Self Determined: Childfree is a valid choice

Being Childfree is the choice to never reproduce, to never have children.  Childfree people are capable of reproducing, but make the conscious decision never to have any.  (This does not automatically include those who are involuntarily infertile or incapable of having children, though it can.)  It is not “selfish”, and it is not something one chooses without a great deal of thought.  Environmentally, choosing not to have a “mini me” is the most unselfish choice of all.Childfree bingo

Being Childfree is a feminist issue.  Just as abortion, birth control and bodily autonomy are feminist issues and are a right (or should be), so is being Childfree.  And yet even among those who claim to support feminism and women’s right to bodily autonomy, you will hear an unspoken message from some: “You can choose when to have kids, but you must have kids at some point.”  Motherhood is not a requirement of being a woman, and women are not “failures” or “barren” for not having children.

It's all about having kids

Being Childfree is an environmental issue.  There are 7.5 billion humans alive and another 300,000 added per day.  It is vital that we reduce the number of people consuming natural resources, and being Childfree is a painless and effective way of doing that.  Choosing not to have children is not “murder” or “euthanasia” (unless your name is St. Augustus), nor is it an advocation to kill people who are already alive.  It is the choice not to create any more, especially when there are already so many children without homes and living in poverty.

Being Childfree is a human rights issue of any existing or hypothetical children.  The UN’s Declaration of the Rights of the Child lists things that should be guaranteed to all children: equality; protection; adequate nutrition, housing and medical services; education; love by parents and society; recreational; the first to receive relief; protection against abuse and neglect; the right to be brought up in a spirit of understanding.  If one lives in a situation where these things cannot be provided, why is it wrong to not have children until it is?

Being Childfree is an economic issue.  Poverty is rampant and wages are declining.  Choosing to have children when you can barely afford to feed, house and clothe yourself is irresponsible.  A tax deduction and child allowance bonus are not going to cover the cost of living, no matter how big they are.  “Perpetual economic growth” is not possible, and contraction – both economic and population – is inevitable (e.g. Japan’s aging population).  The other option is social and environmental collapse.

No reason to have a child

I have long been part of various Childfree groups and discussion forums. I have read many from women who report gynecologists refusing them sterilization or long term birth control (e.g. IUDs) because of their age (in their twenties), telling them, “Come back when you’re 35 and have kids” Some report being denied Depo-Provera because of side effects on women’s bodies (e.g. loss of bone density)The implication is that women aren’t mature or informed enough to make up their own minds about their own bodies.  Even if women later regret their decisions, it is still their decision to make, not a doctor’s.  Nobody “owes” children to society or grandchildren to their parents.  And no one gets to decide that people have to be pregnant (re: abortion rights).

What made my blood boil and set me off was an article on Vox written by E. P. Wohlfart, a Swedish archaeologist, about her experiences with a gynecologist and other doctors while seeking voluntary sterilization.  (She wrote it in November 2015, it was reprinted on Vox in February 2017.)  Not only were the gynecologist’s questions insulting, she “referred” Wolfhart to a therapist.  How Soviet of the gynecologist, declare Wolfhart “mentally ill” for not conforming with society and wanting permanent birth control.

Wolfhart’s (or any woman’s) reasons for choosing sterilization are hers and hers alone, and no one has the right question them.  She never wanted kids, she wanted worry-free sex with her husband, and as an archaeologist living in countries where adequate medical care and birth control may not be available, she had genuine concerns for her own safety.  And yet a doctor felt it was her place to question and dictate Wolfhart’s life.

I told my doctor I didn’t want kids. She sent me to a therapist.

“What about when you and your husband get divorced, and you meet someone else?”

She said when. The gynecologist’s voice was steady and detached, but her lips pursed in a condescending smirk and her eyes gleamed. I was 25 years old and had married my best friend three years earlier. Everything about being married brought me joy. I certainly had no intention of getting divorced.

It is contradictory and sexist to believe women should have the right to birth control and bodily autonomy but then also deny women the right to choose voluntary sterilization.  Why is a man having a vasectomy “socially responsible” yet a woman doing the same is “bizarre” and “a sign of mental illness”?  Even some who claim to be socially liberal can be as reactionary as the most fanatical theist.  There is no more a “biological clock in everyone” than there are voices in everyone’s heads.

Responsible pet owner

People have the right to be Childfree.  The choice to be Childfree does not impinge upon the rights of those who want children nor prevent them from having children any more than non-heterosexual marriage impinges upon or prevents “straight” marriage.  Questioning people’s decision to be Childfree is invasive and offensive, even if sterilization is not part of the discussion.

