Friday Recommends, marriage

Friday Recommends With Great Hesitation: Semen Analysis

Pete Campbell always gets to home base.


Since Erin and I have been trying to have a baby for several months now, I agreed to get a semen analysis last week.¹ This is not something I imagined when I thought about the steps toward fatherhood. What man assumes he is fertilely defective?

The first embarrassing thing I did was walk into the wrong office. The lobby I entered had three sets of couples seated together: holding hands, talking quietly, smiling or staring at the floor. I walked past them to the front desk.

The woman behind the desk was drinking Diet Coke through a straw and reading People magazine.

“Hi, I’m Ben Vore and I have a 9:30 appointment for …” I didn’t finish the sentence.

She leaned in and finished it for me. “For a semen analysis?” she said in a whisper that was louder than normal talking. Behind me I imagined the men shaking their heads, thinking, Poor guy.

But am I really a poor guy? According to WebMD, “Up to half of all cases of infertility involve problems with the man.” What’s more, “Doctors arbitrarily diagnose infertility when a couple hasn’t conceived a child after 12 months of unprotected and frequent sex.” We’ve hardly been trying for 12 months. This was more of a preemptive test for peace of mind. (WebMD notes, “Male infertility testing can also spare women unnecessary discomfort and expense.” What husband doesn’t want to spare his wife unnecessary discomfort — lack of insurance coverage be damned?)

“You’re in the wrong place,” the woman informed me. “You’ll want to go back out those doors, turn right and go down the hall. The lab is the last door on your left.”

I exit gracefully.

The lab is tucked away at the end of the hall. I think of the mutant toys from Sid’s room in Toy Story, hidden away in the dark corners. I am not a mutant toy.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t picture what the room where I would ejaculate into a tiny cup at nine thirty in the morning would look like. It turns out to be like a mini-hotel room. There is a couch with, disconcertingly, a folded white bed sheet. A TV with built-in DVD player sits on a small cabinet. A radio is next to it, preset to white noise volume on an AM station. There is a lamp on an end table with a miniature wicker drawer where I am told to leave my cup. In the corner of the room is a nook with a sink and clothes hamper.

My doctor says, “When you’re done, just give me the thumbs up as you leave.” He gives me a thumbs up as if I need a visual reminder. Then he shuts the door.

I am left alone in a room with more pornography than I have ever seen in my life. Next to the TV is a DVD entitled Whispering Horses. (See “Correction.”) There is a stack of Playboy magazines in a bin below the end table. It is 9:38 a.m.

I have never watched a porno. (Magazines were a different story.) I have friends for whom this is an astonishing fact, and I have friends for whom this is not an astonishing fact at all. My first experience not-watching a porno was in seventh grade at my friend Aaron’s house. When it was clear what was being put into the VHS player, my hairless twelve-year-old armpits began sweating. On one hand I was intensely curious about what was going to be on that tape. On the other, I already knew the shame and guilt that would come with watching it. I was a very conflicted twelve-year-old.

I ended up not watching. First I sat facing away from the TV, then I pretended to sleep. My friends thought it odd I wasn’t joining them, but they didn’t pressure me. They were my friends.

Even though I didn’t watch the porno, I still felt riddled with guilt. I ended up telling my parents that we had watched a porno at the sleepover, only I said it in a way that implied I had taken part. Why did I do this? I think because I wanted to feel “normal” (every guy wanted to watch this, right?), and because I felt like I needed to be scolded.

What was clear to me even then was that lust was not love. My conception of the two was mutually exclusive. I subscribed to a sort of sexual gnosticism: lust, fully bad, was also the route that offered pleasure; love, fully good, was the route that offered the endgame of chaste, sexless thrills (like side hugs or eternal cheek kissing). I, of course, would be doomed to love. At the age of twelve, I believed I would marry a nice, smart, kind, compassionate — and forever homely — girl. I firmly believed this.

“What are you going to do?” Erin asked me after I agreed to the semen analysis.

“I think I’ll figure it out,” I said.

“But, like … how? I mean, what will you think about?”

We had just finished a series with our junior high youth group about sex, and pornography and masturbation had been topics of much conversation among the men. The irony of my situation was not lost on me.

I had been advised to remain abstinent for two to five days prior to my appointment, a task I (we) failed. At around 9:44 a.m., I realized this might be a problem. I didn’t have much in the tank.

At that point I put in Whispering Horses. It had the opposite effect: I am — and I thank God for this, though I wanted to curse him at that moment — someone who is not turned on by pornography. The magazines did not work either. I couldn’t not picture those women as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers.

I kept thinking, “You cannot fail at this. You cannot fail at this.”

At 9:53 a.m., I acknowledged that I was going to fail at this.

When I passed my doctor’s office on the way out, he looked at me expectantly. I gave him the thumbs down.

“Oh,” he said.

