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Why Can’t Gingers Donate Sperm?

Red-haired Australians are fighting back against rumours they’re a dying breed. But they need to fight even harder to keep sperm banks on board with their flame-haired donations.

Denmark’s Cryos sperm bank has started turning away ginger donors because there isn’t enough demand for them. The sperm from flame-haired men sells like hotcakes in Ireland, but that’s about it.

1. They’re a minority

If you’re a ginger, you’ve probably had to put up with more than your fair share of prejudice and discrimination. From being called carrot top to enduring endless jokes about your freckled complexion, you’re used to seeing yourself treated like an outsider. But you may not have expected to see one of the world’s largest sperm banks announce that they’ll no longer accept donations from redheaded men.

According to Cryos International, the reason for this is simple: there’s simply too much supply. They’ve reached their maximum capacity of 70 sperm litres, and “there are a lot of guys on the waiting list who want to donate,” says Ole Schou, the agency’s director. He goes on to explain that sperm buyers are looking for tall donors with brown eyes, who stand six feet tall and have blond hair. Dimples are a bonus.

The agency does stress that it’s not banning redheads altogether — they still have the option to donate, and can choose whether or not to participate in genetic carrier screening, which checks for conditions like cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy. Those who do decide to participate in carrier screening receive a free DNA kit that they can send back to the company with their sample.

That said, there are other sperm clinics that will accept redheaded donors, although prospective parents often have specific requests in mind. They might prefer a donor who’s musically inclined or academically intelligent, or have a certain blood type.

2. They’re a stereotype

As a minority, gingers have to put up with more than their fair share of bullying and discrimination. They get called carrot tops, they’re the punchline to many a joke, and they have to constantly defend their freckled complexions. It’s no wonder that some people have argued that so-called gingerism is a form of racism, sexism or disablism just as much as it is a stupid stereotype.

But the idea that gingerism equates with racism or sexism is flawed and dangerous. The fact is, gingerism is a stereotype, and like all stereotypes, it’s not necessarily accurate. That doesn’t mean that it’s not harmful, but it does mean that it’s not on the same level as other forms of discrimination.

In any event, it’s not as if redheads can’t donate sperm to other sperm clinics, or that there isn’t demand for their semen. Indeed, prospective parents do often have very specific requests when it comes to their donors, Brown tells TODAY Moms Happy Hour. They may want a donor who is tall, athletic, or musically inclined, for example. They also sometimes ask for a particular blood type. In any case, a redhead’s genetics are still in high demand, especially in Ireland, where their sperm sells “like hotcakes,” Schou says. It’s just that the rest of Europe isn’t quite so eager to buy it.

3. They’re a turnoff

A sperm bank in Denmark has stirred up some controversy by refusing redheaded donors. The bank says demand for carrot top sperm is low. “Gingers sell like hotcakes in Ireland,” but Cryos International’s director Ole Schou says the company’s clients mostly want men with dark hair and eyes.

The term ginger was popularized in the sixties by an American sitcom called Gilligan’s Island, which featured a character with light hair and freckles. It then gained popularity in South Park and even made it into the dictionary. The word can be offensive to some, though many redheads don’t mind being called gingers.

However, the term can also be a turnoff for potential parents who are seeking a specific physical type. TODAY Moms contributor Amy Brown tells us prospective parents often ask for specific attributes, such as being tall or athletic or musically inclined. They sometimes even request a certain blood type.

Another reason why a sperm bank might avoid accepting gingers is because of the health risks they could face. A recent study found that people with red hair have a higher risk of getting skin cancer. This is due to a mutation in the gene that controls skin pigmentation. The mutation can cause a type of skin cancer known as melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer.

4. They’re expensive

The world’s largest sperm bank has stirred up controversy by refusing to accept redhead donors. Apparently the demand simply isn’t there. “Ginger sperm sells like hot cakes in Ireland,” the agency’s director, Ole Schou, told Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, but elsewhere there isn’t enough interest to justify the expense of recruiting gingers. He went on to say that the company currently has 70 liters of grade-A sperm ready to be shipped to 65 countries, and that there are more than 600 men waiting to donate.

Of course, there’s a good chance that the children produced by parents who choose sperm from a ginger will face their own fair share of bullying — if not for their gingerness, then because of their other differences. But that’s not an argument for banning ginger sperm — just a reason to make sure the kids get a variety of other chromosomes.

Prospective parents do often ask for specific requests when they are seeking sperm, TODAY’s mom blogger Mary Brown reports. They may want a smart donor, one who is athletic or musically inclined, or even a particular blood type. But a preference for redheads shouldn’t be on that list, she says. The point is that the child, whether male or female, will have a genetic background that will help them succeed.