How sperm banks are using masculinity to buy sperm donors’ time

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Marketing strategies used by sperm banks in the United Kingdom and Australia found that they rely on masculine archetypes. (Source: Filed Photo)

Images and phrases associated with masculinity are used by sperm banks in the United Kingdom and Australia to attract donors as laws prohibit them from paying for sperm, as per a study.

Lead author of the study, Cass Business School’s academic Dr Laetitia Mimoun analysed marketing strategies used by sperm banks in the United Kingdom and Australia and found that they rely on masculine archetypes to create value for a commodity they cannot legally buy.

Dr Mimoun said this strategy relied on two archetypes of masculinity — the ‘soldier’ serving their country and the ‘everyday hero’ saving a damsel in distress.

The study ‘Soldiers and Superheroes Needed! Masculine Archetypes and Constrained Bodily Commodification in the Sperm Donation Market’ was published in the journal Marketing Theory.

The soldier archetype uses images and phrases associated with duty, honour and heroism to affirm masculinity, where a donor is willing to sacrifice himself and his time without reward.

Examples of the soldier archetype are found in a recreation of the famous Lord Kitchener propaganda poster used to recruit soldiers to the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 and in a campaign that described sperm shortages as ‘the real banking crisis’.

Using images of life-saving professions such as firefighters and life guards in the everyday hero archetype, the campaigns linked the ability to create a life along with being able to save one.

“This is to say that if you give your sperm, you are a real man and you are better than all the other men who cannot do so for whatever reason,” said Dr Mimoun.

The researchers also found that campaigns employing the everyday hero archetype sometimes use hypersexualised or romanticised images of men to intensify their appeal. For instance, in campaign posters showing athletically built men in swimming trunks or underpants or in videos depicting men cooking barbecues or handing out roses to women.

Globally, the sperm donation industry is valued at more than 3.5 billion US dollars. With greater acceptance of same-sex relationships and increased demand for fertility treatments, it is expected to further drive industry growth in the coming years.

Sperm banks in the UK and Australia are disadvantaged within this industry as they are unable to pay donors or provide them with anonymity. They are subject to limitations on the number of donations any one male can provide and the import and export of sperm is highly regulated.

These constraints have contributed to sperm shortages in both countries, particularly after the UK ended donor anonymity in 2005, resulting in the closure of the national sperm bank.

To overcome regulatory constraints and increase donor numbers sperm banks in the UK and Australia began to market the act of donating sperm as a confirmation of masculinity.

Dr Mimoun said the use of these marketing strategies had significant impacts on the sperm donation industries in both the UK and Australia.

“This has helped the industry in the UK and Australia to resolve their donor shortages to a great extent,” Dr Mimoun said.

“It’s very interesting that sperm banks are able to procure sperm for free as long as they sell it as a way to affirm the masculinity of donors, especially in today’s context when the notion of masculinity is constantly challenged.”

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