Artificial Insemination

Artificial insemination is the mediated use of sperm to impregnate a woman. The term has historically been used in cases where this procedure is done under medical supervision, socially legitimized as a medical treatment for infertility. It has required medical legitimization because in most cases the sperm used is from a man who is not the woman's partner (artificial insemination by donor, or AID). Artificial insemination, likely practiced outside the medical setting for much of history, was first reported in the medical literature by John Hunter in 1790. In the early twentieth century, its popularity grew, and its moral and social implications were debated in both the medical and popular press in the United States starting in 1909, and in Europe by the 1940s. Supporters pointed to the joy of parents who were able to bear children thanks to the procedure. Critics believed that AID was a form of adultery, and that it promoted the vice of MASTURBATION. The Catholic Church objected to all forms of artificial insemination, saying that it promoted the vice of onanism and ignored the religious importance of coitus. Other critics were concerned that AID could encourage EUGENIC government policies.

As popular concerns about AID faded in Europe and the United States, the demand for donor sperm increased tremendously. In 1953, the first successful pregnancy from frozen sperm was reported, leading to the development of a thriving sperm-bank industry starting in the 1970s and the commercialization of AID. While a 1941 survey estimated that 3,700 inseminations had been performed in the United States, by 1987 U.S. doctors performed the procedure on about 172,000 women in a single year, resulting in 65,000 births. The growing number of AID pregnancies has raised new concerns, and in many places sparked new regulation. Because fresh sperm can be a source of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, testing of donors and donations has become routine in many clinics, and is required by many local and national governments. In addition, because the privacy of the donor is generally protected and it is physically possible to donate semen many times, in many places clinic policies and/or government regulations tightly restrict the number of times a single donor's semen may be used, in order to diminish the chances of unknowing marriage of biological siblings among AID children.

Legal and social questions surrounding AID in many countries reflect cultural concerns with biological paternity and the maintenance of the heterosexual, married couple as the basis of the family. The Catholic Church and many interpreters of ISLAM consider AID to be adulterous, and as of 1990, it was banned in BRAZIL, Egypt, and Libya. Ireland, IS-RAEL, Italy, and South Africa restricted its use to married couples and many more countries have not approved its use by lesbian couples. While a number of European countries have instituted regulations legitimizing AID children as the offspring of the mother's husband or partner, providing he had given written consent, in many places the law remains ambiguous. While many clinics and some governments deny clinical AID services to single women and lesbians, some feminists have organized to demedicalize AID and provide services to women creating nontraditional families. Debates rage about what to tell AID children about their biological parentage. AID is one of several new reproductive technologies which challenge the "naturalness" and inevitability of identifying social kinship with biological kinship.

See also: Adoption; Conception and Birth; Egg Donation; Fertility Drugs; Obstetrics and Midwifery; Surrogacy.


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