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Seminar “A cultural biography of the sperm bank” by Tinne Claes


The sperm bank appeals to the imagination. Certainly its pioneering years, when there were no laws and doctors could do as they pleased. Yet hardly anyone knows how it used to be, because donor insemination was shrouded in silence.

Mainly focusing on Belgium, this talk takes a broad view on the history of the sperm bank in the second half of the twentieth century. This was a period of major social changes, such as the waning authority of doctors and the commercialisation of medicine, but also the breaking of taboos, the emancipation of women and the rise of DNA testing. The first fertility doctors only treated heterosexual couples, who were asked to keep the treatment secret. From the 1980s onwards, lesbian and single mothers did tell the truth to their children. Today, donor-conceived persons use DNA to search for information about their genetic origins. By means of oral history interviews with various actors – fertility doctors, donor parents and donor offspring – this talk paints a multifaceted view of the history of the sperm bank, which offers valuable insights to better understand contemporary debates and scandals.


This seminar is part of the (in)fertility seminar series organised by the Groningen Centre for Health and Humanities and the Centre for Historical Studies. Please send an email to James Kennaway (james.kennaway@rug.nl) for the link to the seminar.

For the full programme of the seminar series, visit this page.