I don’t know why I’m never quoted in trend-pieces about What the Millennials Are Doing. I’m 23. I live in Brooklyn. I’m a perpetually underemployed graduate of a highly ranked East Coast university. I live with a female roommate who owns a lot of ramekins. And I decided to become a sperm donor to make ends meet In This Economy.
Manual labor jobs are on the decline, you know. Based on how winded I got trying to move a box of books into a new apartment a few months back, I probably couldn’t survive in a manual-labor-based economy, but like anybody with a steady flow of testosterone, I still like to think I could. They also say women are better suited to skills like communication and teamwork, the kinds of things that supposedly make you successful in an office environment. That sort of makes sense for me. I work as a writer, but, like the characters on "Breaking Bad," I never answer my phone, and when I do try to talk on it, I act like the characters on "Downton Abbey."
I am actually a little terrified of this idea of women displacing and no longer needing men, if only because I have a lot of free time to spend getting terrified. I’m not sure I should admit this sort of thing on the enlightened Internet, but after e-mailing my resume to five hundred HR representatives who have invariably been female, and very rarely getting even a reply acknowledging I exist, I’ve now come to assume, based on absolutely no evidence, that women discriminate against men in hiring practices. If those theories about men’s unsuitability to the modern economy are right, it makes sense they would do that. Women belong in the conference room, and men belong in the kitchen, making sandwiches for that catered lunch in the conference room.
But still, in a society that no longer needs men for anything, there will definitely be women who are interested in having children. So we will still need sperm donation. I’m fairly sure I wrote a college term paper on why this sort of thing is exploitation, but now I consider it a funny solution to paying my bills. (That's the difference between being in college and being freshly out of college.) So if sperm donation is the future of the male economy, I might as well get in now before the market is flooded.
This is the sort of rationale with which a man, with his less-desirable brain, needs to arm himself if he's ever going to make the ludicrous decision to impregnate a bunch of people with children he will never meet.
Here’s another good line of reasoning, one that speaks to angsty, entitled, self-hating, misanthropic Millennials everywhere: sperm donation allows you to populate the world with dozens of little versions of you. It’s the ultimate vengeance on the society that doesn't yet recognize your amazing gifts.
I’ve never been known to fill palaces with my concubines. I don’t (as of yet) feel any call of nature telling me to spread my seed. But since your elders are actively denying you the jobs that you would allow you entry into the middle class they are simultaneously destroying, filling their lives with your lazy, helpless genetics is one way to get back at them.
Impoverished teenage mothers do not buy vials of sperm. In all likelihood, the children created with your sperm will be born into relatively well-off families. Your sperm kids will go to school with the kids of those people who refuse to read your resume. Your sperm kids will infiltrate their homes, spoiling playdates and ruining their carpet. Then your sperm kids will infiltrate their genetics, through intermixing with the biological children of the privileged.
We shouldn’t be occupying Wall Street's money banks, is what I’m saying. It's time to occupy the sperm banks.
This mindset really works. Suddenly the job market no longer makes me feel so inadequate. Clearly it’s time to inflict my children on the world.
It turns out sperm donation, like so many of the world’s most beautiful things, begins on Craigslist. That is where top-notch sperm bank California Cryobank posts a want-ad every few days. From what I can gather from a little Googling, they’re the sperm bank in New York that pays the best, so this is where I applied. (California Cryobank New York is not to be confused with Manhattan CryoBank. Also, there are no sperm credit unions to my knowledge.) “We are constantly recruiting males from all ethnicities, religions, and races, but we currently have an increased need for Jewish, hispanic/Latino, full-blooded Italian, African American, and Filipino men,” their ad read. “We also need full-blooded men of European descent with US citizenship.” I am one of those things!
I took their online screening. I look pretty attractive on paper. I’m over 5’9” tall, between the ages of 19 and 38, and have a degree from a "four-year university." I have blond hair and blue eyes and probably lots of other recessive genes the rich people crave. The bloodlines are strong; I was lucky enough to get to know most of my great-grandparents before they died, and I had a great-great grandmother who lived to be 107. This father-to-be may have once eaten part of a burrito he found on the street when he was drunk, but he has an incredible family medical history.
A day later, California Cryobank e-mailed me to say that I'd passed the initial screening. I then have to fill out a more extensive application form and bring it in to my appointment.
