This Bank Has High In­te­rest, and High Re­qui­re­ments


The pri­ce of any­thing in a mar­ket eco­no­my ri­ses when de­mand out­paces sup­p­ly — even for so­me­thing that is de­li­ve­r­ed by the hund­reds of mil­li­ons.

Mo­re wo­men who want fa­mi­lies are vi­sit­ing sperm banks, which has dri­ven the cost of a vi­al to as much as $1,000 in the Uni­ted Sta­tes. Do­zens of sperm banks are re­cruit­ing men to help them meet the gro­wing need. But, Ta­mar Le­win wro­te in The Ti­mes, “Your odds of get­ting in­to Har­vard or St­an­ford are hig­her than your chan­ces of being ac­cep­ted as a do­nor at the ma­jor sperm banks.”

Se­veral things can ex­clu­de a po­ten­ti­al do­nor, in­clu­ding his health his­to­ry, a less-than-hund­reds- of­mil­li­ons sperm count and being short. Whi­te men un­der 175 cen­ti­me­ters need not ap­p­ly.

“The bar is lo­wer for mem­bers of eth­nic groups that tend to be shor­ter,” Mr. Le­win wro­te. “And gi­ven a per­pe­tu­al lack of Af­ri­can-Ame­ri­can do­nors, height may not be a dis­qua­li­fier for black do­nors.”

But the sup­p­ly seems to be de­cli­ning, no mat­ter how tall the man is. Sci­en­tists say that an in­cre­a­sing pro­por­ti­on of sperm, Ni­cho­las Kris­tof re­por­ted in The Ti­mes, “are miss­ha­pen, so­me­ti­mes with two heads or two tails.” And it’s no small por­ti­on: In a ty­pi­cal man, it’s now about 90 per­cent.

“Even when pro­per­ly shaped, to­day’s sperm are of­ten pa­the­tic swim­mers, vee­ring li­ke drunks or paddling cra­zi­ly in cir­cles,” he wro­te. “Sperm counts al­so ap­pe­ar to ha­ve drop­ped shar­ply in the last 75 ye­ars, in ways that af­fect our abili­ty to re­pro­du­ce.”

Mr. Kris­tof ci­ted stu­dies that po­int to en­do­cri­ne dis­rup­tors, a ty­pe of che­mi­cal, as a cul­prit for the poor qua­li­ty of to­day’s sperm. The­se che­mi­cals are found in plas­tics, pesti­ci­des, cos­me­tics and other pro­ducts. Al­so to bla­me, he said, is an in­crea­se in testi­cu­lar can­cer, un­de­scen­ded testi­cles and a con­ge­ni­tal mal­for­ma­ti­on of the pe­nis cal­led hy­po­s­pa­di­as.

“I think we are at a turning po­int,” Niels Erik Skak­ke­baek, a Da­nish fer­ti­li­ty scho­lar, told The Ti­mes. “It is a mat­ter of whe­ther we can sus- tain our­sel­ves.”

Den­mark and ma­ny coun­tries around the world, in­clu­ding South Ko­rea, Spain, Ger­ma­ny and Ita­ly, are qui­te con­cer­ned with re­pro­duc­tive sustaina­bi­li­ty. It might not be just be­cau­se of the quan­ti­ty and qua­li­ty of sper­ma­to­zoa.

The bir­thra­te hasn’t be­en a worry for Swe­den un­til re­cent­ly, when it star­ted to drop, though it still has one of the hig­hest in the Eu­ro­pean Uni­on, ac­cor­ding to Eu­ro­s­tat.

The de­crea­se trou­bled a coun­cil­man in Over­tor­nea, Swe­den, en­ough that he pro­po­sed a weekly, hour­long sex break from work — sub­si­di­zed by the go­vern­ment. The Ti­mes re­por­ted that Per-Erik Mus­kos’ idea was met with re­sis­tan­ce from peop­le who said it’s not the go­vern­ment’s re­s­pon­si­bi­li­ty to tell peop­le to go ho­me and ha­ve sex.

But Ma­lin Hans­son, a spe­cia­list in re­pro­duc­tive health in Go­then­burg, said the initia­ti­ve didn’t go far en­ough. “If it was up to me,” she said, “I would in­tro­du­ce this across the coun­try. In Swe­den, sex is con­side­red just ano­ther ac­tivi­ty.”

Others agreed that the pro­po­sal should go fur­ther, but for a dif­fe­rent re­a­son: they need mo­re than an hour.

“We should en­cou­ra­ge pro­crea­ti­on,” Mr. Mus­kos said. “I be­lie­ve that sex is of­ten in short sup­p­ly.”

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