If you saw the 2010 drama "The Kids Are All Right," in which two teens raised by a lesbian couple decide to make contact with their biological father, you might be wondering: Might such an experience leave psychological scars?
Probably not, according to two new reports in the journal Human Reproduction.
They show the new connection leaves kids' mental health unscathed and is usually a positive experience for the donor parents, who often worry about their biological offspring.
"There is considerable debate about the potential impact of having been conceived by a known or unknown sperm donor on an offspring's psychological adjustment, especially during the vulnerable period of adolescence," Dr. Henny Bos, of the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
To find out if the fears are founded, Bos led a study of 78 teens born to lesbian mothers via artificial insemination and followed throughout their lives as part of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study.
A third of the donor dads were known to the families. Slightly more were permanently anonymous, while the identities of 18 could be released once the child reached the age of 18.
Based on questionnaires and interviews with the kids when they were 10 and 17 years old, the researchers found no differences in mental health — such as social and attention problems, or depression and anxiety — between the groups. Bos said the patterns of problem behavior seen in the youths were similar to those reported in studies of children of heterosexual families.
Most of the kids with unknown donor dads who would later get the chance to make contact said they intended to do so — and according to the other study in the journal, donor parents would likely welcome this contact: Despite the anonymity of their original donation, more than eight in 10 biological moms and dads said they'd be willing to be in touch with their offspring.
All of the 23 sperm and egg donors in that study who had met their biological kids told researchers it was a good experience. In fact, most of them saw their offspring regularly.
"The other interesting finding was how contact was not only between the donor and the child but sometimes included other family members too," lead researcher Dr. Vasanti Jadva of the University of Cambridge in the UK told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Still, some conflict did emerge in the study. While neither study mentioned an affair between a donor dad and lesbian mom — an issue that comes up in the movie — one donor who'd been in seeing his child became upset after suddenly getting cut off by the kid's mother.
Researchers also found that some donors were united with as many as 20 biological sons and daughters.
"We do not yet know what the full consequences might be for donors of finding such large numbers of offspring or how offspring themselves may feel about having so many half-siblings," Jadva said.
"In the U.K., we have removed donor anonymity so that all donors are now identifiable once the resultant child reaches the age of 18 and identifiable donors are also on the rise in the U.S.," added Jadva, "So contact between donors and their offspring is something we will be seeing more of."