Mediated reproduction: understanding informal donor conception in the digital age

Year of award: 2022


  • Dr Leah Gilman

    University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Project summary

UK medical-regulatory discourses frame donor conception in a licensed clinic as the legitimate and safe way to enact donor conception and discourage conceiving with a sperm donor outside of medical institutions. And yet, growing numbers of people are building families this way, through digitally-mediated informal donor conception (DMIDC), facilitated via online platforms and social media groups.

Bringing together digital media studies and the sociology of reproduction, the proposed research will investigate perceptions and practices of DMIDC as a way of exploring how the expansion of digital media technologies is shaping, and shaped by, changing reproductive norms and practices. It will do this by analysing 'official' evaluations of DMIDC, the reproductive narratives of users and the digital platforms through which DMIDC is enacted.

This research will be the first major qualitative study of DMIDC, providing urgently-needed knowledge of what, despite its delegitimised status, is probably now the most common form of UK donor conception. It will develop a theoretical understanding of the relationship between digital media and reproductive practice, norms and imaginaries. Furthermore, findings from the project will move debates on DMIDC beyond the current stalemate between policies which advise 'just say no' and the social reality of a rapidly growing reproductive practice.