The California CryoBank followed in 1975, when Rothman, a urologist who specializes in male infertility, was confronted by more and more women blaming their infertile husbands for the hole in their family lives. “We’d be in my office,” Rothman recalls, “and the woman would look at him and say, ‘Because I married you, I can’t get pregnant?’ ”
That cottage industry has since blossomed into a major business. As Spar writes, the number of US sperm banks increased to 100 in 1999, up from 17 in 1988. And as more people have more success with sperm donation, more people feel like it might be for them. Says Rothman, “When I started, 98 percent of my clients were married couples. Now, nearly 50 percent are single women. [Also], lesbians are less chastised for having children, and it’s a growing population that is becoming equal to that of heterosexual couples.”
The biggest change in the business of sperm donation is the Internet. Historically, each doctor would pick an appropriate donor for a couple; now a woman doesn’t even have to step foot in a clinic: CCB’s Web site contains huge donor databases searchable by any desired trait. Like perusing Match.com, women need only enter a few details — height, ethnicity, or temperament — and out comes a slew of donor information that includes family history and a “personality review.”
For a price, you can get 40-page reports in a donor’s own handwriting, videos, baby pictures. And much like a customized Dell laptop, the sample will reach the customer’s house, depending on the shipping option, in just a few days.
Why I make the cut as a donor
Not surprisingly, the guys whose sperm is most highly sought more closely resemble Abercrombie & Fitch models than bookish journalists. Denmark — think Scandinavian blond — exports far more sperm than any other market.
Although CCB’s Web site includes codes for national origins from Afghan to Yugoslavian, the typical donor has blue eyes, blonde hair, and is more than six feet tall — as opposed to the average 5’9” American male. Which, frankly, I’d aspire to: nobody I know believes the 5’5” on my ID.
When I tell Rothman my particulars on the phone, he is kind, but honest. “Guys under 5’9” . . . eh. We make exceptions . . . Italian women, sometimes they only want full-blooded Italians. Do you have anything about you that might make you exceptional?”
Tons, I want to say. Everything. Shockingly though, nothing leaps to mind.
I do, however, have one surprising ace. “I am Jewish,” I say.
Rothman almost swallows the phone. A real live Jew! Apparently, given our genetic requirements, Jewish women are hard-pressed to find the seeded rye, as it were.
Rothman immediately transfers me to a technician to make an appointment for testing, and the same thing happens: her interest palpably wanes until I mention my lack of foreskin.
“You’re Jewish?” she says, salivating. “Full?” A minute later, I’m getting directions to the Cambridge office.
Get pregnant this week!
The application process is daunting. Because of the risk of HIV, clinics have to quarantine sperm for six months before the application process is considered complete.