What It's Like To Donate Sperm To A Sperm Bank
Walking out of your apartment with the intent to masturbate is an uneasy feeling.
It's uneasier knowing you'll be doing so legally, safe from the handcuffs and stigma that follow the perverts whacking off in the subway.
I really had to giggle at the thought of the whole thing. There are loopholes everywhere in this world, as long as you know how to find them. And here I was, swiping my MetroCard with a hop in my step and an eye toward one of those mythical destinations you know is real, but hidden, crammed into cities like secrets.
The sperm bank was a place that didn't just look fondly on masturbation, but encouraged it and would pay you for it.
As far as loopholes go, the sperm bank, just by existing, felt like a long overdue affirmation to my 12-year-old self, who, I swear to God, would have ejaculated on his eggs every morning if he could.
Because no matter who he grows to be, every adult male comes from a squirming, semen-crazed cretin led around for years by the wrong head. It's embarrassing on some level, but real and unavoidable and completely normal on another.
It's important to remember who you are and where you come from.
I hate my 12-year-old self, but he's really nothing to be afraid of, and he deserves some love because it was all he wanted. So I channeled him as I skipped off the subway and into the shambolic normalcy of Lexington Avenue at noon.
Walking against traffic, I weaved and swerved through the 401(k) fray: dejected finance types, the wind blowing their ties up their necks; preppy, young go-getters, wearing purple on purpose; determined women in pantsuits on important hands-free calls; bald heads reflecting off every possible surface – windows, windshields, the wind itself.
Everything steel, everything imposing, everything sculpted. Yet, somehow, everything also severely edgeless.
I often feel like an infiltrator in this area, which feels like one big savings account built on Yes Men and 40th-floor favors. Like me, all of them had 12-year-old versions of themselves, but they'd all been beaten out of them, like boners tucked up in the waistbands of their own lives.
After split seconds of studying their faces, their burdens were plain to see: These people seemed completely unaware of their proximity to a biology lab that basically doubled as a modern relief station. They needed a release.
I smiled at them from under sunglasses as I approached the lab's building: a gray monstrosity branded as an “office spa.” Glass doors separated the street from a white, modern lobby.
A concierge buzzed me through without judgment. Instead, he grinned, too. That validated mine and doubled as a tap on my 12-year-old self's shoulder, almost as if to say: “See buddy, you weren't so bad after all.”
For those who don't know, sperm banks (or cryobanks) store and distribute donated bodily fluids and tissues to people who need such things. The stock is disproportionately semen, but also includes embryos, oocytes, ovarian tissue, testicular tissues, and more.
Sperm samples are analyzed for potency, shape, vitality and health and, if accepted, are frozen until a later date. Women interested in in vitro fertilization then review stored samples, hand selecting traits they'd prefer in their child.
This makes cryobanks the ultimate Darwinian battlefield.
In vitro fertilization isn't rare, but it's still relatively uncommon, and given the size of the potential donor base, requirements are strict. Most banks won't accept a donor shorter than five foot seven, and overweight donors are generally rejected. Some clinics accept only 1 percent of donor applicants.
Certain characteristics are in higher demand statistically. Mothers want their babies to come from doctors more often than from taxi drivers, for example. They'd rather their babies not have certain genetic frailties, like a familial history of diabetes.
They also disproportionally want semen of Italian ancestry, for whatever reason.
In vitro fertilization is typically an upper class option, so it only makes sense that such mothers would prefer donors with more white collar professions, backgrounds and appearances.
Basically, what that means for dudes is: If you want to be a donor, you need to be tall, strong, fit for breeding and an exemplary model of traditional success.
Blue-eyed, spaghetti-loving brain surgeons who are somehow six-foot-four and free at noon on a Thursday — that's the archetype. The reality is, most donors are young men with flexible hours who could use the cash. Like me.
I pressed the elevator button and squirmed anxiously as the doors closed, excited to see how my swimmers stacked up.
If you want to be a donor, you need to be tall, strong, fit for breeding and an exemplary of traditional success. Blue-eyed, spaghetti-loving brain surgeons who are somehow six-foot-four and free at noon on a Thursday — that's the archetype. The reality is, most donors are young men with flexible hours who could use the cash. Like me.
