How does the thought of choosing your child's biological mother or father online appeal to you? Does it seem a little clinical? And yet an increasing number of people are moving towards this as an option.
Nowadays online dating is an accepted, almost commonplace way of trying to find a new partner and yet in the early days it was regarded as a dangerous and rather shameful way of meeting people.
Yes, occasionally there are 'horror' stories of people misrepresenting themselves, using 10 year-old photographs on their profile, sometimes conning people, but those stories tend not to deter other people from continuing to use the sites and meet people. Taking a few safety precautions is recommended but many people have made successful relationships as a consequence of meeting online.
So let's consider those people who are desperate for a baby and have so far not been successful. What options are open to them? The single female who is all too aware that her biological clock is ticking and that time is running out for her unless she meets someone soon, the infertile couple who have exhausted all their available options, the gay couple who want their own child.
Already some people in these situations will have taken matters into their own hands and found solutions. They may have discussed their predicament with friends and found a volunteer who's prepared to be a sperm donor or a surrogate mother; they may have roamed bars or gone online to find someone with whom they could have unprotected sex. No doubt there are people who have parented children as a consequence of using their own initiative.
But this is a rather random approach and in the last few years a new online option has quietly emerged where it is possible to find a potential father or mother for your child and enter into a non-legal arrangement with him or her. Tens of thousands of people are going onto these sites where they are able to specify what they are looking for, in the same way as on a dating site, and then match with someone who has similar requirements.
Some people may want to co-parent, but do so within a platonic relationship. Some people may have been busy building their businesses or careers and then realised that they are fast approaching middle-age, are not in a committed relationship or in any relationship, and are childless.
Then there are men who are happy to be sperm donors, content to know that they have helped others and fathered children; research has shown that middle-aged sperm donors are just as fertile as those in their 20's. Some women may be happy to be egg donors or surrogate mothers, knowing that they are helping people less fortunate than themselves, are providing a generous service.
The aim of these sites is to allow the interested parties to discuss their requirements in a confidential way and then, if they're in agreement, be able to reach a mutually satisfactory way of proceeding. No binding legal agreements feature in these relationships.
I appreciate that some people may find the whole notion of online co-parenting distasteful but then I reflected on a story I recently heard. A friend's child was coming home from school in a very affluent part of the country some 20 years ago. She reported to her mother in a disgusted voice that she was the only child in her class who had both parents living together!
We may aspire to traditional, idealised values but in many homes they are a long-forgotten memory. Let's be thankful for a child that is raised in a home where it is loved, wanted and cared for.