In Part I and Part II of Sperm Stories, we talked about some of the factors that can affect sperm quality and quantity. In Part III, we’ll go beyond testing sperm and talk about some interesting stories—good and bad—that have to do with using sperm in the manner nature intended: to create babies.
- New trends in sperm donation. For decades, selling to sperm banks has been a time-honored—and not-at-all-unpleasant—way for young college-age men to make a few bucks. But now, single guys have some extra incentive to consider being a sperm donor: natural insemination. And yes, natural insemination is exactly what it sounds like. Artificial insemination can be expensive—usually between $1,000 and $5,000. And some studies indicated that it might be less effective than sex in producing the desired outcome. That’s undoubtedly why a lot of websites have cropped up offering natural insemination for free (no, we’re not going to tell you—you’ll have to find them yourself). The downside for the woman, though, is that unlike licensed sperm banks, there’s no way to screen a natural inseminator for STDs, genetic conditions, or psychological problems.
- Layne Hardin, 44, is suing a Louisiana sperm bank and his former girlfriend, Toby Devall, 40, after the clinic gave two vials of his sperm to Devall, who used it to conceive a child without his consent. Through his lawyer, Hardin says his ex did this “purposefully out of vindictiveness and to punish him for breaking up with her,” according to news reports. Hardin and a previous girlfriend, Katherine LeBlanc, have a 12-year old son together. In 2002, after the boy was born, Hardin had a vasectomy, but banked some of his sperm first. After Hardin and LeBlanc broke up, he started dating Devall. When that relationship ended in 2011, she apparently marched into the Texas Andrology Services sperm bank and made a withdrawal. “They had a written contract that specified only two people [Hardin and LeBlanc] that could access this sperm, said attorney Cade Bernsen, who represents both Hardin and LeBlanc. “[y]et the sperm bank let someone walk in off the street and take two vials of sperm in a paper lunch sack… They never checked. That’s what’s frightening.” Actually, from Hardin’s perspective, what’s potentially even more frightening is that he could be ordered to pay child support for the 2-year-old boy Devall conceived, despite not having ever given consent to use his sperm or having even met the child.
- When a young man is diagnosed with cancer, his doctors often recommend that he bank some of his sperm, because cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy sometimes result in long-term or permanent infertility. So if the patient has even the slightest suspicion that he might want to be a father, freezing his sperm may be his only hope. However, dropping off vials of sperm isn’t the end of the process. Young men who’ve banked their sperm need to have regular checkups to assess their fertility and, if necessary, to make sure the bank doesn’t dispose of the sperm—something many clinics routinely do after 10 years—which could rob the young man of ever becoming a biological father. Dr Allan Pacey and Professor Christine Eiser at the University of Sheffield in England are calling for a campaign to better educated young men and the medical community about the importance of keeping close watch on fertility and frozen sperm. Eiser and Pacey found that more than a third of male cancer survivors who’d banked sperm had never attended a follow-up session to assess their fertility. Another third had attended only one session. “This research highlights the need to talk to men about the value of ongoing fertility monitoring during the years following cancer treatment, and not just when they are diagnosed,” said Julia Frater, senior information nurse at Cancer Research UK in news reports. “Cancer mostly affects people after they have already completed their families, but for men who haven’t fathered children, the possibility of fertility being reduced by chemotherapy or radiotherapy should also be properly discussed before treatment starts.”