The fourth floor opened to a tiled hallway lining two separated office spaces. The kind of fluorescent lights you'd see in a dentist office bathed the corridor, giving it a sterile feel, like somehow this was the test tube and you were already in it. A very strange meta/horny combo ethos filled the room.
And that was when I walked past all the jizz decorations.
That's right, jizz decorations. At the end of the hallway, two glass doors signaled the entrance to the donor section of the cryobank. Through the glass, it looked not unlike your typical doctor's office waiting room: portable chairs lining a path to a receptionist window, a non-functioning television hanging above nervous patients, magazines, snacks.
But if you zoomed OUT and focused on the doors themselves, it suddenly became apparent this wasn't a typical clinic.
You know how a kindergarten teacher will print out unthreatening cartoons of animals, like a lion, and staple them to a bulletin board? It's for decoration, but it's also supposed to help the kids learn about vowels, and "lion" has two vowels in it.
But they don't print out an image of a lion dismantling a zebra carcass. They print out an image of him smiling, giving a thumbs up — whatever.
Well, the glass doors of this clinic are decorated with similar images of sperm. Seriously. Animated blue swimmers glued to the doors welcome donors in what functions as a disarmingly transparent greeting and super-effective confirmation that, yes, they're in the right place.
A printout reading “DONOR ENTRANCE” sits scotched-taped between the fake swimmers. The clinic literally makes you walk through the sea to come in.
So, that's what I did.
They make you fill out forms. Lots of forms.
The booklet sat eight pages deep in the clipboard. A warm, post-grad liberal type with a Lena Dunham haircut handed it to me at the receptionist's desk, right before informing me I wouldn't be paid for this visit.
I recognized her as the woman who'd answered my email inquiry and scheduled the visit. Donors are only paid after they've been accepted, she said. Today was my trial run.
All right, I said. I understand.
I sat down with my new tome. The cover page was filled with highlighted text and capital letters.
PLEASE READ INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY.
WRITE CLEARLY AND LEGIBLY ON ALL PAPERWORK.
WRITE TODAY'S DATE ON EVERY PAGE WHERE DESIGNATED.
PRINT YOUR FULL LEGAL NAME AT THE BOTTOM OF EVERY PAGE.
PLEASE INITIAL AND DATE ANY CORRECTIONS THAT HAVE BEEN MADE.
Very ominous, all these directions. Very clinical. Not exactly an aphrodisiacal environment.
I flipped the page.
First, they want to know all your medical history, then all your genetic history, then all the medical history of your family.
Do you have any history of epilepsy, of hepatitis, of Zika, of this, of that? How many maternal uncles do you have? How many paternal aunts? Where did they come from? Where are they now?
Have you ever traveled out of the country? Where? Have you ever traveled within the country? When? Where? Have you ever been incarcerated? Do you have piercings? Pages and pages of this.
Finally, you turn to a page that asks you to detail your sexual history. The questionnaire asks you how many sexual partners you've had in the past 12 months, then asks you to itemize them and gives you five spaces to do so. Five.
Not only do they expect me to remember my sexual partners, but they only leave room for five? Hilarious.
I literally burst into laughter. Good thing I was the only one waiting.
The questionnaire asks you how many sexual partners you've had in the past 12 months, then asks you to itemize them and gives you five spaces to do so. Five. Not only do they expect me to remember my sexual partners, but they only leave room for five? Hilarious. I literally burst into laughter.
You're also asked to itemize what protection you used, each time, with each partner. It was an exhausting exercise in memory and challenge that I ultimately succumbed to.
I couldn't help but lie on that part. I just didn't know.
Shortly after, a man entered — mid-30s, blue sweater, trendy jeans, bald head and beard. He looked as if he could be coming from anywhere in New York.
Walking up to the receptionist, he removed a card from his pocket and swiped it against a card reader while in stride. The readers activated a light a door leading inside the office, unlocking it.
I gathered he was an active donor, someone who's already been screened. Active donors are typically allowed to donate several times per week. Each time, they received about as much money as I do for these columns.
