Huang, a professional black-market sperm donor, vowed for a third time to Yu Hua and her husband, "I swear that I will never meet this child for my whole life under any circumstances!"
The couple from Shanxi Province nodded. They had been longing for a child, and Huang was tall and intelligent. Although not classically handsome, he bore a striking resemblance to Yu Hua's husband, and shared his blood type, ensuring no one would ever have to know their secret.
They signed the agreement to let Huang donate his sperm to the wife, joining the ranks of a growing number of Chinese couples who resort to the Internet-based black market, despite the lack of safeguards to protect women from giving birth to an unhealthy baby. There are only 11 sperm banks in China, and they suffer from a shortage of sperm donors, explains Jiang Xiang-long, director of the Jiangxi Province Human Sperm Bank.
Yu Hua had lingered on the Shanxi Human Sperm Bank's waiting list for one year without success, and started to grow desperate.
"The reproductive medical center told us that we have to wait for another 15 months, after I have done all the medical checkups. I'm already 32 and could not wait any longer," Yu Hua told the Global Times.
Yu posted her contact information on a forum for infertile couples and sperm donors. She received many calls, finally selecting Huang out of 10 potential donors whose personal introductions were all similar: tall, handsome, smart and healthy, with a desire to help others and willing to donate sperm for free.
Huang told the couple that he could guarantee conception. "They could choose to have me either inject my sperm into the wife's body artificially or direct sexual intercourse," Huang told the Global Times.
"I have been working on helping infertile couples and accumulated some experience. Many clients come to me because they could not get sperm from the sperm bank," said Huang.
"We have done a thorough medical checkup, so there is no need to worry about genetic diseases," Huang said. "I will keep my sperm in a small vacuum cup after masturbation, and then inject it into the wife's body through a plastic injector." Huang injects it himself because no doctors are involved in the process, which must be done quickly because of a lack of professional equipment.
Li Shaohua, 28, the organizer of a QQ group including 60 registered users labeled as free or voluntary sperm donors, said that donors will suggest that intercourse is easier and more successful than artificial injection. Couples often insist on trying injection anyway, but in the end, they usually resort to sex.
Although the donors say they will do it for free, they are often paid in the end.
"Each donor will not stop trying until the woman conceives," Li said. Li often tells his fellow donors, "You guys cannot wait there for some barren woman to ask for your sperm, you have to go and search by yourself."
However, authorities say that the underground sperm donation market contains many hazards.
"Without professional medical experience and tools, it's very hard to keep sperm fresh and sterilize the injector. And due to lack of comprehensive checkups, many genetic or sexual diseases could be passed down to the next generation," said Chen Zhenwen, director at the Beijing Human Sperm Bank.
According to the Ministry of Health, a sperm bank is the only place to get sperm legally. "This kind of deal to sell or offer sperm is not protected by Chinese law or accepted by social morality," Jiang said, noting that this kind of activity might undermine family harmony if the husband gets jealous.
At an official sperm bank, the couples never meet the sperm donor or know who he is, nor does the donor know where his sperm goes. And to prevent accidental inbreeding, a donor's sperm can only be donated to up to five women. "But private donors who donate sperm to many couples may increase the risk of intermarrying," Chen said.
Thirty-year-old stock investor Ling Lin recently started looking for private donors. "When I entered the QQ group, three people added me and started recommending themselves to me, saying that they know well how to make women pregnant."
Ling said she finally gave up, because she felt uncomfortable with those advertisements. "It felt like I was looking at some pimps selling themselves."
"That was a total misunderstanding," argued Li, the founder of the QQ group. Li's first donation experience was a couple from Luohe, Henan Province. "The woman I helped felt a lot of pain with the plastic injector, so I changed the method. She and her husband both agreed. They knew I was helping," he said, stressing that donors will help any client, "whether ugly or pretty."
"To increase the rate of success I recommend couples choose sexual intercourse. It's the safest and easiest way to donate," Li said. "Many of us won't go to the sperm bank to help because it takes a long time, up to five months, due to complicated sperm quality checks," Li said.
Huang said that sometimes the sperm's temperature was hard to keep constant, so most of the time the donors use a more direct way to help. "I know how eagerly those mothers want a child, so I would like to help them," he said, noting that donors are normally paid 5,000 yuan ($800) for a successful conception.
As a director of a sperm bank, Jiang admitted it was not easy to attract sperm donors. "Many won't donate unless they could get some benefit, like money or other pleasures. And we pay much less than the average rate in the underground market."
A reluctant choice
A husband who cannot have a baby with his wife told the Global Times that he was okay with paying and the only thing worrying him is the risk of the donor tracking down his child in the future, despite agreeing not to.
Civil law experts warn that this kind of agreement has no legal power. "Someday if the blood father wants to meet his child, the court will still approve," Tan Qiugui, professor at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times.
"I know all those risks. But we want a baby and the sperm bank could not offer help," said Yu Hua's husband.
Ling, the woman who found the private sperm donors she met on the Internet a little creepy, said she would also stop relying on the official sperm bank. "You also have to try three or more times even if it's your turn to get the sperm and you have to pay over 2,000 yuan for each time. I'd rather take the risk of finding a private donor or just give up the thought of giving birth to a baby."
The only way out of this dilemma is to persuade more people to donate at sperm banks, otherwise it is impossible to totally crack down on the sperm black market, Chen said.