I listened to much of Out of the Ordinary, Jolyon Jenkins' Radio 4 programme about the black market in sperm donations, with a sick bucket close to hand. It was shortly after breakfast, the sun was shining and I'd not long finished mulling over the achievements of the 13th-century noblewoman Eleanor de Montfort, courtesy of Woman's Hour.
All things considered, I was feeling pretty serene. Then all of sudden came talk of sperm shortages, of "deposits" in return for £50 and fluids exchanged in hotel rooms booked by the hour. It was all very "underbelly of the internet", and yet here it was, in all its gloopy glory, at 11am on Radio 4.
If some of the programme's conclusions – that there are men who will do anything to get women to have sex with them, and that women in their thirties will do daft things to have a baby – weren't exactly hold-the-front-page stuff, it was still impossible to switch off.
There was the grim melancholy of the woman who felt, in reproductive terms, washed up at 36, and was prepared to bung banknotes to a stranger found via a Facebook group rather than face the costs of a fertility clinic. She already had two kids, the last of which arrived just six months ago, a revelation that had me shouting, "Christ alive, woman, your hormones are all over the place and you're not thinking straight. Cherish what you already have!"
Far more depressing were the donors themselves. These exploitative, narcissistic, deluded and ultimately dangerous characters who had convinced themselves they were having sex out of altruism while cleansing the national gene pool, would, in another life, have made excellent dictators.
One, who went by the pseudonym Upton North, had been "donating" for less than a year and had already been responsible for 17 pregnancies. Meanwhile, he had 22 more women waiting to pee on a stick.
"I've got the best success rates of all the donors... and that's even against guys who are donating more than me," he bragged. Asked by Jenkins why he did it, he replied: "I like helping people and I like meeting people." He'd obviously never heard of soup kitchens, where you can provide the same service without the taint of sexual exploitation.
Another sixtysomething donor claimed to have inseminated women in their hundreds and had even impregnated two on the same street, but it was all OK because he had superior genes. "I want lots of mini-mes all over the world," he announced cheerfully.
How on earth did we get to a place where women are prepared to accept the seed of megalomaniacal strangers? Jenkins pointed to a sperm shortage that is directly linked to robust regulations around official donations in which expenses are barely covered, men over 41 are not eligible and sex or masturbation during the donation period is outlawed.
Add to that a change in the law that allows the 18-year-old offspring of donors to find their biological fathers, and, well, who would agree to that?
As it stands, there is nothing good about the current system, whether you go down the clinical route or for the quickie-in-a-hotel version. Jenkins wasn't able to offer a solution, though his investigation was queasily compelling.
If there were ever an argument for forced sterilisation, his interviewees would be its poster boys. Altruism, my arse. Let me near these clammy specimens and I'll do the job myself, preferably with a rusty knife and fork.Reuse content