Dozens of young women have had virgin births after undergoing IVF in Britain, it has been reported.

Four major British fertility firms said they had assisted in such cases, with doctors suggesting there have been at least 25 such births in the past five years.

Fertility doctors said single women who had never had sexual intercourse were seeking donor-assisted treatment - at a cost of around $12,000 - because they wanted to have a child now and save sex for a "special relationship".

Others said their cases involved women with a fear of sex. The decision to provide fertility treatment in such cases has been criticised by religious groups, who said it undermined the importance of bringing up children in stable marriages.

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Care Fertility, which runs five centres across England, is among the clinics to confirm virgin births. Maha Ragunath, medical director of its clinic in Nottingham, said: "The number of single women I see has doubled over the last decade and single women now account for at least ten per cent of my patients.

"A lot of them are very young, in their twenties, sometimes studying or doing very ordinary jobs and often living with their parents, rather than career women who have been driven and focused too much on their work.

"When I ask them why they are coming for treatment, very often the response is that they are ready to have a child and they don't want to wait around for the right partner to come along," she told the Mail on Sunday.

"A small percentage have never been in a relationship and never had sexual intercourse," she added.

Doctors remove embryo samples from cryogenic storage. Photo / Getty Images
Doctors remove embryo samples from cryogenic storage. Photo / Getty Images

Over the last three years, she has provided successful treatment to three virgin women; one a nurse, another living at home with her parents, and a third who needed multiple rounds of IVF, she said.

Other IVF firms helping virgin women to conceive include the London Women's Clinic, Create Fertility, and the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre. Britain's NHS does not fund such cases.

Tracey Sainsbury, a senior fertility counsellor and research officer at the London Women's Clinic, said she saw about two single, virgin women a year wanting to have a baby.

"Some have never had a relationship, others have been in a relationship but never had sexual intercourse, some are single lesbian women; for others there may be psychological or medical reasons why they have never had sex," she said.

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Josephine Quintavalle, from the pro-life campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "What is the child for these women? A teddy bear that they pick off the shelf?

"The message from nature is for a male and female to have a child, and I am saddened that we are willing to distort this."

James Newcome, the Bishop of Carlisle, said such trends could damage society.

"The ideal is that a child has a mother and a father who are married to each other. All the evidence shows that is the best context for a child," he said.

In New Zealand, Dr Simon Kelly, Medical Director Fertility Associates Auckland, says while virgin births are not something he is seeing here, there is an increase in single women looking at fertility options.

"The average age we are seeing women [for IVF] in New Zealand is 37-years-old. We are seeing more single women coming in looking at their fertility options. Their age group usually ranges from mid to late 30s."

He says often the reasons behind the single women seeking fertility treatment is due to a breakup coupled with consideration for their biological clock.

"Their relationship has just broken down and they find themselves having to make a very real decision about their own biological clock. And rather than leave it to chance, they are wanting to have a baby using a donor.

"We have also seen an increase of women wanting to freeze their eggs to be used at a later date."

- Additional reporting, NZ Herald