AUSTRALIAN gay men who are sexually active may still be barred from donating blood, but at least they can donate their sperm.

This was part of the epiphany that Patrick 25, experienced after a homophobic incident with a nurse.

“I had previously attempted to donate blood and had even received stickers from the nurse saying ‘I donated blood’,” he recalled.

“Following this, the nurse read the remainder of my form where she quite rudely exclaimed that as I had homosexual sex within the last 12 months I could not donate.

“I left feeling pretty deflated and always wanted to give something back.”

Patrick soon found out that IVF Australia were looking for spern donors, and took advantage of the opportunity.

“I felt that [as a gay man] I may not get the opportunity to have children even though I would like to,” he said.

“So I thought the next best thing would be to help other couples conceive. What greater gift than the gift of life?

“After all, I am young-ish, come from big families so hopefully was quite fertile.”

Australian sperm stocks have decreased following legislative changes in the early 2000s which enabled children the chance to identify donors at a later date.

It was this impact of privacy that initially drove some away, according to IVF Australia’s Professor Michael Chapman, an expert in fertility since the 1970s.

“I’ve been involved in donor insemination since the late 70s and since then, right through the 80s and up until the 90s men were recruited on the basis on anonymity,” he said.

“It was felt at the time that this was not an unreasonable approach and subsequently the increasing view that a child has the right to know their genetic origin changed that.”

To address issues that now come up over privacy, Chapman said that through their recruitment programs they are able to offer appropriate counselling and education to anyone considering donating.

“I think there’s a kneejerk reaction that if ‘I can be identified… I don’t want someone coming and knocking on my door in 18 years time saying ‘hi, dad’. That’s the immediate scare,” Chapman said.

“With appropriate counselling and thinking through what that would mean and would a donor be able to cope, we’ve been able to address concerns over the donor and children’s rights.”

Patrick (left) and IVF Australia's latest campaign.

Patrick (left) and IVF Australia’s latest campaign.

Some of Patrick’s friends expressed similar concerns over privacy but for him, being able to be contacted in the future is something that he finds appealing.

“Some of my friends… thought that I may struggle as life goes on, wondering who/where/how many children I had biologically fathered,” he said.

“It is difficult to predict how you are going to feel in five, 10, 20 years time. However, under fairly recent legislation, the children are able to contact you when they turn 18. I actually find comfort in that.”

To overcome the shortage in donations, different methods were adopted to reach out to different groups IVF Australia hadn’t specifically targeted before.

“With particular advertising and targeting specific groups we’ve been able to attract donors but current levels aren’t sufficient unfortunately. We’ve turned the tide but we still need more,” Chapman said.

Due to his past experience in donating blood, Patrick had assumed that the same restrictions would apply to gay men and sperm.

“I wasn’t aware that gay man could donate sperm until I did some research,” Patrick said.

“I guess I presumed at first that donors would be young students looking for easy cash. However, I learnt that it is illegal to be paid and instead a donor is reimbursed for any reasonable expenses.

“I think that not being paid means that people donate for the right reasons: to selflessly assist couples.”

Chapman confirmed that unlike blood, there are no blanket bans on any gay man being able to donate sperm.

“The only barriers are through the screening tests that we perform for infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV, and this applies to all donors,” he said.

“The big difference between blood and sperm is that we can freeze sperm and quarantine it for six months, where with blood it needs to be used within a week. This allows for the incubation period of HIV and further testing.”

On why IVF Australia were approaching the gay community, Chapman said they were trying to make gains with a group that has already been donating sperm for years.

“Also, for some gay men it may be their only chance of procreating while doing some good at the same time,“ he said.

“There’s a lot of altruism in the gay community and we’d like to build on that.”

Patrick said that gay men were “ideal donors” and that with more awareness, it could become a much more common practice within the community.

“There isn’t a great deal of awareness surrounding the need for sperm and the fact that gay men are welcome and even encouraged to donate,” he said.

Helping in the creation of life for someone who has found themselves unable to do so, or having the chance to leave a genetic footprint on the world are reasons to consider donating sperm, according to Patrick.

“To gay men thinking about donating but have been dissuaded, I say think about why you want to donate,” he said.

“If it is for truly altruistic reasons and you want to help a lesbian or straight couple conceive, then do it.

“If like me you believe that you would like to have children but acknowledge that it may never happen, then this is a pretty good alternative.

“While you have no legal rights to the offspring, it is a pretty awesome feeling knowing that you have given a couple the gift of life.

“These parents have probably been waiting a couple of years due to the shortage and you know that chances are they really want this child and would do their best to be great parents.”

To find out more about donating sperm visit ivf.com.au or call 1800 111 483

IVF Australia is also holding a webinar on March 26 at 7.30pm discussing what’s involved in becoming a sperm donor. Register at ivf.com.au

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