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Sperm Banks

If, suddenly, children in some pockets of the world look blonder and taller, if they feel oddly at ease on a bicycle or juggling three languages, there may be a specific sperm bank explanation ...

Arhus and its university spermlist of sperm samples.

Every day dozens of students here, and also in Copenhagen, walk into Cryos International, the world's largest sperm-bank company.

After undergoing a battery of tests to determine their health and fertility, make an anonymous deposit.

On top of that ... they're getting some big bucks to do so.

The Sperm List

The spermlist member deposit, which is frozen and eventually shipped, can make its way to as many as 40 countries, among them Spain, Paraguay, Kenya and the United States, where the company opened an office in New York last year to meet the demands of descendants of people from the Nordic countries. "It was difficult for them to get pure Scandinavian spare parts," said Ole Schou, the managing director of Cryos International, which operates discreetly in Arhus from an unassuming office across the street from a pet shop. "We could see there was a market."

Denmark, and Cryos in particular, aggressively markets its sperm banks around the world, branding them with the kind of Scandinavian mystique that appeals to certain people in certain parts of the world. The American Web site lists donors with aliases like Thor, Arve and Jens, a student who boasts blond hair and blue eyes and measures 6 feet 1, or 1.85 meters. He enjoys not just soccer and skiing, but also salsa and badminton. He plays the piano and speaks English and German. Oh, and he is earning a master's degree in physical chemistry.

"It's not that people want superchildren," Schou said. "It's that they want someone like them, someone they can relate to." Now I don't know about you ... but I'm seeing replays of 'The Boys of Brazil' in my head.

In Denmark sperm banking has become a powerhouse industry for several reasons: It has a high success rate in producing offspring; Danish culture, which is famously secular and sexually liberal, holds an uncomplicated view of sperm donation; and its laws continue to protect a donor's anonymity. However, in recent years a number of European countries have shifted away from guaranteeing anonymity, including Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands, with Norway to follow in January and Britain in May. The United States takes an unregulated approach, so the rules change from sperm bank to sperm bank.

Children of the Porn

For the grown children of sperm donors, just as for adopted children, winning the legal right to know their biological fathers is viewed as a major victory. Most donors are college-age men who sell their sperm to make extra money - typically about $40 in Denmark and as much as $500 in the United States while masturbation to porn in small rooms takes place. But the changing laws have created a shortage of donors in some countries. Faced with the possibility that 18 years down the line, one, or perhaps 10 or 20, of their children could surprise them at the front door, most young men opt out. That has created a market for "fertility tourists" in Denmark.

The number of children a donor can father depends on where he lives and where his sperm is sent. In Denmark the limit is 25, a number that is supposed to guard against accidental incest between siblings. In Britain it is 10. In the United States, the number is 25 births for each donor within a population of 800,000, according to guidelines issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

One man, a Cryos client whose sperm was donated to several countries, has sired 101 children, a fact not even he is aware of, Schou said. One 24-year-old Arhus University student, a regular donor at Cryos who wanted to preserve his anonymity, said he sold his sperm for money and got a kick out of providing this "service."

Who's your Daddy?

"I think it's kind of cool," the student said. "The meaning of life is about spreading my genes." If he ever has to divulge his name or if the company ever stops paying him, he will stop donating immediately, he said. "For now, I'll keep visiting for as long as I can," he said.

Cryos claims a good track record. Since the company opened in 1987, it says, its banked Danish sperm has led to 10,000 pregnancies around the world. One study at a local hospital in Denmark pegged the pregnancy rate for sperm from Cryos at 12 percent to 31 percent, which is above average, Schou said. After thawing, the donated sperm is screened and rescreened for volume and motility - how quickly the sperm swim. Only 8 percent to 10 percent of would-be donors are accepted. Some men are shattered when they fail to make the cut. "Sometimes we say your sperm is good, but you have bad frozen sperm," Schou said.

The fastest-growing markets for sperm banks are among lesbians and single women, who make up about 20 percent of Cryos's client list, mostly abroad. Denmark, despite its sexual permissiveness, has a law barring unmarried women from buying sperm from a doctor, but Schou is branching out, working on franchises in Africa and Asia, countries where prospective clients do not necessarily want blond, blue-eyed Vikings. So he is looking for ethnically diverse donors.

He has even sold to several Middle Eastern countries, where sperm donation is taboo. "Some say it's difficult to sell sand in the Sahara," Schou joked. "I think it's more difficult to sell sperm."

Paul Ellis - Men's Health

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