Wednesday, July 15, 2009

“Your sperm’s in the gutter, your love’s in the sink.” Jethro Tull. Thick As a Brick.


The headline in the Independent online screamed: SCIENTISTS CREATE TEST-TUBE SPERM!!!!! Okay, there were no exclamation marks and truth is, this headline was screaming in my head. And to be fair, it was also challenged by experts who claimed the sperm-like cells produced in the experiment were not genuine sperm.

To breed-free folk like The Mister and me there seems to be a lot of attention paid to sperm and the resultant legions of children that have been steadily growing in this post war era.

Since the fall of 2001 couples who were undecided about raising a family quickly discarded the “sure-but in-the future” notion and embraced the “now” of children. Marriages that were tumbling messily to the brink of divorce were suddenly no longer in need of psychological counseling and instead were brought back from the brink by fertility treatments. Singles rushed to be coupled with anyone. A lot of times that anyone turned out to be a dog. Usually it was pure-bred canines, expensive and sadly not significantly large numbers of rescues from the pound.

The Upper West Side of Manhattan, my earlier stomping ground, was once the hallowed territory of artists, musicians, writers and all around left wingers, who—if they had children—were civilized enough to keep them under control. Brunch was adult entertainment. These days upper Broadway is gridlocked with those ubiquitous Maclaren “techno” strollers, double- and triple-wide. A hasty glance at all the twins and triplets, the fussing tow heads with blue eyes, might give the already callous observer the idea that one fertility doctor had been very, very busy.

My building on the Upper East Side was once a haven of struggling actors, writers, painters, and all kinds of artists along with a few black sheep with trust funds and a sprinkling of eccentrics. Children were suspected to reside in the building and evidence of that was seen in the hallways where an errant toy had been dumped or a tricycle had been parked. It was actually a comforting sight, the evidence of children, and their sweetness, without the actual, you know, evidence of them. Periodic sightings of those children were enough to gauge their growth, their ability to ride the elevator without pressing every button until finally they were adults and flew the coop. Well, some of them.

Not so in the post co-op era where even the welcome mat at our front door has been deemed unsightly by a board of disciplinarians. Hallways are condemned to be free of strollers, house slippers, toys, and well, life. The children? They are everywhere as are the dogs for those with and without children. The Mister moved in some twenty years ago and so can attest to this dual population explosion. It used to be that one could peruse household objects in the basement storage room and discover an elaborately carved concert harp looming grandly over the more proletariat guitar cases and the occasional amp stored there. Today it is impossible to navigate the dense field of high chairs, car seats and pet carriers.

But, I digress. Where was I? Oh, right. Sperm.

The recent article on the white stuff (No, not snow…pay attention.) suggests we have come a long way from 2004 when another article appeared online warning of the dangerously low sperm count in western countries. The full study can be found in a journal called Human Reproduction. I wonder what the “personals” were like in that one: Looking for handsome, athletic, intelligent, successful sperm. If you were worried about your sperm count and if you were male (if?) then “you should think twice before placing a laptop on your lap.” If one had to raise the temperature a bit, then resorting to the old-fashioned human kind topping your lap would be the way to go.

Independent writer, Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor and author of the online article about test tube sperm wrote: “The extraordinary development, which until a few years ago belonged in the realms of science fiction….” The imagination tips precariously into dark scenarios until the reader comes upon a quote by a Professor Nayernia: “In theory it would be possible [to dispense with men], but only if you want to produce a population all the same size and shape [because they have the same male genetic origin]. Personally I cannot see human reproduction as purely a biological process. It has human, emotional, psychological, social and ethical aspects, too. We are doing this research to help infertile men, not to replace a reproductive procedure.”


From the same article.
Sperm: The facts:
• It takes 10 weeks to make a sperm in the testes.
• Once produced, they are stored for about a fortnight.
• If they are not ejaculated they are broken down and reabsorbed.
• A healthy male can produce 70 to 150 million sperm a day.
• A teaspoon can hold 200 to 500 million sperm.

