Pop Store and the Invisible Harem
by Farzana Versey
Counterpunch, April 20-22
Counterpunch, April 20-22
He makes bastards. No one is quite willing to use the term, for not only does he portray himself as a Samaritan, but also a sort of sexual evangelist. Instead of the Word, he doles out semen.
You’ve probably read the reports about Dutchman Ed Houben, who has fathered 82 babies with different women. His story has resurfaced again recently. While there is an attempt to record his activities and examine a few ‘cases’, a vast area in analysis of the repercussions of such baby-creating remains empty. There is an element of cussedness about his management skills. He maintains an Excel ‘balance sheet’ to track successful inseminations and births. His hit rate is 80 percent.
A few years ago he had said:
“I do it because I know how hard it is for people who desperately want a child. Also going through fertility clinics can be very time-consuming and costly for them.”
Financially, it might be inexpensive to use him, but one seriously wonders why the women cannot find a mate closer to them. Is it because he meets prospective clients through a legitimate channel, the German sperm donation network SpermaSpender.de and insists that the women are healthy? Both submit their medical records and he also provides a sperm analysis.
This is all very well, but how fresh are the records? He sleeps with 15 women in a month, and it requires extensive travel from his home in Maastricht; the list includes Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain, Belgium, France and New Zealand. Are the reports updated after each act? What if either of them has had unprotected sex with someone else after sending the reports and before doing time together?
To track his journey briefly, Houben was a virgin until the age of 34 although he had started donating sperm when he was 29. Eight years later he has to his credit over 80 babies, the oldest nine, the youngest two months, and ten in different foetal stages. This would mean ten children a year.
Der Spiegel had recorded his first real encounter:
“When he met women, they seemed like people from another world, simultaneously threatening and iconic. Women wanted good-looking, athletic guys rather than men like him. As a student, Ed sometimes necked with girls when he was drunk at parties, but that was the extent of his romantic life. In other words, he had no experience… He met a couple in 2004. The man was Dutch and sterile, and the woman was South American. They made it clear to him that they didn't want just a cup of sperm. Instead, the husband said, they wanted intimacy and emotions for their child at the moment of its conception. His wife taught Ed, 34 at the time, about passion.”
There are a few of worrying issues. Houben does not appear to like women. This incident reflects more the norms of a contemporary free-living couple. The woman initiating and teaching the ‘donor’ male might seem to give her an advantage, but she is essentially a slave to two men here – the husband who presides over the ceremony and the ‘giver’ as passive performer. The image is of the woman as whore-mother. If it were her idea, then it might have been empowering to the extent we wish to be politically correct about it. However, it is not quite so in this instance.
Besides, how will the intimacy and emotion the couple talked about register with a quick-footed sperm hitting an egg?
There is inherent patriarchy in the arrangement. This is not polygamy, which despite all its flaws, comes with certain strictures, whether it is in religious groups or tribes. Houben’s children may not carry his name, but it is his magic wand that did it. He is the carrier of glad tidings, a Magi.
More than that, he is a god-figure. As in all patriarchal societies, pleasure is a bonus. Much of machismo is about passing on good seeds to create another generation. The concept of equality with women goes against such sperm power. Women are the vessels. It is particularly distressing in the Houben example, for here the women will not only carry the baby, but also provide for him while he is working with them. They are, in effect, his employers.
In some ways he is a gigolo – no strings attached, with paid-for meals and travel expenses. But because sex as pleasure is removed from the relationship it is the employee who takes the call. It is really not surprising that he sticks to the missionary position. It is indeed akin to Passover, a release from bondage and the heralding of newborns.
As we progress, women are free to make choices. The problem arises after the choices are made. One is not denying the maternal instinct and the fact that women would want to feel ‘complete’. But is such completeness about them? Where test tube babies and cloning are not hesitant experiments anymore, modern science is pushing the generic male as the genetic male provider where a single cell jerked off becomes the woman’s universe.
The lack of intimacy, however wilful, makes women into objects even as they are glorified as mothers. This is not to suggest that some women do not treat it as just another intercourse. In an article one woman seemed completely in sync with what was in store and her role:
“I'm completely pragmatic about it," she says. She has rules for the sex. She doesn't have a problem with kissing the man. She puts on nice lingerie, but not her best. "And I don't jerk him off or give him a blowjob," she says. She talks with the man when it's all over, during the 15 minutes on her back.
Another dimension is that Houben’s vaginal wayfaring could result in inbreeding and that comes with inbuilt genetic deficiencies. Brothers and sisters may end up mating without knowing their lineage; there could be gay relationships too between siblings.
Since Houben’s job profile is to impregnate women it is obvious that he is the biological father of these children.
A New York Times article had discussed the ramifications of artificial insemination following the report of one donor who had fathered 150 children:
Now, there is growing concern among parents, donors and medical experts about potential negative consequences of having so many children fathered by the same donors, including the possibility that genes for rare diseases could be spread more widely through the population. Some experts are even calling attention to the increased odds of accidental incest between half sisters and half brothers, who often live close to one another.
One is aware that promiscuity is quite prevalent across the world, so there is a possibility that such fears of incest could arise even in such cases. However, most promiscuous relationships are not for procreation and one assumes that precautions would be taken to prevent conception.
The social dynamics could have an impact on ethics. Houben makes the women sign documents waiving legal claims to child support. There is no guarantee that they will honour it. A crucial aspect that has been overlooked is of him making claims. Middle age crisis could force him to seek companionship, or to ‘paternalise’ himself. Since he does not take money, he can demand palimony on grounds of desertion. There is also the possibility of some of these children turning out to be prodigies or celebrities a few years from now, and he might want a bit of glory. He maintains a detailed portfolio and, as there is attestation and paperwork involved, his assertions would be legitimate.
Could a public pronouncement on his part snowball into the invisible harem becoming visible, and many of the 82 offspring declaring a blood bond with the famous one?
There is also the valid issue about social responsibility. Houben, who earlier bottled his sperm, now projects his preference as the “natural way”, which is false. Physical intervention does not make it natural and most certainly not normal. Normal relationships, or even encounters, are not timed, unless it is commercial sex.
Pop store Houben’s is not a spousal situation. Therefore, equality is an extraneous concept. It is egalitarianism without fidelity: a planted seed that is not watered.
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