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Sperm Banks: Where Brain Meets Brawn

February 21, 2011

Blog written by Laboratory Staff Nisha

I found a new home with Fairfax Cryobank of Philadelphia last August. When Christina, my supervisor, had offered me the job I accepted it immediately. Though I had worked with urine and cervical cell specimens in the past, I still had many reservations about the job. What would it be like to work at a sperm bank? Would I ever feel awkward or uncomfortable? What kinds of people donate sperm?

After a few weeks with the company, I was surprised at how much I loved working here! Not only were my coworkers fun and easy-going, but the lab work was much more mentally stimulating than I expected. At previous jobs, lab work became mind-numbingly monotonous. Pipetting from one tube to another required little brainpower and I could feel my store of brain cells withering away with each day I worked. Beginning my training at Fairfax was like stepping out of the fog into a bright sunny day. My mind had to be alert and active everyday. Not only was I learning how to process and freeze sperm, I was also learning the biological significance behind these techniques. Why do we use glycerol as the cryoprotectant? Why can the cells burst if they are thawed and refrozen? Why do we require donors to have at least 72 hours of abstinence? After four months of working at Fairfax I still find myself learning new things regularly. We are encouraged to read fertility medical journals to keep up with research in the field, and are asked for input and ideas on various company projects. My role as a lab technician in this company does not confine me to the lab.

I also take on the role of the liaison between the company and the donors. At first, I believed that sperm donations were a quick way for any guy to make some cash, so I was unsure of what to expect of the donors. Since the donors usually come in at least once a week, it was inevitable that I would develop friendships with a lot of them. I found that they were actually very sweet, often times handsome men who all led very different lifestyles. I loved hearing about the magic shows one donor would have for kid’s birthday parties on weekends, or how another donor’s children were learning to swim, or the success of another donor’s art gallery opening. I also learned that these guys had more meaningful reasons to donate than just money. One donor told me he wanted to donate because he knew someone who had problems starting a family and understood how painful it can be. Another donor told me that after his fiancée had passed away he didn’t want to raise children without her, but felt that he should help other couples who wanted to start their own families. I came to realize that donating sperm wasn’t the typical awkward experience depicted in movies. It is a wonderful and altruistic experience for many of the donors in our program.

Everything I have mentioned thus far sounds too good to be true. An interesting job that requires actual thinking, has cute guys visiting every day, and paid holidays? You’re probably thinking, how can I sign up for this? There were, however, some huge leaps that I had to overcome. The first time I gave a new donor the tour of the lab, saying the words “…And these are genital wipes you need to use to clean the area before producing your specimen” made me question ever having accepted the job! But I found I got over the embarrassment quickly – especially when I saw that the new donor’s face was so much redder than mine! So, even though I find myself pretending I didn’t hear when someone asks where I work, overall I think that I was lucky that day Christina called and offered me the position.

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