ONLINE ONLY: The World of Sperm Donation





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Thought getting into Berkeley was hard?  That's like walking your dog compared to getting to be a sperm donor. The Sperm Bank of California has a blistering 10 percent acceptance rate compared to UC Berkeley's 24 percent.

"We run blood tests or urine tests, we screen for HIV, hepatitis, syphilis, a whole list of STDs. We also screen donors for genetic conditions and cystic fibrosis," said Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California.

Becoming a sperm donor isn't exactly a simple roll of the dice. There's an extensive eight week screening process involved, which donors are compensated for only if potential donors pass the tests.

"On top of all of the health screenings that we do, we also do a semen analysis. A large percentage of the sperm cells die when you freeze them and then thaw them again. About 50 to 80 percent. That's a really high percentage drop off. So you have to have someone who has a fairly high sperm count to begin with. Either they have a sperm count that that's not high enough or if their particular samples don't freeze very well," Ruby said.

Even if donors have a high sperm count they must pass the behavioral screening that takes place during this eight-week period.

"We also do some behavioral screening, so based on someone's behavior we may decide not to take them," Ruby said. "We also get a detailed health history, which would be information on their own health as well as their siblings, their parents and grandparents. We do that to track and see if there are any possible genetic conditions." Assuming that a donor is one out of the ten who makes it this far, he is obligated to visit at least once a week for a full year. But that's like sprinkling the lawn compared to what's next.

"To meet the minimum sperm count, donors must refrain from ejaculating for at least 48 hours in advance of each visit," says the sperm-donor hotline.

The Sperm Bank of California has been around since 1982 and was the first in the nation to start an "ID-release" program.

"Donors can choose to be 'ID release.' That means whenever any offspring get to be 18 years old they can request contact and ID information on the donor," said Ruby.

The ID release program isn't the only thing that sets California's sperm bank apart from all the other ones in the country. The Sperm Bank of California serves an unorthodox demographic.

"About 65-70 percent of our clients are lesbian couples. Another 15-20 percent are single women," Ruby said. "The remainder are heterosexual couples. Our particular sperm bank has always been providing access to semen samples for all women or couples who wanted to grow their families. In much of the country you'll find that the majority of the couples at sperm banks are heterosexuals."

Samples range from 175 to 200 dollars a pop. Sperm samples have a near indefinite shelf life once they're frozen.

"When people think about sperm donors I think their mind goes to thinking it's part of the sex industry. But we're really just a warm and friendly place and we're just trying to help people have families. We'd love if more male students wanted to become donors," Ruby said.

But whether a donor is a student or not, the bank offers plenty of reading material.

"Our donation rooms have magazines in them," Ruby said. "Some sperm banks also provide videos and things like that, but our rooms are not sound-proof so we don't provide any videos."

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