Choreographies of sperm donations: Dilemmas of intimacy in lesbian couple donor conception

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Assisted conception involving donor insemination challenges cultural idioms of parenthood and family; there is now a growing body of work exploring how women and couples negotiate becoming a family in this way. But sperm donation also raises questions on the more intimate levels of sex, sexuality and sexual bodies, and these have received little sustained attention in the literature. Lesbian couples in the UK increasingly negotiate access to medicalised donor insemination, but many also conceive in informal arrangements with donors where they themselves negotiate proximity and contact with donors when retrieving donor sperm. I explore in this paper how lesbian couples manage and perceive sperm donations, how they seek to negotiate their intimate, sexual and bodily overtones, and how the medical and non-medical settings enable them to do this in different ways. I draw on empirical data from an interview study conducted from 2006 to 2009 in England and Wales comprising 25 lesbian couples. I suggest that sperm donation raises dilemmas of intimacy for lesbian couples, and that couples try to resolve such dilemmas by carefully and intentionally choreographing donation events through managing patterns of movement and action. The different institutional, medical and regulatory frameworks governing clinical and non-clinical sperm donation shape that management in significant and different ways. I argue that sperm donation choreographies enable couples to negotiate the private, sexual and intimate tensions surrounding sperm donations, and also the subjectivity of the sperm donor. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1661-1668
Number of pages7
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2011


  • Donor insemination
  • Intimacy
  • Lesbian
  • Medicalisation
  • Purification
  • Sperm donation
  • United Kingdom


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