Choosing Not to Reproduce

According to Scientific American, ” From an evolutionary gene’s-eye perspective, the genes are immortal, and our role, the meaning of life, is to perpetuate the genes.” In fact, the definition of life itself includes reproduction.  According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, “A key part of any definition of life is that living organisms reproduce.”

Every species on the plant reproduces—whether sexually or asexually. Yet human beings, uniquely, often choose not to reproduce at all.  In some cases, that choice is reinforced through sexual abstinence (celibacy). In other cases (and since the 20th century), the choice is reinforced through the use of the Pill and other birth control techniques. Of course, there are many people (and animals) who simply can’t reproduce for physical reasons—but their non-reproduction is a matter of chance, rather than choice.

If our role in evolution—the meaning of life—is to reproduce, and only non-living things don’t reproduce, how can we think about the choice to avoid having children?

Obviously, that choice doesn’t reduce our humanness.  And it doesn’t make us un-alive.  But it does separate some of us from our baby-having peers.  And it does raise the question, for some, “if I am not adding to the gene pool and thus aiding human evolution, what purpose am I serving?”

The answer, of course, is purely human.

Those of us who actively choose not to reproduce are pursuing goals that no other species even contemplates. Some are pursuing demanding careers. Some are exploring spiritual enlightenment. Quite a few are simply uninterested in the process of parenting.  

Interestingly, while none of these reasons are in any way harmful to fellow human beings, those who are non-reproductive by choice are often described as “selfish.” The idea is that, somehow, the choice to remain childless is an expression of self-centeredness. While few would actually state outright that remaining childless is an injury to the race, perhaps – deep down – there is an evolutionary drive to push fellow humans to reproduce.

Given the reality that human beings, as a group, are quite fertile—and that, in fact, overpopulation was a major issue not long ago—there is no real evolutionary need to reproduce.

Why, then is there so much pressure to do so—and so much stigma placed on choosing not to?  Is it, somehow, a modern reflection of a very ancient reproductive drive?  If so, is it something we should continue to espouse as we move forward?  Share your thoughts on the Forum!

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