parent by choice or in a heterosexual relationship, your family-building journey may benefit from the use of donor eggs or donor sperm.

While some intended parents are able to work with a known donor (usually a family member or friend), you may need to use an anonymous donor identified through a donor bank. But this process can be a lot more difficult if you’re looking for sperm or eggs from someone of a specific ethnicity or race. Want to understand the reasons for this disparity—and what this search will entail? Read on for the lowdown.

The Process of Finding a Sperm or Egg Donor

The search for an anonymous donor typically begins with a review of available donor profiles on an accredited donor bank website. You can filter the options by selecting the donor attributes that matter most to you, including physical traits like height, weight and eye color, as well as personal characteristics, such as education, talents or interests. For many, this search starts with identifying a donor that matches their race or ethnicity. But this process can be especially challenging for people of color, given the current lack of diversity in sperm and egg donors.

Unfortunately, for ethnic minorities and those seeking a prospective donor of color, the options become very limited, very quickly, due to a severe lack of diversity in donor eggs and sperm. It’s hard to quantify (as most donor banks are private entities and don’t make their data public), but most fertility specialists will tell you that identifying minority sperm and egg donors can be particularly challenging, since the available options are often few and far between. It’s not uncommon for minorities such as Black, Indian or Asian patients to identify only one or two prospective donors in their whole search. This often means that other desired characteristics are unable to be factored into the selection process—that, or intended parents opt to wait for new donors to become available, significantly prolonging their path to parenthood.

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Reasons for the Lack of Diversity in Sperm and Egg Donors

The reason for this lack of diversity is difficult to definitely determine, but it’s likely the result of underlying systemic insufficiencies. It could be argued that this is demand-driven, as intended parents who seek fertility treatments tend to be caucasian. For many communities, fertility treatments, including sperm and egg donation, are stigmatized and considered taboo.

Alternatively, it could be that the lack of diversity is supply-driven, due to difficulty in recruiting donors of color. Religious and cultural barriers among certain ethnic groups deter some people from donating. Additionally, a long-standing mistrust of the American health care system, due to systemic racism and a history of unethical medical conduct, has added to the challenges of recruiting donors of color.

Whatever the reasons, individual sperm and egg banks struggle to have racially diverse donors available.

Options for Hopeful Parents of Color

Fortunately, in recent years, there has been an increase in awareness around the need for greater racial and ethnic diversity within donor banks. What’s more, as more people share their stories and the conversation regarding diversity in fertility broadens, awareness and education will continue to inspire change.

In the meantime, there’s still hope for those having difficulty identifying an ideal donor. It may not be easy, but broadening the search across different donor banks in different geographic regions can open up your available options.

Many patients seeking a more diverse donor pool also find that working with a service that’s connected to many different banks and agencies, such as Donor Concierge, can help guide you to banks that have donors for your specific wants and needs.

It’s also key to work with fertility clinics with donor teams that are focused on individualized care. You’re not just a number, and you should feel supported throughout this long and daunting journey. While not everyone ends up identifying the exact donor situation they sought in the beginning, most people ultimately find a donor that matches many of their desired characteristics. It may require perseverance and a shift in mindset, but your hard work will be rewarded when you welcome a sweet new baby into your life.

About the author:

Nicole Yoder, MD, is a fertility specialist and board-certified ob-gyn with Spring Fertility in New York City. She earned her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College; she then went on to complete her residency in obstetrics & gynecology at Yale-New Haven Hospital and her fellowship at New York University. Her areas of interest include fertility preservation, genetic disorders and LGBTQ+ care.

About Spring Fertility:

Spring Fertility was founded in 2016 with the goal of re-imagining fertility care and partnering with patients to help them achieve their goals. Spring believes that patients deserve superior clinical outcomes without compromising compassionate, patient-centric care, and offers comprehensive fertility services including IVF, egg and embryo freezing and preimplantation genetic testing. Spring Fertility currently has clinics throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City and Vancouver.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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