My short, scary career as a sperm donor.

Exploring the "Nobel Prize sperm bank."
June 7 2005 8:47 AM

The Genius Factory

My short, scary career as a sperm donor.

(Continued from Page 2)

Amanda had managed to take a mysterious and sexual and profound process and make it sound exactly like ... a job. I considered asking her about the 401(k) and dental benefits.

Finally, it was time for the money shot. She led me next door to the lab, where three women in lab coats were chatting about their weekends while studying sperm samples under microscopes. They ignored me. When I became a regular donor, Amanda said, I would come straight to the lab to collect a sterile cup and a labeling sticker. She handed me a cup. Amanda pointed to a small incubator—a warm metal box—where I would put the "specimen" when I was done. Next to the incubator was a pile of plastic sachets; they looked like the mustard packets you get with a deli sandwich. "That's KY jelly," she said. "It's nontoxic for sperm. Still, just try not to get it, you know, on the sample."

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The donor room was really no more than a large closet. Fairfax has two of them—sometimes known in the trade as "blue rooms" or "masturbatoriums." A dingy beige love seat was pushed against the far wall. An erotic print hung above the sofa. It was a painting of a woman from behind; she was wearing some diaphanous lingerie. It was pretty sexy, to be honest. On another wall were a clock, a sink, and a cabinet. Amanda handed me a pen and told me to write the time of ejaculation on the cup when I was done. She turned on the taps and instructed, "Wash your hands now with this antibacterial soap, and dry them well. Water is toxic for semen."

"Here's the exhaust fan." She flipped a switch by the door, and a buzzing noise covered the room. She opened the cabinet. "And here are the magazines." She handed me a stack of High Societys, Gallerys, and Playboys, all well-thumbed. "Fairfax Cryobank" was scrawled on the cover of each. Amanda seemed unfazed. I pretended I was unfazed, too.

Who's your daddy?
Who's your daddy?

She gave me the phone number for the chief lab technician and told me to call the next day to find out whether I had a high enough sperm count and whether my guys had survived freezing and thawing. "Now, of 100 men who apply," she said reassuringly, "we only interview 20 or 30. And the vast majority of those—even men who have their own children already—end up being disqualified by sperm count. So don't feel bad if you don't make it." She thanked me for coming in. She flashed me one more gleaming, sexy smile, closed the door, and locked it from the outside.

The next few minutes passed as you would expect and are none of your business.

When I was done, I walked my cup down the hall to the incubator. I tried to catch the eye of one of the technicians, to ask if I could take a sperm paperweight as a souvenir. None of them looked at me.

The next morning, I called the chief lab technician. "I was about to call you," she said. "I have some good news. You passed the freezing and thawing. We want to make arrangements for your second trial specimen—that is, if you are still interested."

I flushed. I couldn't resist asking, "So what were my numbers? What was the count?"

"Your count was about 105 million per milliliter. The usual is around 50 to 60 million. So you are well above average."

I grinned—105 million! I was "well above average." I started to make an appointment for my second deposit, then thought better of it. Hanna was right: Who knew what they were doing with my sperm? The longer I kept up the charade, the greater the possibility that my sperm would end up in the wrong hands (or wrong uterus). I told the tech I needed to check my schedule and would call back. I didn't call back.

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