There have always been infertile heterosexual couples in need of donor sperm, but with the legalization of gay marriage and the rise of elective single motherhood, the market has expanded over the past decade. About 20 percent of Spermabanken’s customers are heterosexual couples, 60 percent are gay women, and 20 percent are single mothers.
To meet that demand, men provided sperm at a constant rate for years, some banks said. But the coronavirus has changed things. Existing donors were afraid to get on board. New donor registrations were halted for months during the lockdown and never really recovered at some banks. Several banks said they had a lot of old frozen semen in stock, but that it could only last that long.
“Donor recruitment is a growing challenge,” said Scott Brown, vice president of strategic alliances at California Cryobank. “And I would definitely say that people are still very interested in having children.”
Lots of people want smart sperm too. This is why some major banks are near elite colleges. They have sperm collection centers in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University and in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near Harvard. College men are one of the most dependable groups in realizing the potential chaos of creating perhaps 50 biological children around the world for about $ 4,000 over several months – and deciding this is good business.
A donor would typically go to a bank once or twice a week for months to produce enough sperm to sell to dozens of families.
“Much of their recruitment revolves around fraternities, but fraternities don’t come together,” said Rosanna Hertz, chairwoman of women and gender studies at Wellesley College and co-author of Random Families, a book on donor conception. “People want college degree semen, so to speak.”
So the banks became desperate. A recruiter told me that she had started advertising on outdoor paths since the gyms closed. A sales rep from another sperm bank said he hoped management could offer cash rewards to attract donors, but his bosses were concerned about setting a precedent.