Recent reports highlighted the news that Cryos International in Denmark, the world’s largest sperm bank, has stopped accepting sperm from redheads, prompting Stuff White People Like creator Christian Lander to write at CNN, “The unavoidable conclusion: It’s not the fear of having a redheaded girl that has decimated the demand for ginger sperm, it’s the idea of having a redheaded boy.” This seems strange to me, because not only do I think redheaded men (and women) are hot, but I believe that being in a subgroup makes you have to think outside the box, a quality I’d love my child to possess.
My issue with these services isn’t just that they’re impersonal, but they bring up issues of class, race, looks, intelligence and even hair color that can be uncomfortable, to say the least. If you’re someone who prides themselves on being open-minded and not placing a premium on the types of idealized looks and bodies that popular culture does, being forced to state which type of background or skin color or SAT scores you’d like from a mate can feel deeply disturbing. Is it more acceptable to make those judgments when you’re choosing from a faceless list of statistics, rather than from actual people?
I’m not saying people shouldn’t have a preference about what their child looks like, but the only downside I can see to having a redheaded child is their propensity to feel more pain than non-redheads (according to a New York Times article).
But the question of who we’ll hook up with and who we want to mate with are two very different things, and while I’d like to think I’m not judgmental, I can’t honestly say I’d want to parent kids with every person I’ve slept with. The sad truth is that I’ve been a lot pickier about who I’d want to be tied to forever than, say, who might tie me to their bed. That is something I’m looking to change as I get to know myself, and what I want, better.
In the last year or two, I’ve tried my best to limit my relationships and sexual encounters to people who I could, at least in some version of my future, see myself settling down with. At a sperm bank, you’re probably not looking at a person’s emotional characteristics so much as some very specific physical traits. That’s the part that feels impersonal — reducing someone down to a mere set of statistics when I don’t think any of us would want our selves judged based on that. While the process of online dating is similar, I’d imagine that even someone with very precise parameters of who they’re looking for might be swayed by a particularly witty writing style or other bit of charm, which is going to be more challenging to unearth looking through sperm bank listings.
If you choose the Basic Profile from the New York branch of Cryos International, this is what you find: “The only information available on Basic Profile Donors is race, ethnicity, eye color, hair color, height, weight, blood type and in most cases education and occupation. No other information is available on Basic Profile Donors including baby photos, staff impressions, and extended donor profiles.” The most important part of this choice, for me, would be health; the rest, to me, is as variable as anyone I might meet and mate with outside the world of artificial insemination. To me, it’s as elitist to insist I’d only date someone with a college education as it would be if I rejected a potential donor because they hadn’t graduated college, and you can fill in pretty much any other characteristic for “college education” and I’d feel the same.
Speaking specifically to the redhead issue, according to Bonnie Richman at TIME blog Healthland, the New York branch actually hasn’t been able to attract many redheaded donors, showing that these “most desirable” traits aren’t universal.
“When it comes to selecting gametes, reproductive specialists agree that most people do their best to ensure a mini-me: it’s already less than ideal to have to use a stranger’s sperm; angling to make a future baby resemble you helps make the situation more tenable,” she writes.
Maybe I’m the odd breeder out, but I don’t necessarily need my child to look like me; dare I say my life, and theirs, might be more interesting if we don’t look alike and can learn from each other?
I understand why redheaded men would feel an attachment to their sperm, even if they have no plans to donate it. The idea that women, en masse, are rejecting them seems like we’re collectively saying there’s something wrong with redheads. While we may be able to laugh about hair color, something that we can easily change with some dye, I don’t think it would be as funny if we were making these selections based on race or ethnicity.
Maybe those of us who aren’t so hung up on hair color can start a company specifically targeting redheaded men. If we did, perhaps we could raise a generation of cute gingers who’d revolutionize their image in the eyes of their peers. No, I don’t really want to start a side business in sperm selling, but when the time comes, if I’m buying, I hope I will be open to any sperm that might potentially bring me toward what I’m looking for. I guess ultimately that’s the key difference between sperm shopping and online dating: I can afford to be less picky about the former because I know that ultimately I will be the one in charge of any offspring that may result. I’m not quite ready yet, but I hope if I ever do need the services of a sperm bank, I can be as open-minded in practice as I am in theory.