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The U.K.’s Largest Sperm Bank Is Now an App

Reproductive technologies have advanced a lot in 40 years—and now our access to them is evolving, too.
September 28, 2016

These days you can pretty much order anything on demand through an app: dinner, a car service, and now sperm. You read that right.

The London Sperm Bank—the largest in the U.K.—has just released an app that could modernize the process of hooking prospective parents up with the biological material they need to make it happen.

The app is essentially just a mobile version of the filtered search function the London Sperm Bank offers on its website. But in doing something as simple as bringing its desktop services to mobile devices, the bank is making a play to further normalize reproductive technologies.

It seems like a natural progression. When I was conceived using in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 1991, my mom was essentially handed a binder of sperm donors. Databases have long since moved to websites, and now mobile platforms mean they can reach more people than ever.

The London Sperm Bank boasts that users will receive push notifications as soon as new donors are available, which could help speed things up for hopeful parents looking for a match. The road to conception can take years for people using reproductive technologies, so expediting any part of the process would be a welcome time-saver.

But the bank has over 10,000 vials of sperm, so searching, even using filters, could still be a lengthy process. To combat this, the app also offers a wish list function that lets more focused users predetermine what they’re looking for in a donor, and receive a notification when their criteria are met.

The way the service works on mobile has been compared to Tinder, but there’s actually no swiping involved. Its wish list function means it’s more akin to apps like Anthology, which job seekers use to find their next career move.  

A quick search of the app store on an iPhone shows that there are a few other mobile services like this, but this is the only one with donors that have been so extensively screened—several medical associations and the U.K. government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority are all on board.

That endorsement is vital to the success and reliability of such an app. For many prospective parents, physical traits indeed play a big role in choosing a sperm donor, but vetting a donor’s medical history is a crucial prerequisite.

The app is free to download, and the cost of ordering sperm is the same as if you ordered through the London Sperm Bank catalogue—about $1,200 per order. To maintain security, samples will still only be sent to fertility centers, as opposed to personal addresses.

The U.K. is no stranger to pioneering reproductive technologies. The world’s first baby conceived via IVF, Louise Brown, was born in England in 1978, with the U.S. following close behind with its first IVF baby in 1981. Since then, reproductive technologies have transformed and gotten far better—the success rate of IVF in 1978 was about 5 percent, versus 40 to 50 percent today.

It makes sense that as our ability to help parents conceive evolves, so too does the technology we use to find sperm donors in the first place.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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