Haven't given it enough thought

I am genuinely surprised that the issue of being Childfree has not been discussed before on Freethought Blogs, especially since women’s bodily autonomy is such a strong issue here.  I checked.  It has only been mentioned twice in passing, once by myself.

List of things to say







  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    The same applies, in somewhat lesser ways, to men.

    I had to go through multiple hoops and finally tell several lies to get a vasectomy in my 20s.

    Mumble decades later, no regrets.

    • says

      I’m sure you’re right about how difficult it is to get a vasectomy. I have not looked into it (yet) because of zero risk of pregnancy in my relationships.

      As with many things, there are gender double standards. Those who say “men are studs, women are _____” will likely also say “men are confirmed bachelors, women are old maids and cat ladies”. The assumption exists that all women will get pregnant unless there’s “something wrong with them”. There’s no such assumption for men, and it’s even praised for some (e.g. priests).

  2. Siobhan says

    I was at some point going to do a post that the sterilization in my transition was a feature and not a bug, but you pretty much covered my basis. 😛

    • says

      Choosing sterility is one thing, but as I’m sure you’re aware there are countries that impose it upon transgender people as a condition of surgery and recognition. My advocation of the right to be Childfree does not include support for governments to impose it, even as I say overpopulation is a problem.

  3. says

    My wife and I, both in our mid-30’s, are also childless. We’ve been fortunate in that we’re rarely in positions where people question it.

    I’ve kicked around the idea of writing about it, but only tangentially. A friend of a friend on social media had a GoFundMe for their adoption after failing to get pregnant, asking for something crazy like $30K. I was going to excoriate the idea behind that and frame it as being incredibly selfish and segue into a discussion on foster care, child welfare, childlessness, etc. But it just didn’t come together like I wanted it to.

  4. invivoMark says

    I’m fascinated by Pierce R. Butler’s response. My own experience was very much the opposite. My insurance required that I have a consultation with the doctor who was going to snip my deferens. It was a very brief consultation, though, and the doctor was nothing but encouraging, expounding on how easy and painless vasectomies are and all the advantages of having one.

    I’m sure the range of experiences is broad, but I think it’s something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, and it’s totally unfair that women face so many more barriers than I faced when seeking sterilization.

    • Pierce R. Butler says

      invivoMark – As a literal graybeard, I suspect my experience significantly predates yours.

      Glad to hear the situation has (at least in your area) improved!

  5. Jessie Harban says

    I’m still completely baffled by the idea that anyone could think it’s “selfish” to not create an actual human with actual needs purely to fulfill your own wishes. Having children is a fundamentally selfish act.

    @OP, Wolfhart quote:

    Not only were the gynecologist’s questions insulting, she “referred” Wolfhart to a therapist.

    @1, Pierce R. Butler:

    I had to go through multiple hoops and finally tell several lies to get a vasectomy in my 20s.

    Yeesh. I’m lucky I’m ace and don’t need to get sterilized.

    • says

      The claim of “selfishness” is predicated on the claim that Childfree people are “lazy and want to spend all their time and money on themselves”. As if that’s a problem or we don’t have that right. They should tell that to the billionaires who live in opulence while people starve instead of saying it to people who chose not to add to the human population.

      In reality, Childfree people end up contributing more to society and getting less back than those with children. We don’t get child tax deductions nor benefit from money spent on public schools, but we still pay them because it benefits society. And the “selfishness” claim also makes the false assumption that Childfree people don’t behave like meerkats. Childfree people contribute time and money to raising nieces and nephews and have more time and money to contribute to charities and local activities.

      Many in the Childfree community suspect {snark and humour here} that the objection to our choice isn’t about “selfishness”, it’s about wanting everyone else to share in their misery. They resent the fact that we don’t suffer the sleepness nights, the costs, the frustrations, the mess, and other things that they put up with for eighteen years or more.

  6. Callinectes says

    While I have yet to decide for myself one way or the other (and I may well not get to), I see my grandparents, the patriarch and matriarch of my family, surrounded by their children and grandchildren, and being looked after by them as the frailties of their later years begin to catch up. I sometimes wake up at night, gripped by the fear that I will wind up like them, yet completely alone, my older family all deceased and having never created younger generations. I’m not socially inclined and I’m not hopeful that the social safety net will be anything other than tatters by then, so I could very well end up completely alone during one of the few periods of my life in which company becomes an existential requirement. This terrifies me and of all the arguments one way or the other it is the only one that gives me pause. As it is, it’s one I’ve only ever heard made inside my own head, but still.

    • anat says

      My parents had 3 kids. Neither of us lives in the same continent as them. OTOH after having the experience of caring for their respective mothers in old age they were determined not to burden us with that. They made plans to be self-supporting.