In mixed-race Brazil, sperm imports from US whites are booming
Demand for White American Sperm Is Skyrocketing in Brazil
SÃO PAULO—With “jewel-tone eyes,” blond hair and a “smattering of light freckles,” Othello looks nothing like most Brazilians, the majority of whom are black or mixed-race. Yet the “Caucasian” American cashier, described in those terms by the Seattle Sperm Bank and known as Donor 9601, is one of the sperm providers most often requested by wealthy Brazilian women importing the DNA of young U.S. men at unprecedented rates. Over the past seven years, human semen imports from the U.S. to Brazil have surged as more rich single women and lesbian couples select donors whose online profiles suggest they will yield light-complexioned and preferably blue-eyed children.
Brazil is one of the fastest-growing markets for imported semen in recent years, said Michelle Ottey, laboratory director of Virginia-based Fairfax Cryobank, a large distributor and the biggest exporter to Brazil. More than 500 tubes of foreign semen frozen in liquid nitrogen arrived at Brazilian airports last year, officials and sperm-bank directors said, up from 16 in 2011. Complete data from Anvisa, Brazil’s health-care regulator, isn’t yet available for 2017. U.S. sperm-bank directors said preferences like those of Brazilian purchasers hold across their global market. “The vast majority of what we have and what we sell are the Caucasian blond-haired, blue-eyed donors,” said Fredrik Andreasson, CFO of Seattle Sperm Bank, which provides about a quarter of Brazil’s imports.
Everyone wants a “pretty kid” and for many parents in Brazil, where prejudice often runs deep, that means “the white biotype—light-colored eyes and skin,” said Susy Pommer, a 28-year-old data analyst from São Paulo who decided to get pregnant last year after a breast-cancer scare left her eager to raise a child right away with her partner, Priscilla.
The preference for white donors reflects a persistent preoccupation with race in a country where social class and skin color correlate with glaring accuracy. More than 50% of Brazilians are black or mixed-race, a legacy of Brazil having imported more than 10 times as many African slaves than the U.S.; it was the last Western country to ban slavery, in 1888. The descendants of white colonizers and immigrants—many of whom were lured to Brazil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the ruling elite explicitly sought to “whiten” the population—control most of the country’s political power and wealth.
In such a racially divided society, having fair-skinned offspring is often viewed as a way to provide a child with better prospects, from a higher salary to fairer treatment by the police. Money is also a factor setting parameters for the DNA import boom. Carefully categorized and genetically vetted sperm from U.S. providers has to be procured from Brazilian fertility clinics at a cost of some $1,500 a vial, often as part of an in vitro fertilization procedure that costs roughly $7,000 an attempt. Whites are more likely able to afford that in a country where about 80% of the richest 1% are white, according to Brazil’s statistics agency.