The importance of discretion with these people is clear. When I called them to schedule my donation sesh, California Cryobank did not give any indication of what their business is when they answer the phone. “Is it okay to leave a detailed message?” the application form asks after requesting my phone number. Nobody involved in this (including me, probably) wants anybody to know I’m a sperm donor. From time to time, I will rendezvous at a certain location and… produce material for them. That’s the deal.
The form telegraphs clearly what they’re looking for in a sperm producer. They want to see that I’ve graduated or am attending college, am healthy, know my ethnic ancestry, am not an alcoholic or drug user, and can detail whether or not my blood relatives have had any of a litany of diseases. (Prospective parents probably wouldn’t want to see that my youngest cousin had lymphoma before he reached kindergarten, so let’s just leave that “cancer prior to the age of 50” box unchecked. I mean, he’s my youngest cousin. He almost didn’t even happen. Wow, it sure is easy to lie on here!)
There are some stranger questions on this form. They want me to list my sexual partners from the past year and any protection I’ve used with them. (Choices include: "i.e., condom; none.”) They want to be sure I haven’t had “persistent white spots” in my mouth or “persistent diarrhea” (presumably not in my mouth). They want to know if I’ve been incarcerated, lived in any weird European countries for more than a month, or have a habit of sleeping with hemophiliacs. And then there's question 39: “Since 1980, have you ever been injected with insulin?" I thought those scary New York insulin stabbings stopped in the 70s.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this form, however, is how carefully they try to find out just how near gay you get, without ever explicitly asking it. “Within the last 5 years, have any of your sexual partners been male?” it asks. Unsatisfied with that, it has another go a few questions later: “Within the last 12 months, have any of your sexual partners had sex with a male who has had male sexual partners?” Hmm. “All at the same time?” I want to write, but I end up guessing "No." (Do people actually know these things?)
I’m also asked to give them a few childhood photos of myself (see above) so prospective parents will have some idea what the sperm they’re buying looks like in person form. This seems to be important to California Cryobank. On their website, you can search for sperm donors based on what celebrities they are said look like, with choices ranging from Taylor Lautner to Mike Piazza to Sufjan Stevens, or Colin Hanks to Tom Hanks to “Tom Hanks (young).” So basically you can buy five vials of Ryan Gosling and one Steve Buscemi and play Russian roulette.
There’s one more catch to this process. California Cryobank advertises that donors can earn $1200 a month, at $100 a pop. This seems to be calculated by the fact that their office is only open five days a week, and donors have to wait 48 hours between each ejaculation. In other words, California Cryobank and I would have to be more or less monogamous.
I headed to their offices that Friday morning to give my first sample for them to analyze. Like many things people use for masturbation, California Cryobank’s New York location comes concealed in unmarked packaging: it’s located on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building near Grand Central.
I walked in behind a bearded twentysomething with thick, black-framed glasses (so this is officially a Millennial trend piece!) who appears to be a regular here. California Cryobank has a small waiting room similar to a dentist’s office, but it certainly doesn’t look like one. They have a shiny steel-colored shag rug below a chrome coffee table and uncomfortable-looking modern furniture. The process of conceiving a child with a sperm donor has apparently got to be cold and alienating, and they really did a bang-up job matching the décor to it.
The bearded guy talked with the receptionist in the window, and then was asked to enter some kind of pin number into a keypad. Access inside was approved, I guess, and then he was handed a transparent plastic cup and told to have a great weekend.
I handed in my form and I sat down and looked at the metal swirl of a coffee table, with its unsexy spread of news and action sports magazines. The receptionist eventually handed me a procreation cup of my own and led me through a sealed door. At the end of a hallway, she showed me the lab. A cart blocked the doorway; that's where I was to set my specimen, in a little compartment, when I’m finished. (Yes, she called it a “specimen.” It seems a little forward for them to already be using the jargon with me. I want to be childish and ask, “What’s a specimen?” and then, “What’s sperm?” and finally, “Wait, babies come from where?!”)
We arrived at a bank of five doors, only one of which was open. The receptionist seemed a bit unnerved. “I guess you’ll have to use this one,” she said.
