My adventure of heartbreak and woe began, as it so often does, with a new year’s resolution. Among my vows this year: donating blood once every 56 days, the minimum amount of time required between donations in Canada, because to me, my fear of needles was an increasingly bad excuse to not save lives. My next, clinically logical thought: What are other excess bodily fluids that I usually give away for free that I could donate for the betterment of society?
The answer, as so often happens, was cum.
And to be clear, I was happy to provide my hot love. It felt like the right thing to do, after all. Sure, after the initial excitement it became a bit onerous—the demands of going over there wore thin by the second month, and even when the calls came in the morning time, when I was supposed to be at work, I had to deliver. But imagine my surprise when—after all the desperate messages demanding my semen— I was the one to get ghosted.
Yes: my sperm bank ghosted me.
And jokes aside, sperm donation does serve an important purpose in Canadian society—and urgently so. While places like the United States pay as much as $150 for a squirt of healthy sperm, a law passed in 2004 made it illegal to compensate Canadian donors, meaning only true, valiant altruists (or just the truly weird) would be willing to agree to not ejaculate at all (!) in advance of a work-hours-only donation (!) for three to four days beforehand (!!!), all while being younger than 40.
This has led to a serious shortage of Canadian donor sperm. In 2013, the Calgary Herald estimated that the entire country only had around 60 active donors, the vast majority from Canada’s lone sperm bank, the Toronto Institute for Reproductive Medicine (Repromed). This has forced the vast majority of single women, married couples and lesbians to look to the US for matches; CBC Radio reported that more than 90 percent of sperm used in Canada was imported from America. That’s only made a practice that’s already fairly classist—it’s costly, even if you’re paying in Canadian dollars, and success typically requires multiple tries—even more prohibitive.
And not only are Canadian men not incentivized to participate, any altruism is rendered meaningless if they don’t have the very crème de la cream. You have to undergo a rigorous review of your family’s medical history, a personality survey, an in-depth genetics test, and regular blood and fertility testing repeatedly over the first six months, just for a shot to enroll in the program. It is preferable, too, to be tall, well-educated, and descended from a long-lived, disease-free family, and because the client pool is largely white and the idea is to match a child as much as possible to the parents, there is less of a need for donors of colour. Sure, it’s a good thing that this screening is deeply rigorous, even if the upside is limited—it just gives prospective parents a very slightly cocked roll of the genetic dice—but it still feels like you have a better chance of winning the lottery. Indeed, Repromed says that around one percent of men make it through this screening and into the program.
It’s a lot for me to consider, and the friends with whom I consult—most of whom react with a seriousness that was surprising for a conversation about my jizz—ensure I think long and hard about it. Was I just being a creepy narcissist, ensuring the continuation of my seed? Am I OK with the child coming to see me one day, when my name is revealed to them at the age of 18? (Totally, seems fun.) Am I OK to donate at the frequency the sperm bank recommends, which is four to five times a month for at least a year, meaning that I’d spend two-thirds of my year completely abstinent? (Uh, actually…)
All the same, I launch myself into the process. I visit the website for Repromed and find a banner of Anne Geddes-style babies wrapped in angels’ wings and a Geocities-site esthetic, and fill out a form at the end of the work day. The very next morning, I’m asked to come in for an interview. It’s my first taste of what I would come to know as the sperm bank’s typical response style: smiling, overeager, and thirsty for my seed.
We arrange a formal sit-down with a doctor, and we engage in a sort of dance: sussing out each other’s motives, whether I’m healthy enough, whether I’m the right type of person for the program, and me negotiating the amount I’d be allowed to ejaculate—in short, it’s an awkward first date. He eases my fears by offering a more flexible schedule than the one the site proposed, which would’ve only let me have one day a month to ejaculate for fun; I convince him that I’m not doing this for some grotesque, selfish reason.
I sign some forms, and as a medical assistant lumbers in and asks me to follow him, I have the feeling that this is it: my dick’s big moment. My instincts are confirmed when he opens up a closet-sized chamber and asks me to enter and take a seat.
