This reporter was saddened to learn that despite being in excellent health and holding two master’s degrees from an Ivy League university, he is at least an inch and a half too short to donate highly desirable sperm. How humbling.
Although I didn’t make the height requirement (you have to be at least 5-foot-8) it might have made a difference if I were a classically trained musician or a medical doctor. (Advanced degrees in journalism don’t count.) Xytex claims only about one in 10 men make the grade.
“People are very choosy,” Towles says. “We’ve had requests for Brad Pitt’s semen.”
Celebrities and politicians have used Xytex’s services, although Towles can’t name names. And while folks can be very specific in their requests, you can’t yet purchase sperm of the stars.
However, if you want a donation from a blue-eyed, 6-foot, blond doctor who is Catholic and likes the outdoors, many sperm banks can deliver. And that’s one reason U.S. sperm banks have a competitive advantage.
“America is a big country, with a diverse population. It’s easier for us to get what people want than for competitors in homogenous countries,” Towles says.
The Laissez-Faire Semen Trade
You might think foreign countries wouldn’t have to look abroad for sperm. You should be able to count on domestic production. But American companies benefit because the United States has fewer restrictions on the buying and selling of sperm than in other countries.
Denmark also exports a lot of human sperm. But donations there and in many other countries are anonymous. And these days, customers want semen with a pedigree.
Xytex often provides clients with photos of the donor and the offspring he’s helped produce, along with detailed biography.
Middle Eastern and Asian sperm are harder to come by, for cultural reasons. Towles says its quite common for a Japanese couple to travel to the United States for fertility assistance.
Lauren Owenby of the Georgia Department of Industry Trade and Tourism helps promote U.S. human sperm abroad. “It’s funny collecting information on this,” she says. “When I called the Danish Consulate, the man there thought I was asking him for his sperm.
“Then I had to explain, I just wanted his country’s regulations.”
Georgia has 11 foreign trade offices, and Owenby has gathered trade information. “Because it is unusual to export sperm, we investigate local laws and trade practices,” she says. But the practice is becoming more acceptable.
For American men who qualify, becoming a sperm donor can be somewhat lucrative. You earn about $50 for each vial you fill. Xytex has 10,000 samples on hand, each one contains about 15,000 sperm.
Some might call it a commentary on society that human sperm and cattle sperm sell for about the same amount on the open market. It’s interesting to note that the United States is a leader in the sale of both commodities, although you can hardly call them interchangeable items.
In fact, sperm from a top bull can sell for $200.
“A specimen of that caliber is really hard to come by. The animal has been carefully bred and almost considered a one-of-a-kind creature,” says Brenda Hastings of World-wide Sires in Visalia, Calif., which ships bovine genetic material to 70 countries.
“I don’t think they can measure humans that way. Not yet, anyway.”
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.