Frozen Assets: Why American Sperm Is a Hot Commodity

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While in Australia visiting family for the holidays, I heard a story on the radio about how almost all Australian sperm — yes, the human kind — is imported from the U.S. How odd, I thought, I wonder why?

When I got back home, I began researching the issue, and it turns out that Australia, like Canada and Great Britain, bars anonymous sperm donations, which has literally dried up local donations over the last decade. This led me to another surprising discovery: the U.S. is by far the largest exporter of human sperm in the world. Every year tens of thousands of vials go to more than 60 countries.

I explore this fascinating, er, gross domestic product in the latest edition of the dead-tree magazine (available to subscribers here). The main character I follow is a Canadian woman named Shari Ann, a single mom who, after failing to find good Jewish sperm in her home country, found her genetic Prince Charming in Virginia. Her twin boys are now 7 and they have more than 70 half siblings around the world.

There are some notable trends in the export business. Generally, fair-haired donors are preferred, even in South America, Africa and Asia. The Middle East and Italy — and really all religious countries — bar single women and lesbians from importing sperm (though those who can afford it simply travel to the U.S. to get it). And ironically, given Shari Ann’s experience, Israel has only one condition on incoming sperm: that it not be Jewish. Because Judaism is passed down through the mother and because generations of closely held bloodlines have led to a higher prevalence of rare diseases such as Tay-Sachs and cystic fibrosis among Israelis, non-Jewish sperm ensures a dilution of the gene pool.

From Octomom to cases where couples have gotten babies of the wrong ethnicity, we are in the wild west of the IVF, sperm-donation and egg-banking markets. I hope you’ll read my story for a deeper look at the issue.