As a woman who loves to cook and to cull new recipes this last bit makes me just a wee bit gaggy. I am gleefully reminded, though, of visiting a friend in San Francisco many years ago. It was the Age Before AIDS, before Harvey Milk was murdered. Karen and I were strolling through the Castro District. My friend is a very straight, married mother of two teenagers now but apart from the teenagers she was the same then. Conscious of my wilder adventuresome self she was a splendid tour guide and we ambled up Market Street into the Tenderloin, along Polk Street and through the Castro. There must have been 50 or 60 gay bars on Polk Street alone. Not to mention the peep show parlors that reminded me of Times Square and home. A lot of the bar names were also reminiscent of Christopher Street environs like The Anvil and The Spike. But one bar’s sign caught my friend’s eye. “See,” she declared, pointing to a sign prettily illustrated with two white birds entwined. “That one is lovely, those white doves, so sweet.” I pointed out that the white doves were really…er…white swallows. “Notice their tails,” I directed. The look on my friend’s face as she processed the information? Priceless.

Some people want kids. Karen had them. Dear friends of mine had them and are still having them. They have grown, and will grow into lovely adults. Who am I to say, “If you can’t have ‘em, live with it?” But if you don’t have them, then be good to kids who aren’t your kids. You know if it takes a village then be one of those village people. Kids always gravitate to the odd one anyway and they love costumes.

What is very much a modern day occurrence are blogs that plead the pain of childlessness on the Internet with blog names like “wannababybad” or “infertileinseattle.” They worry over low testosterone (hypogonadism) and very low FSH. Which at first glance I thought I read, “very low fish” and was for a moment very, very confused.

Sperm is good for a lot of things, even for art it seems, though no guarantee of life for the artist. Dash Snow, photographer, graffiti writer, downtown celebrity and sperm artist, recently died of an overdose. Though, presumably, not an overdose of sperm. Sperm is good for facebook. All those new customers who can join the legions who believe friendship to be the increasing numbers on their website, who never have to actually, you know, talk to or visit those friends. Who will also discover more quickly than their older counterparts who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to facebook that the girlfriend of one distant friend is far from the mole-chinned witch one is led to believe before they actually, you know, see a photo of her smiling face posted on his facebook page. And who else but the next generation—may they be in the many millions—will hold up the giant ponzi scheme called social security?

The hidden dangers of sperm? Octomom.

A couple of years ago a study came out which I like to think may have cured a few carnivorous mothers: “Mom's beef puts son's sperm count at stake.” Mothers who ate a lot of beef during pregnancy give birth to sons who will, as adults, wind up with a sperm count about 25% below normal and three times the normal risk of fertility problems. This news reported as “The tip of the iceberg.” So I wonder how the tip of the iceberg news then has affected the tip of the you know, penis, now. Is meat eating down? Are sperm counts up? I just ask the questions.

Now that I see sperm stories everywhere I begin to let the imagination run wild. Always a potentially dangerous endeavor, says The Mister.

A recent article in the online Daily Mail described the desperate attempts of one English family to find their beloved missing pet. The frantic family squirted trails of their own urine around town, sprayed on lampposts and trees to lure home their Black Lab who was presumably just on a doggy mission to spread his own sperm. The dog might come home but the neighbors will be hoisting pitchforks. Small price.

Anyway, I got to thinking about errant wives. Suppose a man, frantic because his wife has left him, could lure her back by squirting his semen over the barstools in the pub or the front car seat of the man suspected to have rendered the husband a cuckold. Because, “…the house is so quiet without her. She’s a bit of a special wife you now. I kind of rescued her and it took me ages to rehabilitate her, so I want her back.”

I’m perusing the Washington Post online, which I read for the “them” content. There’s an op-ed piece by Sarah Palin, soon-to-be-ex- governor of Alaska and soon-to-be-plaguing us free thinkers once again, sooner than we think. The phrase “Cap-and-Trade” is in the headline. Being who she is, you know, a hockey mom, I assume she’s now embracing an amendment to her procreative policy of teens having babies. Maybe it’s a call to cap the little guy with a condom and instead of having them naturally, well then just trading a few million dollars for a three-year-old Malawian girl, like Madonna.

All this news about sperm is making an impact on The Mister. He wants a cuddle and I am warbling on about increased sperm volume. “Knock it off,” he whispers, “I am trying to be romantic here.”

Before capitulating to his undoubted charms, I manage one more rant. What about teeth? Why aren’t the scientists working on a way for people with a family history of poor teeth to be born with really good teeth? To pop from the womb ready to ride with those pearly whites to success? Because those scientists, at least the American ones, invent for what counts in life. And that, my friends, is sperm.

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