Accepted paper:

"And then we bought the sperm": body substances, economic exchanges and intimacy in lesbian families


Corinna Sabrina Guerzoni (University of Milano-Bicocca)

Paper short abstract:

Based on a fieldwork carried out in northen Italy on lesbian families (2012), this paper explores the changes brought about by the entry of reproductive technologies. I will develop a theoretical framework on the intersection among body substances, sexuality and intimacy.

Paper long abstract:

The contemporary logic of the market seems to have invaded also the kinship sphere. In fact the medically assisted techniques of procreation have caused profound changes on the characteristics traditionally attributed to human reproduction within the euro-american culture: gratitude, intimacy, naturalness. The Italian law 40/2004, prohibiting any type of heterologous fertilization, makes medical techniques only available to heterosexual couples infertile. Ten years after the entrance of the rule does it make sense to use the term "reproductive tourism" to refer to those who are forced to travel outside the country to access reproductive technologies? My paper aims not only to introduce a careful consideration on the sale of body substances necessary for reproductive purposes but also to build a discussion aimed to show how the sperm acquired by lesbian mothers is renegotiated within the intimate domestic space. If the language generally used to refer to such practices seems to have been borrowed from the economy of exchange ("sperm banks", "buying and selling of eggs and gametes"), in the daily use the actors involved in the ethnography do, it assumes contrasting meaning of gratuity. I will try to point out how the commodification of body substances has been eroded in favor of the primacy of love, emotions and intimacy. Particularly revealing in this regard will be the presentation of the emic term used to identify the donor, "Signore Gentile" (translated into "Kind Gentlemen") term that highlights the benefactor act of generosity, in contrast with the dark side of economic exchange

panel P099
Changing intimate exchanges and emerging forms of resistance to intensified self-commodification