When Alex Munns ’07 signed up to donate sperm to the Yale School of Medicine’s Sperm Physiology Laboratory for the fall term of 2004, he did not anticipate the grueling process that would eventually follow.
“I went two times a week for an entire semester,” he said. “It was like taking another class for me. I would take a cab to the building from Old Campus and back. It took an hour out of my day every Tuesday and Thursday.”
Munns is among a handful of Yalies who volunteer each year to donate sperm to the fertility and research clinic. Between five and 10 Yale students enroll in the program annually, said Dr. Gabor Huszar, the lab director and a senior research scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the School of Medicine. Huszar said he also tries to attract student donors from other local schools, including Quinnipiac University and the University of New Haven, and donors can currently earn about $4,500 in a semester.
“We are only using students who are in college,” he said. “We don’t use just anybody who wants to be a sperm donor. … Because of that fact, I would assume that it’s a lower-risk population and that the people who do it don’t just want to give for money.”
But Munns said the financial payoff was his primary motivation for signing up.
“It was just the money,” he said. “The money was my motivation. I was paid $100 every time I went, and you have to go between 30 and 40 times to get enough so they can do the process.”
John Peretti ’07, who donated sperm from the spring of 2004 through December 2005, said the money was also a factor in his decision to enroll. But he said his desire to assist infertile couples in conceiving children also influenced his decision.
“Obviously the money is great,” Peretti said. “But you also sort of think about it and, at least in this case, because it’s a Yale facility and the cost is prohibitively high, you know that the people who are going there are in good situations and it’s a well-thought-out decision. You’re helping people who can’t otherwise have kids.”
Though sperm recipients are given information about each donor’s age, physical appearance, and major, Huszar said, they are not told which college or university donors attend. Munns said a friend of his was rejected by the program because donors with red hair were not needed at the time.
Peretti said he is comfortable giving sperm because he thinks the clientele at the Yale clinic are generally responsible people. He said he would not consider himself the father of children produced from insemination with his sperm.
“I feel like they’re going to be people who really want kids and really care about their children,” he said. “I don’t think there’s ever going to be a lack of parental influence in these kids’ lives. They’re not going to go looking for their genetic fathers. To me there’s a difference between donating genetic material and being a father.”
While Munns said he also would not consider himself the father of children conceived with his donated sperm, he said the thought that children with half of his DNA might be living out in the world somewhere is slightly discomfiting.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think about it,” he said. “The only way you can deal with it is if you don’t think about it. … It certainly would be strange if I walked down the street one day and saw someone like me. But my view is that whoever raises a child is that child’s parents.”
The School of Medicine clinic ensures that donors do not have to share their contact information with sperm recipients by maintaining strict confidentiality rules, Huszar said. Students seeking open donations — in which donors allow any offspring conceived with their semen to eventually contact them — must go to a commercial sperm bank, he said.
“It’s important that it is understood that these donors will never know who the people are who are being given the sperm, nor will the sperm recipients ever find out who the donors are,” he said. “It’s a completely confidential program.”
Huszar said he subjects potential donors to a rigorous screening process that includes a detailed questionnaire about their medical history. After donors have produced a sample, Huszar tests the sperm for HIV, freezes it for six months, then thaws it and runs the tests again, he said.
“We freeze the sperm and thaw the sperm, since not every man’s sperm survives the freeze,” he said. “We are looking for people who should have good sperm concentration. Not every man has the same concentration, so we freeze and thaw to make sure they recreate at a good rate.”
Peretti said his screening process entailed donating several sperm samples, an interview with a doctor in the lab about his family’s medical history, and several blood tests.
Dennis Tristan ’07 said he contacted the School of Medicine clinic in order to earn some extra money for the semester but was screened out because his sperm production was not high enough.
“The fact that I am above six foot was an extreme plus and the fact that I went to Yale, too,” Tristan said. “But I was screened out because I had an average count and they needed an above-average count. … They’re the experts. They want people who have a count high enough that there will be a higher percentage so that [the sperm] will work for whoever needs it. I’m sure that was fair.”
Despite the charged nature of donating sperm, Peretti said the Yale program designed the process so that he did not feel uncomfortable.
“I guess they’ve been through this for a while, so they have a good system down,” he said. “When you go to donate, it’s in a very back corner room on the second floor. You don’t really walk by anyone. And everyone that I talk to has been cool about it. My parents thought it was hilarious. No one’s given me any sort of horrified reactions or looks of disgust.”
Huszar said his lab uses leftover sperm not used for insemination for research on new methods of artificial fertilization.