We rescheduled the appointment. I was told I could not be refunded my money but that I wouldn’t be charged for a second visit. This seemed fair to me.

I left Erin a voice mail informing her of my failure.

“Honey, it’s ok,” she said when she called back. “You don’t have to go back again.”

I gave this some thought. “No, I can do it,” I told her.

A little later in the conversation she said, “This would be kind of a funny blog post. Too bad we can’t write about it.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Too bad.”


1. The original version of this post did not have Pete Campbell’s picture, but upon watching episode 5 of season 2 of “Mad Men” this morning (“The New Girl”), we couldn’t help ourselves.

20 thoughts on “Friday Recommends With Great Hesitation: Semen Analysis

  1. Although I don’t want to make light of the need for semen analysis, this might be the single greatest thing I have read in my life.

  2. the first – and surely last – time i agree with cashmere!

    whispering horses sounds so romantic. it lacks a witty porn name. now whispering whoreses is something i could get behind.

  3. Keeping in mind your unapologetic dismissal of everything that I Friday Recommend to you, this post makes me hate you less. And it makes me like Erin more.

    I think you two would be awesome parents. I hope it works out.

    As to the clinic’s selection of “Whispering Horses”…let me just say that the franchise didn’t really hit it’s peak until “Whispering Horses III: I know a Secret”. Although “Whispering Horses IV: Back in the Saddle Again” wasn’t terrible and the aforementioned part III was truly outstanding, I can understand your lack of interest in the forgettable and (frankly) blatant mid-1960s Truffaut rip off that is “Whispering Horses”.

    I’m just saying.

      1. If you think it will help I’m happy to accompany you next time and sit (impatiently) in the waiting room.

        As long as we can go out for BBQ afterwards.

        I do understand if you want to keep this a “family” thing.

        I better not hear that you asked Erik to go with you instead of me.

        Especially if you go out for BBQ afterwards.

        1. I think this is a great idea. As we all know, it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe it takes a village to create a child. Which means that by extentsion, it takes a village to complete a sperm analysis. You should definitely bring friends for moral support (but not assistance). I volunteer to drive as long as everyone promises not to spill BBQ in the minivan.

          This may be better attended than the Voreblog movie outing.

          1. Wow. I’m … touched, I guessed … by all the support.

            It’s like the first time you successfully poop and everyone makes a big deal out of it. We had relatives visiting the day I graduated from toilet training school and everyone made a point of congratulating me afterwards. It was awkward, but I was flattered. I also got a Tonka Truck. That was pretty cool.

  4. Originally I volunteered to allow VoreBlog to save my soul via reader selected porn but shot that down at the last minute. Now that I know about the Whispering Horse I am pretty sure the decision would have been easy.

    Ben- when faces these type of challenges just ask yourself this… What would Don Draper do? And the answer does not include Whispering Horses or a sheet covered couch.

  5. This is the real explanation for my failure, Matthew. Thank you for exposing me.

    I’ve also taken the liberty of hyperlinking your comment.

  6. I had written this under the name of Ken:

    Angels are like us too Mr. Vore. Remember, Alan Rickman and that girl in “Let the Right One In” (so I guess vampires are like us too – are you Edward?) portrayed us fantastically.

    But then I felt bad – so – Ben, sex is fun. Have at it player! Get in where you fit in never sounded so spot on did it? Huh? Huh? Get in there! I laugh till I cry. I think Mike and I should both go with you… made it too serious. Can Mike and I be in the room and crack jokes about your penis?

    1. I only crack jokes about Ben’s manpurse, but I’m comfortable cracking jokes about all of Tad’s appendages.

      Seriously though, we should all just roll in there. It’s like when the antelopes or whatever vegetable eating animals are trying to cross the stream in Africa. You know the crocodiles are going to grab a few of them, but there…are…just…so…many.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that if we all go, then the doctor is pretty much guaranteed to get (at least) one cup of semen.

      Then we can all go out for Q.

  7. Great. Now we’ve ruined BBQ for Matthew for the rest of his lifetime; Mike got another potshot in about my manpurse; Ryan Mecum may be having sleepless nights visualizing things about me he never wished in his head; and I’ve willingly compared myself to Pete Campbell.

    To quote Bill Simmons, “I will now light myself on fire.”

  8. email received from Ben:

    “Somebody over here in music opened up Explorer outside of Citrix and then an e-mail attachment that downloaded a virus. And some porn. I looked at the pron but couldn’t fix the computer. It rebooted (you know what I mean) itself (you know what I mean) three times in the past hour. If you don’t know how to fix this, let me know. And flog the offending party.”

    only minor editing was done by me.

    So BBQ sauce has semen in it? Am I reading this whole thread right?

  9. This is disgraceful. And libelous. Workplace e-mails should be off-limits. Minor editing should be off-limits. And any more BBQ references should be off-limits. Great Gary Sinise.

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