The room, the size of a small gas-station bathroom, has space for a single stationary office chair, a small table, and a sink. The receptionist left a felt-tip Sharpie and a small piece of paper. “Initial the sticker on the cup and fill out the sheet before you turn them into the cart,” she said. I looked at the sheet. It asked me to write if I “missed any” upon provision of the specimen, and at what point during the ejaculation this occurred.
I closed the door and went to the sink, where a sign is decorated with cartoon sperm telling me to wash my hands before and after. I’m also told to dry them carefully, as water could “contaminate the specimen.”
You already know this, but there's a neat pile of rumpled Playboys and Hustlers on the table, next to a stack of white paper towels. A sign instructed visitors to replace the paper towel covering the seat of the chair with a new one before I leave.
I touched the arms of the chair and realized why the receptionist seemed reluctant to select this room: the metal on the chair, like the room as a whole, was freezing cold. There was an air vent above pumping out Arctic winds.
Let's spare you most details. Simply put, physiologically speaking, these weren’t ideal conditions for the male anatomy. This civil conflict turned out to be a war of attrition. I scanned the porn, and there were valiant feats of swordplay, but the line was holding strong. Fifteen minutes in, and I started to panic a bit.
The overall feeling was "pathetic." I had basically convinced myself that the only possible value I had to society, the only skill I had, the only way I was employable, was to masturbate. I took the subway to do so even. It’s one thing for the job market to make you feel inadequate. It’s another when you can’t even make your basic biology function.
I did realize that I hadn’t actually looked at a porn magazine since my very earliest days as an onanism devotee, and I wondered if that may be the problem. Those same writers telling me boys are falling behind girls in school have also told me boys these days grow up with too much Internet porn and have unrealistic expectations when it comes to real women and sex. Maybe living as a teenager with the Internet and its limitless supply of every kind of high-definition video pornography imagined by a human mind (including the very sickest ones) made me impervious to the classic analog American nudie mag. It just seems so bland.
So, Millennially, I turned to my iPhone. Then I was quickly reminded that Flash doesn’t work on these things. I wondered then if, in perhaps a decade or two, the next generation, one populated by my evil sperm children, will have giant porn machines they can enter that will have sex with them.
Also I’m sure potential parents would be glad to know their donor was imagining his children having sex with a robot while he was generating the specimen.
Twenty-five minutes passed. I realized that receptionist had to be worrying about me in here. That sexy, sexy receptionist who… no. No. I finally noticed the small space heater in the room and realized this is it. This is California Cryobank’s solution to the Hoth room. Eventually the device warmed and I positioned myself over it. If I haven’t been sterilized by my laptop battery or my iPhone by now, this would probably do the trick for that too. At this point, it was just about pride. I had to put something into that cup.
In the end… Grant and Lee signed the treaty. It was over. I realized I was never in the battle to begin with. And I hadn't gotten this way because the room made me cold. I was this way from the start. Like Michaelangelo’s David, I was tense and afraid. That's because I didn't actually want to do this.
What my mind couldn't stop sorting out was the bigger picture: children that are going to come of this who will likely never know their biological father; a donor who would have children he'd never know. If I did get to meet them—say, under the Open Donor program, for coffee or something, after years of them growing up without me—I would have trouble looking them in the eye and confirming I got a c-note for performing a sex act in a freezing room. I would feel guilty and want to have a relationship with the whole multitude of them, however impossible. At some future Starbucks (where the wifi is in the coffee), they would tell me some of their quirks and look at me expectantly, and I would lie and pretend I share them, so as to take as much credit as possible. I already usually think children I see on the subway seem more intelligent than their parents. I don’t need my ego to make me wonder if it’s because I’m their father. I can’t go through life always knowing there are strangers around me who might be my kids—kids I should be playing catch with or whatever.
It’s rather repulsive for a proud cynic to be this sentimental and have fatherly instincts for a half-handful of bodily fluid, but here we were. The North side of my body, with its superior synapse resources, had won the war. A masturbator divided against himself cannot stand.
Before I left, I took one last look at the Penthouse on the table. Two women stared blankly back at me (instead of at the pair of buttocks they were spreading apart in front of them). They seemed to want something from me, but the only thing I could think about was that all of this magazine’s probably decent-paying modeling jobs were given to women. I wondered if these naked ladies get health benefits. They looked very healthy, at least. Very unstressed about their financial situation. Do they have a 401k plan? Or maybe that form was on to something when it accused me of being gay.