I suspect this study is likely to ignite at least some controversy. It’s the latest paper to draw on a longitudinal study of lesbian families (handily enough called the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study) that began in 1986.
The researchers here looked at data collected when the kids being tracked were 10 and 17 and compared the psychological well-being of children with known sperm providers and those with as-yet-unknown sperm providers. (The latter group includes kids whose provider’s identity will be available when the child turns 18 as well as those whose identities will not be revealed.) The bottom line:
Our findings indicate that donor type has no bearing on the development of the psychological well-being of the offspring of lesbian mothers over a 7-yer period from childhood through adolescence.
(That’s literally the last line of the study.)
There are a couple of reasons why this conclusion interests me. First of all, the question of known vs. unknown sperm providers is a big one for many lesbians (and single women) considering having children. It’s one people really fret about. Yet the finding here suggests that maybe it’s not that big a deal. (Granted, they’ve only followed the children to age 17. It’s also a small sample and I’m sure there’s more to be said about this. But still, this is what the study concludes.)
I suppose it is possible that what matters is not whether the sperm provider is known or unknown but rather how the mother(s) feel about that. Perhaps if they are comfortable/contented with the choice than it is likely their children will be. In which case it is worth the fretting, in only so that you can figure out what’s important to you.
The second reason why this study interests me has to do with the ongoing discussion here about the well-being of donor-conceived people. (See the earlier discussion about the Pratten case for a general taste of that.)
I’m sure some will say that it doesn’t matter whether you have a known or an unknown provider, as all who are donor conceived are in some way in the same boat–not being raised by the man who provided the sperm. I don’t think this study addresses that view, at least not that I can see right now, so I’m going to set that aside.
But for many people the critical question is whether kids should have a relationship with/can contact/know the man who provided the sperm. And this study suggests that overall it doesn’t matter much whether they do or not.
I don’t think this invalidates the experience of individuals for whom it does matter. Population studies like this don’t yield those sorts of findings. Instead it is relevant to questions like whether people should be allowed to elect to use anonymous sperm providers. Since the study concludes that children are equally well-0ff whether women use known or unknown providers, it supports giving women that option.