Posted Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012, at 2:30 PM
Photograph by Slim Allagui/AFP/Getty Images
Psst, young fella. Want to get lucky? Bank your sperm in a sperm bank and get a vasectomy.
Stay with me here: The latest and most extensive study of the effect of a father’s age on genetic quality came out this week, and the news is grim. A 20-year-old father endows his offspring with about 25 mutations—mostly harmless, but small tweaks to the genetic code that could potentially cause problems for the child. A 40-year-old father bequeaths about 65 mutations. The study also adds to previous evidence that older fathers are more likely to have children who develop autism, schizophrenia, and other brain disorders, probably because so many genes are required for the proper care and feeding of developing brains. A disruption in any one of these genes could have lingering effects.
I know. It’s entirely unfair that biology wants one thing (babies, now!) and culture wants another (maybe a baby or a few eventually, after you finish your education, start your career, travel a bit, and meet somebody really special). But the beautiful thing about modern medicine and technology is that you can overcome biology.
If you choose to bank sperm and get a vasectomy while you are still young, you will immediately get to shut out the societal pressure to reproduce now. (Women who want children have been hectored incessantly about biological clocks for years; they can tell you that it’s no picnic.) Your stored sperm will stay fresh and squirmy for decades. You’re saving time in a bottle.
Plus, chicks are going to dig it. Storing your sperm and having a vasectomy makes you sound considerate, smart, responsible, and forward-thinking. It says that you think men should take just as much responsibility for birth control as women do. Swoon! Anxiety is the ultimate anti-aphrodisiac, and there are few things more anxiety-inducing than a missed pill or broken condom. (True, some women might think your early planning is gross or weird, but you really shouldn’t be dating those women. Stupid gets boring fast.) And if you do decide to have children, you’ll be better prepared financially and emotionally if you wait for the right time and the right partner, and you can still endow the children with the best your genes had to offer.
This idea is not new. One of the first advocates for the cryopreservation birth control technique, strangely enough, was Carl Djerassi. You may not recognize his name, but he’s one of the heroes of all time, the father of the birth control pill, the greatest invention of the last millennium. He felt kind of conflicted that the pill and other hormonal methods put all the responsibility for controlling fertility on women, and he’s been advocating for better options for male birth control for decades. Back in 1981, he estimated that developing a male pill would take 15 to 20 years. We do now have a male pill—for mice—as of last week. It’s going to be a while before there’s a human version. So let’s not wait for it.
Sure, there’s a remote risk that some catastrophic failure of infrastructure will pull power from the sperm banks and deplete all the back-up generators. Maybe some horrible pandemic or a nuclear war or an asteroid impact will cause society to crumble. Your sperm will thaw and die, and any surviving doctors won’t have the resources to reverse your vasectomy. But do you really want to bring a child into such a world anyway?