Romancing

the Sperm

Shifting Biopolitics and the Making of Modern Families

Now Available!!

Rutgers University Press

Anthropologist, Writer, Filmmaker

Exploring what it means to be human in the biotech age.

Diane Tober is Assistant Adjunct Professor at the University of California, San Francisco Institute for Health and Aging and faculty at the Bixby Center for Reproductive Health. She is a cultural and medical anthropologist with a focus on gender and sexuality, the commodification of the body, science and technology studies, bioethics, and social and reproductive justice. She has been conducting research exploring egg donors’ decisions and experiences within the global market for human eggs since 2013. With funding from the National Science Foundation, she is comparing egg donation in the United States and Spain. She has conducted field research in Iran, Spain, and the United States.

Her first book, Romancing the Sperm: Shifting Biopolitics and the Making of Modern Families (2018), explores the intersections between the sperm banking industry, the men who provide sperm, and the single women and lesbian couples who use donor sperm to conceive a child. Tracing the changes in use of Assisted Reproductive Technologies from the 1990s to today, Romancing the Sperm investigates the role technology plays in the changing meanings of family.

In addition to her research, she is also producer/director of the documentary film, The Perfect Donor, currently in post production. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation, The Social Science Research Council, The University of California, San Francisco, and American Institute for Iranian Studies, among others.

About the Book: Romancing the Sperm

The 1990s marked a new era in family formation. Increased access to donor sperm enabled single women and lesbian couples to create their families on their own terms, outside the bounds of heterosexual married relationships. However, emerging “alternative” families were not without social and political controversy. Women who chose to have children
without male partners faced many challenges in their quest to have children. Despite current wider social acceptance of single people and same sex couples becoming parents, many of these challenges continue.
 
In Romancing the Sperm, Diane Tober explores the intersections between sperm donation and the broader social and political environment in which “modern families” are created and regulated. Through tangible and intimate stories, this book provides a captivating read for anyone interested in family and kinship, genetics and eugenics, and how ever-expanding assisted reproductive technologies continue to redefine what it means to be human.
What People are Saying:
 
“An exceptional ethnography of modern reproduction, Romancing the Sperm centers lesbian couples and single women as they engage with sperm donors and banks in a quest to become pregnant. An accessible read, the book makes a tremendously valuable contribution to feminist writing on reproductive technologies and politics.”

—Rajani Bhatia, author of Gender before Birth: Sex Selection in a Transnational Context
“A fascinating and engaging book! It just gets more and more interesting as it goes and is never boring. The quotes from those interviewed are perfect and poignant—they give so much insight into the struggles undergone by those choosing some form of artificial conception. The book thoroughly dispels traditional notions of “family” and shows the multiple and highly creative ways in which families are currently being generated in this brave new world of assisted reproduction. For many, this book will be not only a fascinating, but also an empowering read.”

— Robbie Davis-Floyd, author of Birth as an American Rite of Passage and Ways of Knowing about Birth: Mothers, Midwives, Medicine and Birth Activism
“A fascinating and engaging book! It just gets more and more interesting as it goes and is never boring. The quotes from those interviewed are perfect and poignant—they give so much insight into the struggles undergone by those choosing some form of artificial conception. The book thoroughly dispels traditional notions of “family” and shows the multiple and highly creative ways in which families are currently being generated in this brave new world of assisted reproduction. For many, this book will be not only a fascinating, but also an empowering read.”

— Robbie Davis-Floyd, author of Birth as an American Rite of Passage and Ways of Knowing about Birth: Mothers, Midwives, Medicine and Birth Activism
“Written with scholarly attention to detail and including a wealth of firsthand testimonies from women who have chosen to use sperm banks, Romancing the Sperm is fascinating and insightful
from cover to cover. Highly recommended."

