Students donate sperm, earn extra income

Prospective donors undergo testing, submit essays and commit to six months of donations.

by Heather L. Mueller

Six months ago, political science senior Johan Ashrafzadeh-Kian began driving to Cryogenic Laboratories, Inc. in Roseville, Minn., every week to donate sperm in a lab room.

While searching for a part-time job, Ashrafzadeh-Kian heard about sperm donation from a friend and decided to look into it.

After some online research, he found very few donors were of Persian descent. Ashrafzadeh-Kian, who is half-Iranian, now makes $200 per month donating sperm.

“It only takes 10 minutes, one to two times a week, as compared to a 10- to 20-hour-a-week part-time job,” he said.

Baby photos, personality tests, personal essays, two generations worth of medical history, a full exam and several vials of sperm are part of the rigorous application process donors undergo before learning if they are approved.

Once the first testing is complete and the sperm are found to be healthy and viable, donors must sign a contract to donate 26 times within a six month period.

At Cryogenic, the only sperm bank in the state, all donors receive the same pay rate – roughly $50 up front for a donation and another $50 after a six-month waiting period.

The donations are frozen for six months to allow for further testing for AIDS, HIV and other infectious diseases before they can be purchased by interested parties.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, donors are selected if the post-thaw semen contains a minimum of 20 to 30 million motile sperm per milliliter.

The donation process feels like going to a doctor’s office, Ashrafzadeh-Kian said. The reality of donating is far from teen movie depictions and stereotypes.

“It’s like sex coupled with donating blood,” he said of the small office rooms with a variety of visually arousing magazines. “But it’s really not a sexual place. It’s weird to think hundreds of other guys have masturbated in this room.”

Ashrafzadeh-Kian will receive approximately $2,000 after his six months of donation. Female egg donors can expect to receive an average of $5,000-$10,000.

Though it’s unclear how many University students donate sperm, there is a demand – and young, fertile college students are prime prospects.

Reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Theodore Nagel, of the University Reproductive Medicine Center, said while artificial insemination using donated sperm remains a viable and less expensive option for conception, new technologies for heterosexual couples have steered some away from sperm banks.

Still, there has been an increase in usage by same-sex couples and single people in the past 10 years, he said.

“There will always be some need (for sperm donors),” Nagel said.

Using donated sperm remains relatively affordable, about $700, and a successful option with a 15-20 percent chance of conception per trial, whereas in vitro fertilization can cost $12,000 per cycle, Nagel said.

English first-year Rebecca Lang said it’s hard to predict how a donor will feel about being sought out by their children or wanting to find the children they fathered.

“The idea that you can do something like (donating sperm) and think there will be no attachment or consequences isn’t really congruent with how people end up feeling after a long period of time,” she said.

Typically, couples can expect to pay around $200-$600 per insemination and up to $5,000 for “higher-grade” sperm collected by labs that tout donor characteristics such as Ivy League graduates and Nobel Prize winners.