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Sex Cells

Sex Cells: The Medical Market for Eggs and Sperm

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Sex Cells
    Book Description:

    Unimaginable until the twentieth century, the clinical practice of transferring eggs and sperm from body to body is now the basis of a bustling market. InSex Cells, Rene Almeling provides an inside look at how egg agencies and sperm banks do business. Although both men and women are usually drawn to donation for financial reasons, Almeling finds that clinics encourage sperm donors to think of the payments as remuneration for an easy "job." Women receive more money but are urged to regard egg donation in feminine terms, as the ultimate "gift" from one woman to another.Sex Cellsshows how the gendered framing of paid donation, as either a job or a gift, not only influences the structure of the market, but also profoundly affects the individuals whose genetic material is being purchased.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95022-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Rushing from class at the university to her job downtown, Megan tuned in to the radio and half listened to an advertisement calling on young women to give the gift of life. Her ears perked up on hearing that financial compensation would be offered to those who are caring, healthy, and willing to help infertile couples have a child. Thinking about the tuition bill that was coming due next semester, she decided to call for more information. The men at Megan’s school hear a different kind of pitch. Flipping through the pages of the college newspaper, they might come across...


    • ONE Characterizing the Material
      (pp. 25-51)

      In 1909, a short article appeared inMedical World, a “practical medical monthly.” The author, Addison Hard, described a scene from twenty-five years before, when he and fellow medical students were observing Dr. William Pancoast’s practice in Philadelphia. The doctor was approached by a wealthy merchant and his wife who confided their difficulties in conceiving a child. After discovering that the merchant had no sperm in his semen, one of the students joked that it was time to “call in the hired man.” The doctor requested a sperm sample from the “bestlooking member of the class” but did not inform...

    • TWO Selling Genes, Selling Gender
      (pp. 52-84)

      Contemporary egg agencies and sperm banks operate within the context of a thriving medical marketplace. In many cases, the programs are founded or staffed by physicians, nurses, and psychologists. They cultivate networks with referring physicians, belong to professional medical associations, set goals for expanding their businesses, charge a variety of fees for different services, and develop official protocols for dealing with donors and recipients. Even when the donation program staff members are not actually clinicians, they are part of the broader medical market for sex cells and, as such, are able to draw on the cultural power of medical authority...


    • THREE Producing Eggs and Sperm
      (pp. 87-109)

      In the medical market for eggs and sperm, women and men are paid money to produce sex cells, a practice referred to as “donation” by egg agencies and sperm banks alike. However, egg donation is or ganized as a gift exchange, while sperm donation is likened to paid employment. In the second part of the book, I turn from the staff to the donors and ask whether these gendered framings of donation affect women’s and men’s experiences of bodily commodification. In each of the next three chapters, I approach this question from a different angle. First, I examine how egg...

    • FOUR Being a Paid Donor
      (pp. 110-141)

      Producing eggs and sperm involve very different physical processes, but the women and men who apply to be donors are very similar in one regard: most are drawn in by the prospect of being paid. In egg agencies, though, staffers draw on gendered cultural norms to talk about the money as compensation for giving a gift, yet sperm bank staffers consider payments to be wages for a job well done. Given that egg and sperm donors are walking in the door for similarly pecuniary reasons, what happens when they encounter the organizational framing of paid donation as a gift or...

    • FIVE Defining Connections
      (pp. 142-164)

      One potential outcome of egg and sperm donation is children, “offspring” in the parlance of fertility programs, who are genetically related to the donors who provide the raw materials of conception. Scholars and the public alike have been fascinated by the kinship permutations made possible by reproductive technologies, which can result in the splitting of motherhood and fatherhood into genetic, gestational, and social components. In other words, as many as three individuals might contribute biologically to the birth of a single child: the woman who provides the egg, the man who provides the sperm, and the woman who carries the...

  7. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-178)

    As the technologies of artificial insemination andin vitrofertilization rendered eggs and sperm transferable from donor to recipient, markets developed for these bodily goods. In the earliest sperm donation programs, physicians organized donation as a quick task to be performed in exchange for cash, yet those running the first egg donation programs constructed the exchange as a gift from caring donor to grateful recipient. For most of the twentieth century, physicians retained control over the process of selecting donors, but in the late 1980s, they began to cede this task to commercial agencies. In sperm donation, this was a...

  8. APPENDIX A: Egg and Sperm Donors’ Characteristics at Time of Interview
    (pp. 179-182)
  9. APPENDIX B: Demographics of Donors Based on Profiles at Egg and Sperm Donation Programs
    (pp. 183-186)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 187-210)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-222)
  12. Index
    (pp. 223-228)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 229-230)