The recession, sperm banks, and eugenics

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on August 11th, 2009

We've written before about the increase in women providing eggs for cash during the current economic downturn.(also see news: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) However, this recession - or "mancession" - is hitting men more strongly. Thus, it is not surprising that more men wish to provide sperm in exchange for a hundred bucks. What I find interesting is that this has led to a tightening of standards on the part of the sperm banks. After all, there is neither a a significant shortage of sperm nor a recent increase in its demand.

But the surge in sperm donor applicants doesn’t mean more men are actually profiting. In this business, only the best and the brightest sperm ever make it to market.

When I asked Scott Brown at California Cryo [International in New York] about the basic requirements of being a sperm donor, it started off pretty basic. You have to live near the facility (you’ll be going there a lot), you have to be between 19 and 39, and you have to be in good general health.

But you also have to be 5’10 or taller, go through a series of interviews, take numerous semen and blood tests, submit a family history that goes back at least 3 generations, and have graduated from or be enrolled in a 4-year university. Oh, and the competition is stiff. Most of the accepted donors have gone to places like Stanford, Princeton, Yale, and UCLA.

“It’s easier to get into Harvard than Cryo,” Brown joked. “We have a lot of initial window shoppers.”

By the end of the screening process, only 1% of applicants ever see their sperm on Cryo’s sales rack....

It may seem eugenically unfair (after all, some apples do fall far from the trees), but sperm banks are like any other business, and competition has only gotten tougher in recent years. For starters, advances in technology have made it easier for couples who are reproductively challenged to conceive without hitting up the banks.

“The biggest challenge for us is that the science is always improving,” says Brown. “People who would have been our clients 5 years ago aren’t anymore.”

As the author hints, the result is just more eugenic pressures on getting the "best" sperm.

Update (Aug. 19): A new cartoon from The New Yorker:

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Posted in Assisted Reproduction, Eugenics, Jesse Reynolds's Blog Posts


Add a Comment
  1. Comment by Jesse Reynolds, Aug 18th, 2009 9:55am

    Thanks for the comments. CAMCAM: Issues of race intersect with a free market in assisted reproductive technologies in a number of troubling ways. A great item to read is

    Dorothy Roberts, "Race and the New Reproduction," in Killing the Black Body(New York: Pantheon, 1997), pages 104-149

    available at

    See also Dov Fox, "Racial Classification in Assisted Reproduction," Yale Law Journal

    Although I'll admit that I've not read the latter closely.

  2. Comment by Bionic Brooklynite, Aug 18th, 2009 4:56am

    It's unfortunate, because many people using sperm banks aren't interested in "ideal" donors, but in donors who resemble themselves or their partners. I've heard plenty of frustration from women seeking non-white donors or short donors at the lack of supply. It's tough to avoid being accused of creating a "perfect" (tall, white, etc.) baby when "imperfect" donors aren't available.

    As for the first poster's concerns about family history: most banks do provide family history, and open ID/ID consent programs now available at many banks allow offspring to contact the donors if they wish to.

  3. Comment by Barbara Sumner Burstyn, Aug 15th, 2009 11:35pm

    How tragic for the sperm donors offspring. The donor has the privilege of being able to go back three generations in providing his family history. His offspring are denied even that most basic human right. All for 100 bucks. And the consumer demand for a commoditized child.

  4. Comment by CAMCAM, Aug 13th, 2009 7:43am

    Great post. The eugenic implications are quite explicit. Eugenic seems to divide the word in two halves, however: the fit and unfit. I'd like to see more on the relationship between reproductive technologies, eugenic-thinking, and racialized populations. Questions: Are minoritized populations seeking reproductive technologies? Or, are only white populations of a particular class opting for "assistance?" If whites are not the only ones seeking help, what role does eugenic-thinking play among minoritized populations seeking reproductive assistance? For example, what are the criteria that African American or Latino families are using to chose "fit" donors? Also, in their quest to sell the best sperm, are repro-clinics seeking out "the fittest" minorities from Harvard or Yale? I'm very interested. Thanks.



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