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Gay Parent Magazine

Study of Children of Lesbians and their Relationship with Male Donors


Lesbian couple with their daughter at Family Week in Provincetown

Lesbian couple with their daughter at Family Week in Provincetown

May 22, 2013 press release from the Williams Institute:

New Williams Institute Study Suggests That Children Of Lesbian Parents Are Happy With Their Relationships With Male Donors And Some Seek To Manage These Relationships In Adolescence

Research suggests that children of lesbian parents are satisfied with their current level of contact with their male donors and do not think of their donors as dads, according to a new Williams Institute study by Abbie E. Goldberg, Williams Institute Visiting Scholar and Associate Professor of Psychology at Clark University, and Katherine R. Allen, Professor of Human Development at Virginia Tech. The study, entitled, Donor, Dad, or…? Young Adults with Lesbian Parents’ Experiences with Known Donors, sheds light on how children raised in lesbian, gay, and bisexual families are contributing to the redefinition and reconstruction of complex kinship arrangements.

Participants in the study perceived their relationships with their male donors in one of three ways: as strictly donors and not members of their family; as extended family members, but not as parents; and as fathers. Participants ranged in age from 19-29, and while most were satisfied with the current level of contact with their male donors, several desired more information or contact with these men, and in some of these cases, had already begun to establish a connection with them.

“This research sheds light on the largely unexplored relationships between the children of lesbian parents and their known donors,” said Goldberg. “The findings suggest that the terrain of chosen families deserves greater attention from researchers, therapists, and other practitioners.”

According to Goldberg and Allen, the tendency for some participants to voice a growing interest in seeing their donors more often than when they were younger indicates a turning point in the participants’ identity that emerges in late adolescence or young adulthood. These individuals may be experiencing greater independence from their mothers, which enables them to craft their own relationships with their donors.

Most of the participants perceived their donors as “just donors,” or as extended family members, and even those who perceived the donors as third parents conceptualized them as tertiary to their primary mothers. According to the study, these participants are drawing upon the traditional heterosexual family lexicon to develop useful and appropriate terms to describe and name their donors, which provides them with the language to clarify the nature of their relationship with their donors.

Among other findings, the study suggests that therapists should allow all family members to define their relationships to one another, and not presume the nature or meaning of terms like “mother” and “father,” especially in the context of lesbian-mother families that utilized known donors. Further, the study also suggests that therapists should be sensitive to the possibility that young adulthood may represent an important time for further identity exploration, especially in terms of relationship formation, and that young adults with lesbian mothers may express particular interest in their known donors during this period.

Click here for the full study

The Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy advances law and public policy through rigorous, independent research and scholarship, and disseminates its work through a variety of education programs and media to judges, legislators, lawyers, other policy makers, and the public.   A national think tank at UCLA Law, the Williams Institute produces high quality research with real-world relevance.  For more information go to:

Photo courtesy of Family Equality Council