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Behind the Scenes at a Sperm Bank


a blog by Cappy Rothman, MD, Medical Director, California Cryobank September 8, 2010

Have you ever wondered what really goes on behind the scenes at a sperm bank?

Everyone — whether they realize it or not — is fascinated by sperm banks. The mere mention of sperm banking in casual conversation somehow unlocks a deeply embedded sense of curiosity in people.

I’ve been in the sperm banking business for over 30 years and have yet to hear a better conversation starter than “I run one of the world’s largest sperm banks.” It instantly leads to all kinds of questions about the business, the donors, the clients and the process. While I have gotten some off-the-wall questions every once in a while, most are fairly universal.

So why not try and answer some of the most popular/common questions right here each week? (Maybe I’ll even throw in some of the more “unique” questions as well.)

For my first post, I thought we should start at the beginning:

What exactly do you do at a sperm bank and where do the donors come from?

Here is a very brief overview of the two main services sperm banks provide:

  1. The most common use of a sperm bank is to provide anonymous donor sperm to individuals unable to start a family through natural conception. This includes heterosexual couples experiencing male infertility, single mothers by choice and lesbian couples. Sperm banks range in experience, catalog size and accreditation. Also note that all legitimate sperm banks must adhere to FDA regulations to operate legally.
  2. A sperm bank can also store an individual’s own reproductive tissue (including sperm, eggs or embryos) prior to medical treatments (e.g., radiation treatment, chemotherapy) that can leave them infertile. Once that individual is healthy, he or she can retrieve the tissue and use it to start a family. Sperm banks may also store tissue for military personal, fireman, policemen, or anyone else in a hazardous line of work who wants to protect their fertility options.

All sperm banks recruit and screen donors differently. Contrary to what you’ve seen on TV and in films, donor applicants go through a thorough screening that takes up to six months and may include: regular blood and urine testing for STDs, extensive genetic testing, a review of family medical history, recurring physical exams and multiple interviews with genetic counselors and medical staff.

So that’s it for the very basics. Check back next week for more about the wonderful world of sperm!

Until then, I’ll leave you with one of our more interesting questions:

“If my donor is part Cuban but I’m not, is it possible for my baby to have an accent?”

I swear — it was really asked.

Please comment below with your own input or questions, and I’ll do my best to answer.

Comments (3)

Sperm banks are really interesting. All the movies this summer have sort of brought the whole sperm donor thing out into the mainstream. I can't wait to read more.

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