— Midwest Book Review

Book Reviews

Times Literary Review

"Sperm and Sensibility," Review by Michele Pridmore-Brown, April 2, 2019

"In Romancing the Sperm, the anthropologist Diane Tober has written a retrospective ethnographic study of the first generation of women openly to buy sperm to make families. The book is about female choice, or, as she puts it, “the biopolitics” of choice when women have resources of their own and the sperm of various male types can be bottled, screened, studied for motility, frozen, catalogued and transported. It focuses on a moment, the 1990s, in San Francisco, and California at large, and then revisits the scene of this first ethnography in 2017 or thereabouts. While Tober’s book is a far cry from Austen’s novels, it centres every bit as much on the drama of choosing – the fantasy and fetish, sense and sensibility, as well as the age-related deadlines – as those novels do. The object of desire here is not a Mr Darcy or Mr Bingley but the child their sperm might produce – hence the notion of “romancing” the sperm. But romancing is now consumption: choosing without being chosen, a transactional act between women and men who would otherwise not make a child together. Inevitably, conservative politicians such as the current US Vice President, Mike Pence, wedded to the old romantic arrangements, detect in these new ones Armageddon..."

Staggering touch” by Nóra Soós, 2005 © NoraSoos/Bridgeman Images

In the News!

Wired

“There's a huge lack of data there to really [allow women] to make informed decisions,” says Dr. Diane Tober, an assistant professor at the UC San Francisco, who studies egg donors. “And that's really problematic, obviously, when you have people making decisions that could affect their future health, well-being, and their ability to have children.”

Ads or marketing materials targeting potential donors rarely mention the risks or common complaints. Liz Scheier donated eggs three times between 2005 and 2007, and says she was told there were no known risks associated with egg donation. Today, Scheier is a media liaison for We Are Egg Donors, a women’s health organization that works with more than 1,500 donors to promote transparency and advocate for their concerns. She says that donors nowadays hear the same line she did, delivered almost verbatim. But it’s missing one key detail. “There are no known risks because no one has looked,” she adds.

Tober aims to change that. She has spent the past five years interviewing hundreds of egg donors and studying the short- and long-term impacts of the procedure....

Read the full article here.

Alyssa Foote; Getty Images

Video/TV Appearances

Dr. Diane Tober, with Sharon Anderson Morris, talking about her research and upcoming documentary film on egg donation, at FiReFilms, Documentaries that Change the World panel.

"Do we want a society in which everyone is the same?" Dr. Tober discusses the pros and cons of genetic engineering and "designer babies."

Dr. Diane Tober interviewed by Dr. Aimee Eyvazaadeh about "Making Modern Families," on The Egg Whisperer Show!

What are the Ethical Implications of Human Germline Engineering? Dr. Tober Responds to News of Gene Edited Twins in China.

WSB-TV, Atlanta Do Ads for Egg Donors Go Too Far? Interview with Sophia Choi, November 2, 2016.

Interviews

The Meaning of Family An Interview with Dr. Diane Tober, Author of Romancing the Sperm, By Audrey Arnold

Our ideas about families have undergone significant changes over the past couple decades, a shift that author, filmmaker, and anthropologist Diane Tober has been studying the past twenty years. Her new book Romancing the Sperm: Shifting Biopolitics and the Making of Modern Families chronicles the shifting landscape of modern families and Rutgers University Press will release it on November 5.
Read the full interview here

Podcasts and Radio

HuffPost IVFML Season 2, Episode 7, "Is Egg and Sperm Donation 'Worth It'? By Anna Almendrala, December 5, 2018.

KQED Forum "The Benefits and Risks of Egg Donation and Freezing." Interview with Tonya Mosley, May 4, 2018

KQED Forum "Hi, You're My Donor Dad!" Interview with Mina Kim, July 27, 2018

Articles by Diane Tober

Compensating Egg Donors: United States vs Spain. In Impact Ethics, by Diane Tober, February 4, 2019.

