Researching sensitive field: Some lessons from a study of sperm donors in Israel

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Research fields that may imperil one's privacy and dignity present particular methodological challenges to researchers. Gaining a closer look into such fields therefore requires a subtle research design. The present study aims to look at the research of donor insemination (DI) in Israel in order to show the methodological variety required for the study of diverse aspects of this sensitive field of practice. The authors applied a sequential mixed design whose flexibility allowed us to gain access to a relatively broad range of spheres of practice. They started with two qualitative strands, policy analysis and semi-structured interviews with doctors, which conveyed the state's and professionals' perspectives. However, when the authors wanted to study DI recipients, the medical staff ruled out any direct contact on grounds of patient confidentiality and singled out questionnaires as the only acceptable method. On the basis of the previously acquired knowledge, they devised a questionnaire which was delivered to DI recipients in five clinics in Israel. In the last strand of the project, they analyzed the donor registry in another DI clinic, which gave a glimpse into recipients' (and staff's) preferences and choices regarding the donors themselves. The diverse data that had been gathered could support a comprehensive argument about the political-professional-cultural shaping of DI as a last resort, somewhat dubious solution to male infertility. The study showed how, in this extremely sensitive field of life and practice, the pragmatic mixing of methods played a vital enabling role. The paper takes a fresh look at a relatively unaccessible, under-studied field of social policy and practice, and suggests a methodological approach to this sensitive field.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-439
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Sociology and Social Policy
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - 24 Oct 2008


  • Community health services
  • Consumers
  • Family
  • Israel
  • Social policy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (all)


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