The Boston Phoenix
December 2 - 9, 1999

[Out There]

Hand over fist

Why money and masturbation don't mix

by Chris Wright

My horoscope this morning had a weirdly prophetic ring. "Doing things with large groups," it augured, "will lead to romantic adventures." Eerie. I was about to embark on a romantic adventure with, potentially, a very large group of people. But let me back up a little.

It all began a few days ago, as I was reading the classifieds.

EARN UP TO $600/MONTH

ANONYMOUS SPERM DONORS NEEDED

My first thought was: hmm. My second: if I'd done this in my teens, I'd be a millionaire by now. Within moments of reading the ad, I was calculating my per diems, appraising my stamina, compiling protein-rich menus.

I gave them a call.

The terms were $50 a whack, up to three whacks a week, with a two-day abstinence period prior to each visit. What this amounted to was being paid 150 bucks a week for giving up sex. Still, I liked the combination of sperm preservation and moneymaking -- the marriage of Catholicism and capitalism. I decided to give it a shot.

So it was I found myself riding the T to Cambridge, slack-jawed as I read the astrology column.


I show up at the sperm bank -- we'll call it WankBoston -- at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, two-days abstained, fresh from a breakfast of egg-and-cheese sandwiches. In spite of the fact that I need to smoke a half-pack of butts before plucking up the courage to ring the buzzer, I feel pretty perky, if not quite raring to go. As soon as I enter, though, whatever enthusiasm I'd managed to muster melts away.

For one thing, I'd been hoping the receptionist would be a little more matronly. The woman behind the desk is young, attractive, and, it turns out, a stickler for eye contact. To make matters worse, there's another guy in the cramped reception area. A psychic exchange takes place between us: "I know. I know." Following a few strained niceties, the woman hands me a three-page questionnaire, which is a relief. Now I'll have something to do other than shuffle about trying not to look pervy.

My first session, I learn, is to be a freebie. I'll be giving a sample, but only so their lab technicians can rummage through it. According to the literature, only 10 percent of potential donors are accepted. The sperm has to measure up: 70 percent motility (the ability to move), 60 percent normal morphology, at least 70 million sperm per cc.

Like all men, I've lived in the shadow of performance anxiety all my life, but this goes deeper. I won't be judged on something ephemeral like staying power, but on the very essence of my sexuality. My masculinity is going under the microscope, to be rated, ranked, graded -- like a pumpkin at a county fair.

Talk about a seminal moment.


Ten minutes later, I'm done with the questionnaire. Having reasonably established that I am not a drug-
addled ignoramus, my family not a bunch of syphilitic felons, I'm ready to roll. I hand the receptionist the form and she hands me a plastic beaker, directing me into one of WankBoston's private rooms.

"See you in a couple of hours," I say, and the woman laughs, like she's never heard that one before.

How long should one spend in one of these rooms? If it's over too quickly, should I sit and read the paper for a bit? Then again, how long before they come banging on the door? Jesus, I could spend the whole day . . .

Or not.

I have to say, I'm a little disappointed with the amenities. I'd pictured something more loungey -- orange pleather furniture, shag carpeting, maybe a little Donna Summer. What I get is a stark, sterile walk-in closet. People get interrogated in plusher surroundings.

There is a straight-backed chair and a table, a tiny TV, and a stack of Penthouse magazines. A sink. On the walls are two signs: one warning us not to pilfer the dirty mags, another telling us what to do in the event of a (God forbid) fire. The only decorative item is a Herb Ritts titty-shot poster, presumably for the more refined donor. I turn on the TV.

"UGH! UGH! FUCK!"

Fuck! I turn the TV down.

The movie is semi-hard porn -- two guys and a girl and a rumpled duvet -- piped in from some central VCR. The tracking needs adjusting, but I'm not about to go out and say so. I try switching channels and get a fuzzy chat show. I thumb through a few of the magazines. Since when did Penthouse depict penetration? On TV, the two guys and a girl are exploring another bump-orifice permutation. I look at my watch: five minutes down.

I unwrap the plastic beaker and get going. What makes it hard -- I mean difficult -- is that I can hear everything that's going on outside: talking, footsteps, more talking. I wouldn't be at all surprised if my mother started rapping on the door: "What on earth are you doing in there?"

Nothing much, as it happens. Two guys and a girl continue their game of carnal musical chairs. Since when did Penthouse depict blowjobs? I need a pee, I think, flicking through a pseudo-artsy photo spread. And then, out of nowhere, kablam!

I fumble for the beaker, attempt to contort myself -- à la Cirque du Soleil -- into a beaker-friendly stance. Naturally, this hinders the process, and the results are . . . well, disappointing. Coitus beakerruptus. "Ugh! Ugh!" say the two guys, emptying swimming pools onto the girl's chest. I look from screen to beaker, beaker to screen. Should I go out and say I've changed my mind? Just creep away? No, no. Go out and face it like a poor excuse for a man.

"I spilled some," I say to the receptionist, handing over the beaker of shame. Like she's never heard that one before.


Things take a turn for the worse the next day, when I call for my evaluation. "Hold, please," says a voice at the other end. For the first time it hits me: I could be in for some very bad news. I hold. My lineage -- the little girl I will probably call Molly -- dangles over a "hold, please" abyss. Then the voice is back:

"We won't be accepting you into the program."

I am suddenly stricken with the image of a single sperm, trundling around a petri dish in a wheelchair.

"What?"

"Your specimen didn't process well."

"What?"

"It has nothing to do with your count. Your specimen wasn't able to handle the process. It does not handle the processing."

"Yes, but what?"

"It's not a natural process. The freezing. It has nothing to do with your specimen." She sounds a little annoyed.

"So what do I do now?"

"Nothing."

That's it. Nothing.

Now that's rejection -- "it's not you, it's us." I'm mad. Mad that no one's really bothered to explain why. I'm also kind of relieved -- or resigned. There will be no army of little Mollys running around. There will be no payoff. And there will definitely -- definitely -- be no more beakers involved in my love life. Ugh.

Chris Wright can be reached at cwright@phx.com.

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