Seeing the donation room hits me with a powerful wave of déjà vu; whatever the opposite of cognitive dissonance is, this room gives me that, because it looks exactly as it’s depicted in popular culture. On a rack are a couple nudie mags, a few porn DVDs that the sperm bank appears to have purchased from a library, to be played off a small flat-screen TV. And in the middle: a large, deep, black pleather chair. I try to repress the first thought that comes to my mind, which is that the chair has housed the sweaty butts of countless orgasming men.
I sit, and he brusquely hands me a small list on a scrap of paper and a cup, and tells me that if I miss the cup—while not touching any part of the cup’s rim—I’m expected to check the box identifying if I failed to catch the beginning, middle, or end of the ejaculate. It is cold and clinical, I think, while wondering where would the jizz go if I missed and oh God the chair I’m in.
Questions still abound. Should I be giving myself slow, loving, patient strokes over a long period of time so as to extract a greater amount, or should this be a quick in-and-out operation? What if my guy geyser delivers more of a light spritz? What kind of strange angles am I supposed contort myself in during the last, climactic strokes, so that the contents of my balls can be aimed into a cup while not touching my penis to the cup’s rim at all?
But there is no time for questions. The man grunts, tells me to press a button when I’m done, and closes the door behind him.
I pull out my phone, and feel no need or desire to go into further details about this, other than that I check “did not miss” afterward.
I clean myself off with the inexplicably hard, corrugated paper towel provided and press the button. The man shuffles in sullenly, wraps my still-warm cup in the scrap of checklist paper and his hand, and leaves.
I am voided of cum, and in its place is sympathy for this man who might have the worst job you can have while also having a medical degree.
After a while, the report comes back: I am extremely fertile, and it’s just about the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.
And this is the halcyon period of our relationship. The next appointment goes similarly: another gauntlet of tests, another to question-riddled gift that’s received by my personal Sperm Igor, and another series of grateful, excited emails. It’s the equivalent of rushing me to the altar, and it alarms me in a personal context, but I’m starting to seriously think about committing to the program. Finally, I can be counted among a one per cent. And why not do my part to help people?
Meanwhile, my other new year’s resolutions are going apace. One of them is to finally go to the doctor to find answers around some of the niggling physical issues that have bothered me for years, just in the event that they’re not just part of the natural deterioration of the middle-aged male body, and can be fixed. A few weeks after my second appointment, a separate doctor—who literally took a phone call during my appointment, and prescribed me powerful medicine that he couldn’t explain—diagnosed me with a mild case of non-genetic narcolepsy, even though the vast majority of the disorder’s most significant symptoms didn’t apply. (Though I do get sleepy, but not any more than any worker drone in our broken, late-capitalist society.)
I rejected the diagnosis, but out of an abundance of caution, I inform the sperm bank in the middle of a serious physical. Suddenly, the thrill was gone. The doctor clammed up, ended the physical, asked me to pass on the other doctor’s information, and said he’d arrange for the next appointment.
But weeks pass, then a month. No email; I was being frozen out by the place that froze my baby batter. So for the first time since we began our wild and furious fling, I’m the one emailing them.
I get an email back the next day: It’s over.
“We want to thank you for your time and interest in our Sperm Donor Program but we are not going to continue with the next steps,” the email says. At the end of the message, a kiss-off smiley-face emoji—as if all that time and effort and cum meant nothing, and wasn’t even worthy of an email to let me know until I reached out myself.
It’s an enormous bummer, and while I talk myself into the pleasures of having more free time—I won’t have to spend every other week commuting for an hour to get my blood drawn and have deeply unsatisfying self-sex—it’s unquestionably disappointing that someone as healthy as me can be so brusquely and abruptly disqualified from trying to do a good thing.
Look, it’s crucial that the regulations around sperm donation are strict, for the same reason it’s important that blood donation has strict standards. Medical disclosure is vital so people know what they’re getting into with these very specific and complicated operations. But Canadian donor banks need to make a decision: will we keep letting perfect be the enemy of very good? As Canadian Blood Services continue to discriminate against gay donors and sperm banks reject someone for a single, likely non-genetic issue, are we really keeping the good of what we’re trying to achieve in mind?
In the end, the process just proved true the old joke I had already been telling about being single in the city: turns out I literally can’t give my cum away. It’s high time we figure out a better way for Canadian women to get the services they want—and what some of them want is to let me jerk off into a cup.
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