Is Ed Houben Europe's most virile man?
- 19 March 2014
- From the section Europe
Ed Houben has an unusual pastime. He has slept with scores of women who seek him out for his legendary powers of insemination. As John Laurenson discovers, he doesn't charge.
In a farm house in north-western Germany, heated by a lively fire in a wood-burning stove, a bulky and bespectacled Dutchman - he freely admits he is a bit on the heavy side - makes his way upstairs to the baby's room.
Ed Houben has come to see his daughter for the first time.
He talks gently to the six-week-old baby, and little Madita looks up at him. She is, he says, his 98th child.
Mr Houben is a "charitable sperm donor". He helps lesbian couples, single women and heterosexual couples with fertility problems to have children free of charge.
He started out in 2002 donating sperm to a sperm bank.
But his sperm donating career (he has a day job, by the way, as a tour guide) really hit its stride when the Netherlands, like many other European countries and Canada, banned anonymous sperm donation and he started offering his services for free on the internet.
'Looking for Ed'
He now donates his sperm in the "traditional way". Using the apparatus God gave him rather than a syringe. "Much better chance of conception," he says.
"People probably think it's 'oh he has sex without responsibility' but usually I'm the only person people can talk to if it doesn't work," he says.
What motivates him, he says, is "the beautiful hope of creating a new life that will be loved and looked after".
Madita's mother is a 28-year-old nursery nurse, called Kati, with tattoos of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet on her forearm.
"I am single. I have long wanted to have a child but I could never find the right man," she explains. "So after six years I started looking for [someone like] Ed."
Was it not difficult going to a man that she didn't know… sleeping with a man she didn't know… to make a baby?
"We got to know each other beforehand so it wasn't such a problem," she says.
She wanted to know the man who was going to be the father of her child rather than use an anonymous donation.
"I want to be able to give answers when she starts asking questions," she says.
She also hopes the father will play a role in his daughter's life. They could meet once or twice a year, she suggests.
List of offspring
Back in the council flat where he lives on his own in Maastricht, Mr Houben shows me some of the mugs the children of lesbian couples make for him at kindergarten when they have Father's Day.
There are dozens of photos of children around the place, too. So many he has bought a digital frame. A slideshow of snaps of 89 children scrolls away as we speak.
On his computer he keeps an up-to-date list of his progeny to reduce the risk that they might unwittingly interbreed.
"If, later on, one of my children meets someone who doesn't know who his natural father is, he can consult this list," he says.
On the "upcoming" part of the list there is a British couple that came over after many years of visiting clinics in the USA and the UK.
"They stayed for eight days and - how should I put it correctly? - she and I slept together four times and after almost 10 years of trying they had their first pregnancy."
Last year they visited again, and now they are expecting their second child.
I ask: Is it not difficult for the husbands?
"I can imagine that if you have never been in this situation it would be difficult," he says. "But take the example of a couple from Belarus I just helped.
"They drove 1,000 miles to get here each month for three months. They had been trying for 15 years in clinics… paid all their savings… doctors saying 'it will be all right, it will work' and so on - and it did not work. Usually probably it works but for them it didn't.
"They came here three times and now they have a baby. They are beyond these feelings of 'ooh there's a stranger sleeping with my wife'."
With mothers of his children dotted all around the Netherlands and Europe, how does Mr Houben protect himself against claims for financial assistance?
He seems remarkably relaxed about it. He used to draw up contracts, but since a lawyer advised that they would not guarantee protection, he now relies on good faith.
One day, Mr Houben says, he hopes to find a woman who will want to have his children and start a family with him.
And, if he does, will he find himself a more run-of-the-mill charitable activity?
He will, he says. Definitely. But he looks a bit regretful as he thinks it over.
Perhaps he could just cut down, he suggests. Only impregnate women who have one or two of his children already and want real siblings, for instance.
Back with his 98th baby, her mother unwraps presents he has brought for them. A large chocolate M for her and a rattle for little Madita.
Is her father going to celebrate when he gets to 100?
Well, he does not usually drink, he says. So he can keep up the quality.
But when he gets to his 100th baby he might just make an exception.