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.”