NEW YORK - Men who pass a screening process and donate to sperm banks in Sweden score better on personality measures, such as responsibility, confidence and self-acceptance, than other men in their peer group, a new study concludes.
The results are reassuring for a country that, by law, allows children to track down the sperm donors who contributed to their conception.
The personality characteristics of the Swedish sperm donors "show that they will be able to handle it if in the future somebody comes to them and says, 'I am your donor child,'" said Dr. Robert Oates, president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, who was not involved in the study.
Sweden was the first country to pass a so-called "non-anonymous" law, which entitles children to contact the sperm donor if they choose.
Britain, Australia and other countries also require that donors consent to being contacted, though donors typically have no rights to reach out to the child.
The United States allows for donors to remain anonymous and for them to get paid, unlike Sweden where men can only volunteer.
The non-anonymous laws "might be a problem, and for both parties since no one can prepare themselves for their reactions" if a child decides to contact the biological father, said Dr. Gunilla Sydsjö, a professor at Linköping University in Sweden and lead author of the study.
"A decision made at the age of 25 might be crystal clear for the individual at that time but might take on other dimensions 20 years later," she wrote in an email to Reuters Health.
She and her colleagues surveyed 115 men who donated sperm at clinics in Sweden between 2005 and 2008, and compared them to other men of similar age who did not attempt to donate sperm.
Donors go through a screening process that weeds out men with psychological or health problems.
The questionnaire asked about behaviors, emotions and social skills.
The donors scored lower on one measure, called harm avoidance. "This indicates that the sperm donors described themselves as being less worried, uncertain, shy and less subject to fatigue," the researchers wrote in their study, published in the British obstetrics and gynecology journal BJOG.
On two measures -- self-directedness and cooperativeness -- the donors scored higher than the comparison group of men, showing that they pursue goals, stick to their values and take responsibility.
All other personality traits, including persistence and novelty seeking behaviors, were similar between the two groups.
"We have in this study shown that the men who are accepted for the program were all in the normal range of character and also demonstrated a mature personality and a stable character," said Sydsjö.
Oates said he thinks the Swedish system works well in recruiting men who donate for altruistic reasons.
"I think the majority are just nice people who want to help people out," Oates told Reuters Health. "That may be a different personality than the 21 year old college student who wants to make a lot of money."
He pointed out that, while the United States allows for anonymous donation, there are well-publicized instances of children ultimately tracking down their sperm-donor fathers.
"My worry has always been that young kids who have not had their own children and are (donating sperm) just for the money would really have a difficult life in the future if someone came looking for them," said Oates, who is also a professor at Boston University School of Medicine.
Two recent studies have shown that uniting kids with donor dads is usually a positive experience (see Reuters Health story of January 6, 2011).
The researchers write in their study that they are not aware of any children in Sweden taking advantage of the transparency law to contact their biological fathers.