Peggy Orenstein, who covers the uterus beat for The New York Times Magazine, has a long, fascinating, and somewhat frustrating article charting the socioemotional landscape of egg donation. It's all worth reading, but Orenstein's account of surfing an egg donor website with an aspiring mom jumped out at me:
I stood behind her, watching the young women go by. Each was accompanied by an assortment of photos: girls in caps and gowns graduating from high school, sunburned and smiling on family vacations, as preschoolers in princess frocks, sporting supermodel pouts in shopping-mall glamour portraits. Sperm banks rarely provide such visuals, which is just one disparity in the packaging and treatment of male and female donors, according to a study published last month in The American Sociological Review. Egg donors are often thanked with presents and notes by recipients for their generous “gift.” Sperm donors are reminded that they’re doing a “job,” providing a “sample,” and performing an act they’d presumably do anyway — which may be why many men in the study were rattled when told a pregnancy had actually occurred. And although the men could admit they were in it for the cash, ovum donors were expected to express at least a smidge of altruism.That study, "Selling Genes, Selling Gender: Comparing Egg and Sperm Donors," by UCLA doctoral candidate Rene Almeling, is worth a story in itself. Almeling, who has been researching the US reproductive market for five years, interviewed 25 staff members at two egg agencies and two sperm banks. She found major disparities between egg donor and sperm donor experiences, including fair compensation, control of donors' sex lives, arbitrary rejection , and "gendered stereotypes of selfless motherhood and distant fatherhood." Men may think they're getting paid to beat off, when they're actually getting screwed.
Here's the ASR press release for Almeling's article, which came out in the June 2007 issue. Here's the abstract for her original presentation of the work at the American Sociological Association conference last August in Montreal [located in "the best part of North America," remember. -ed.] And here's her more extensive research, which includes clinical and donor observation, comprehensive materials review, and donor interviews. Fascinating stuff.
 Stanford professor Robert Sutton calls one sperm bank staffer's rejection of donors she doesn't like an example of "The No-Asshole Rule," which, conveniently, is the name of Sutton's latest book.
Your Gamete, Myself [nytmag]