Compensating egg donors is currently a hot button issue. Opponents argue that permitting egg donors to be paid could lead to “undue inducement,” which is concerning given the known and unknown risks related to the injectable hormones and surgical procedures required for egg extraction. Proponents bemoan the shortage of women willing to provide eggs purely out of altruistic motives, and see payment as a solution to the shortage problem and reasonable in light of the time, trouble, and potential risks women endure when they become egg donors.

Despite the controversies, there is little understanding of how different compensation structures actually affect donors’ decisions and experiences.

In this article I consider how different compensation schemes for donation affect the experiences and choices of egg donors and announces the launch of her research project which analyzes egg donation practices in the US and Spain.

Read more here.

Feminist Paradoxes, In Boston Review, by Diane Tober, November 19, 2018

Merve Emre rejects the concept of “the natural” in the realm of human reproduction. She also challenges the reader to look beyond gendered binaries to think about the human experience of reproduction in an expanded way—one that includes single individuals, same-sex couples, and trans and gender-nonconforming people—for a maximally inclusive feminist solidarity. 

I appreciate this undertaking even if Emre’s rejection of the “natural” is not new. Feminist anthropologists, such as Sylvia Yanagisako and Jane Collier, have long critiqued ideas of “natural sex,” gender binaries, and “natural” male and female procreative roles. It seems to me though that Emre’s dictum, “all reproduction . . . is assisted,” may unnecessarily limit what can be meant by a term as capacious as “natural.” Read more here.

Egg donor advertisements are everywhere. On popular music streaming sites. On Craigslist and Facebook. In campus newspapers or even fashion magazines. Most egg donation advertisements mention the thousands of dollars you can receive to provide eggs, and how your sacrifice can bring joy to people who desperately want a child but have been unable to conceive on their own. You might think egg donation is a good way to make money in a short period of time while helping someone have a baby. But before becoming an egg donor, there are a lot of things you should consider.


The egg donation process is complicated. From first thinking about becoming an egg donor to being selected and going through hormone injections and retrieval surgery and recovery, there is a lot of information you will need to know in order to best advocate for yourself. You will be undergoing medical tests and procedures, psychological counseling, possibly genetic testing and counseling, negotiating legal contracts and having surgery under anesthesia.

In this article you will find out more information about navigating the initial decision to determine if egg donation is the right choice for you. Takeaway: Deciding to donate your eggs is a big decision that should be well-informed.

Read the rest here!

The Medical Process--For Egg Donors. By Dr. Diane Tober, Fertility Smarts

Becoming an egg donor can feel overwhelming and scary—especially the first time! Once you’ve been selected, the process can move pretty fast. Here is what you can expect from the medical process of providing eggs.

Every month, in a natural menstrual cycle, women produce multiple egg follicles (sacs in the ovaries that hold the developing eggs), but only one follicle will become a mature egg and be released from the ovary during ovulation. The remainder of the other developing follicles do not receive enough hormones from the body to develop into mature eggs, so they pass from the body during menstruation. Some women naturally have more developing follicles than others—what’s known as your resting antral follicle count—and the number of eggs your body produces may change from month to month, and reduce over time.

In an egg donation cycle, a physician prescribes medications, or fertility drugs, to stimulate the ovaries to get more follicles to develop into mature eggs than the usual one per month. There are many different medication protocols that can be used to create a higher number of mature eggs than usual, a process known as superovulation.

Your egg donor medication protocol may vary depending upon which doctor you go to, your resting antral follicle count and other fertility tests, and how many follicles are developing mature eggs in a single cycle. If you’re a repeat donor and have your protocol information that worked well for you (or didn’t) from a prior cycle you can share that information with the doctor, and they may agree to adjust your protocol accordingly.

It is important that you understand which drugs you will be taking up front, what trigger shot the doctor plans on using, and how many eggs they aim to retrieve.

Takeaway: Upfront, you should know: which drugs you will be taking during stimulation, what trigger shot the doctor plans on using, and how many eggs they aim to retrieve. Read the rest here!

Appearances

Get in Touch!

  • https://www.instagram.com/perfectdon

© 2023 by Diane Tober

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