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Brave new sperm

How men and women are being encouraged to extend their fertility

As a 34-year-old woman, I’ve lost count of the number of adverts I now get on social media for fertility services. Often I block these, but it’s an endeavour that can leave you feeling as though you are fighting the Hydra. With every metaphorical head I cut off, another springs back, asking you the same questions yet again.

“Think you can’t afford egg freezing? Let us prove you wrong,” read an ad I received the other day from a fertility company called Ovom. Its website is like stepping into the future — and not one I particularly want to be part of. “We embrace technology and AI to bring you personalized fertility care that is based on data, not chance,” it says.

Ovom has a huge range of services, from testes and scrotum scans to yoga. It’s hard to know where to start with every oddity on the list, but perhaps readers would be interested to know that women are referred to as “People with Ovaries” and men as “People with Sperm”. To make matters even more “personalized”, gay and lesbian couples become “2 People with Ovaries” and “2 People with Sperm”, and heterosexual clients simply “1 Person with Ovaries, 1 Person with Sperm”.

The whole thing sounds as if the clinicians were making caviar

Women of my own profile are offered the “Egg Freeze and Share Package”, for £0. The catch is that you can freeze your eggs for free “in exchange for donating half the eggs collected”. Part of this involves the “egg collection procedure”, a polite way of explaining the fact your body will need to be pumped full of hormones — the same process as IVF — so as to increase the amount of eggs that can be extracted from it. The whole thing sounds as if the clinicians were making caviar, not least because the product often ends up going to punters with money.

Anecdotally, I have noticed an increase in the amount of women talking about egg freezing. All too often I find their tone quite casual given the matter under discussion. At an Egg Freezing Party I once went to (for a Times investigation), I remember a woman who remarked, “Well, it’s about the same amount I’d spend on a handbag” when deciding whether to have the treatment. If it’s not women themselves who are weighing up the merits of egg freezing, it’s well meaning relatives and friends who might. Their tone, as I also know from experience, can come across as though they were discussing the need for us to have a pension or some savings for a rainy day.

The problem with all this egg freezing and scrotum scanning goes deeper than individual reactions. The fertility industry is slowly turning humanity into the sum of our parts. You can tell this from other services on Ovom’s brochure, which has a page titled, “IVF Treatments — Donor, Surrogacy & ROPA”. ROPA refers to a “Shared Motherhood”, in which one person is “the recipient of egg collective procedure care and the other … the recipient of the embryo transfer care”. Confused? I searched the internet for more information on ROPA and went positively cross-eyed. Here’s one definition:

The ROPA Method, also known as “shared maternity”, consists of carrying out an IVF/ICSI cycle in which the two women will be involved, one providing the oocytes and the other woman, carrying in her womb the resulting embryo. In the first place, one of the women of the couple undergoes a stimulation and ovarian puncture from where we will obtain the oocytes. On the same day of the ovarian puncture, the oocytes will be inseminated with the IVF or ICSI technique in assisted reproduction laboratories with a seminal donor sample. The embryos formed will be transferred to the uterus of the other woman of the couple, who will have carried a personalized endometrial preparation to guarantee implantation.

There was a time when parents joked about the “stork” coming to deliver a baby. Nowadays, without overdoing the food analogy, no one even blinks when children sound like restaurant orders (the fussier the choices, the higher the social class of the person ordering).

I am obviously not the first to point out the clinical, cold reality of the fertility market. On X, an excellent account called Surrogacy Concern has been set up to raise awareness of the negative impact of surrogacy on women and children. It draws attention to videos in which women are referred to as “Gestational Carriers” and the post of a man saying, “The womb provides nothing to the situation [birth] besides storage of the fetus.”

As with Artificial Intelligence, one is simply supposed to accept that these trends are happening and deal with it. There’s never time for ethical considerations, so rapidly has reproductive technology moved — nor our consent on whether we’re happy to become “People with Ovaries” or “Sperm”, or have our bodies discussed as though parts on an assembly line.

The strangest thing of all is that the word “baby” rarely seems to emerge in these documents. When I searched for it in Ovom’s literature, the search said “Not found”. Maybe I haven’t been looking for the right thing — “Little Person with Ovaries/ Sperm”, perhaps? With these trends, I can’t help thinking “People with A Lot of Questions” will be the eventual reality.

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