The man didn't look up or make eye contact with anyone. He just walked in.
Because I'm a dick, I made a note of the time.
Over the next few minutes, I fucked up the forms multiple times while my blood sugar dropped considerably and while, I imagine, Bald Man enjoyed himself.
I handed my completed forms to the Lena Dunham woman, was told to wait and then was handed them back by a perky, organized type who emerged from the back of the office and put me more in the mood.
She had complicated brown eyes that bristled with this mix of compassion and authority and “you want to fuck me” matter-of-factness. They almost made me guilty for being there, selling the future children I could legitimately imagine giving her.
“This entire section needs to be filled in,” she told me calmly.
“I missed an entire section?”
She smiled like I wasn't the first idiot, and wouldn't be the last.
“I missed lunch,” was my lame excuse.
“That's why we have snacks,” she said. “Help yourself.”
I hadn't noticed just how amazing a collection of treats this waiting room offered — popcorn, corn chips, protein bars, granola bars, trail mix, cheese doodles (!!).
Being the only one there, I decided to load up before Bald Man reemerged. I went to town, sprinkling crumbs all over the questionnaire, which was now asking me which street drugs, if any, I'd ingested in the past two weeks. You mean besides cheese doodles?
I returned the forms. Boss Lady approved them, eyeing the popcorn scraps on my upper lip. She asked me a few more questions, squinted suspiciously and asked me to sit again.
On the way back to my chair, I noticed a portable refrigerator in the corner of the room. It was labeled “DONOR REFRIGERATOR.”
Please, I thought, tell me that's there to store food.
Boss Lady receded out of sight, and it was just me again. I had half a mind to open up the fridge and see for myself when Bald Man emerged again from the glass doors, his head down, never breaking his pace as he exited in a hurry.
I looked at my watch. 11.5 minutes. That's what I'll shoot for, I thought.
Lena Dunham instructed me to walk through the glass doors to a back room where I would deposit my sample. She handed me an empty plastic beaker with a blue label, a sticker with my name on it.
“After you've deposited your sample, you'll see designated carts in the hallway,” she said. “You'll leave your sample there to be analyzed, and we'll notify you in a few days.”
I nodded and made my way down the hall where four small examination rooms waited, all empty. I chose the closest one and looked at my watch.
The room was painted red and nondescript. A single portable chair sat in the middle, next to an end table. A sink rested on the back wall below a sign, imploring patients to wash their hands.
Another sign informed that lubrication was available upon request. Another non-functioning television hung from the wall. (I assume it was non-functioning; I didn't want to touch anything more than I had to.) A stack of Hustler Magazines were sprawled and weathered on the table.
I closed the door. What a treat, I thought. Magazine porn.
I grew up with Internet porn, never even considering magazine porn. It's kind of like the way millennials view newspapers: unnecessary, burdensome relics. But here it was, my only option.
I wondered if it would even work.
It did. I started to climb. Suddenly, my original thought, the one that hit me as I walked out the door earlier in the day, occurred again.
I was going to expose myself in public, and by that, I mean outside of the privacy of my own home.
There wouldn't be repercussions. There would not be police. There was nothing indecent about this exposure, and that's a very odd concept to wrap your head around, particularly when so much blood is rushing from it.
Young men are trained from such a young age to hide their boners. It's a technique in survival education that evolves as they age, and as the stakes rise. We know instinctively they are important, they are delicate, they are to be cherished and used.
Not long after we start sprouting, we are told our erections are rude, they are wrong, they are even criminal, and we spend the next 50 years or so stuffing them up into our waistbands in fear of being ostracized.
Much of a young man's adolescence is an education in curtailing his erections, harnessing them in an attempt to protect himself. So to sit there without trepidation really was a trip.
I giggled aloud and wondered if anyone could hear. While I'm here, I thought, I might as well enjoy it, so I rattled off some puns in my head.
“If my actual children ever say their father sold them down the river, tell them they have no idea!” I thought.
“Here I am, about to put in a hard day's work!” I snickered.
It all became too much. I looked at my watch. Six minutes killed. That's more than enough time wasted.
I sat down, exhaled and unzipped.