Why doesn't anyone ever talk about Child-Free men?

March 24 |
Pomme de terre de la République
Photo by Flickr user mll, used with Creative Commons license.
We've got a a few posts about being Child-Free, but as most of you would guess, these are largely skewed toward Child-Free women. I was reading a piece on Bitch Magazine's website which linked to this piece: Two Is Enough.

For all the stories written by and for women [on being Child-Free] — and there are markedly few — men are more likely to be absent from the public dialogue about intentional childlessness. It isn't as if they don't exist, so why aren't men's stories also being heard? Is it because men face less scrutiny than their Child-Free female counterparts? Does men's and women's access to birth control and sterilization procedures alter gendered ideas about reproductive freedom? Is this somehow related to the somewhat offensive stereotype that men are aloof about parenting and will panic if women express too much interest in starting a family? Or are men simply less invested in talking about children—or their lack thereof—in the first place?


Author Brittany Shoot goes on to discuss that many Child-Free men have had vasectomies, some early (20-24 years old), some later. She points out that men who opt to be Child-Free typically aren't met with the same response as women:

It isn't just younger men who know that parenthood isn't for them. When I talked to David, a 51-year-old marketing professional from Milwaukee whose wife Sue asked that I not use their last name, he was matter-of-fact about never wanting to have children, and was thrilled to have stuck with the decision.

"Our decision to forego child-rearing was neither emotional nor rushed. We began talking about it before we married—as all couples should—but we waited about 10 years before we shut the door permanently, with a vasectomy, because we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to be sure we wouldn't change our minds," he told me. Unlike some men, David was open to having a family if his wife changed her mind. But she never did, and he has relished the freedom of their mutual decision, telling me, "I've deeply appreciated the options available to me as a result [of not having children]."

When I asked about how he handles negative responses to his Child-Free status, David related several anecdotes about the times he's received a critical nod or unexpected frown. But, he added, "I suspect men experience less negative blowback than women do. When I make it clear that my wife and I have elected to remain childless, most men seem either to understand or to simply not care enough to belabor the issue."

So what do you guys think? Are you surprised that Child-Free men report having an easier time talking about their decision with inquiring minds than their female counterparts?

  1. I am NOT surprised — because men don't judge each other like women do, and they ESPECIALLY don't judge with WORDS like women do. They also tend not to WANT to know the intricate details of another dude's psyche, or the complex ways that he & his wife relate to one another. You know? Guys will take an explanation, either accept it or call BS on it, and tend not to bring it up again or weave complicated "what does it all mean" stories about it in their heads, like women do.

    That said — MANY male friends of my husband have gotten a little too into it with my husband about why he hasn't had kids yet and "all that he's missing out on." However, after that one time bringing it up, they haven't brought it up again. That would not and does not happen with women, as *I* experience getting badgered about my reluctance to have kids all the time!

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  2. I think the cultural attitude is a bit of a holdover from outdated expectations that life for a man isn't that different without kids. After all he's not the one who would stay home and raise them anyways, right?? 😛

    There might also be less perceived biological pressure. A man can change his mind at age 60 if he wants, and father a child. So if he's 40 and saying "never" to kids it might not seem as urgent to nosy people who might be ready to judge.

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  3. It has to do with the whole "biological clock", "maternal instincts" crap that is thrust upon all women but not on men. Men are expected to want to be lifetime bachelors traveling from partner to partner. So what is probably not discussed but is generally thought of men who don't have or want children..is that they are afraid of commitment. Because where women are expected to have an undying desire for offspring..men are expected to be afraid of responsibility. The fact that it isn't talked about is a signifier that it's generally considered normal for men to act this way but abnormal for women to.

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    • I agree with this completely. It drives my husband crazy anytime someone asks him when we're going to start having children. When he tells them that we're not planning on having kids, their immediate response is "well, what does your wife think about that?" I mean, I'm a woman, so that must mean I want kids, right? He usually tells them that I'm less interested in having kids than he is.

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    • Yup, this is exactly what I came here to say. I think it all boils down to cultural expectations and stereotypes. Women are expected to want babies, men are expected to just be going along with it if it happens, but not actively *hoping* to parent, yanno? So it seems to follow that there's be more vocalization from women about being Childfree than men because for women it's not considered the norm, whereas for men, it is. If your opinions create negative reactions from people, writing about it seems all the better, whereas for men, writing about it might not stir up as much conversation since that's what's "expected" already.

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    • I think that is a bit of an unfair judgement. My best friend is male, and has made sure he will remain childfree. He's also married. I think that shows he is NOT afraid of commitment. He likes kids just fine, many of his friends have kids, he just doesn't want to deal with the pressure of raising children. I can't say I blame him, and besides his and his wife's jobs are not exactly child-friendly.

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  4. Following the biological line (and talking out of my arse, because what do I know?)…

    If you think about it, it's biologically less of a big deal for a segment of the male population to choose not to reproduce — on the whole. Of course, each individual man is choosing not to pass down his own genes. But as a species, there's a larger impact when women choose not to reproduce–each woman has a limited number of children she can produce, so overall it puts a greater dent in the number of humans that could exist. But men can father way, way more children than a woman can biologically have, so reproducing men can "fill the gaps" made by non-reproducing men.

    Who knows if, subconsciously, any of this plays into why men don't get the same level of crap about electing to be childless than women making the same choice. But it's kind of interesting to think about.

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  5. It also factors in to general unavailability of tubal ligations for young women. I have two female friends, one almost 40, the other 25, who do not want children. The younger one especially would like to get her tubes tied but in her experience doctors will not consider it because "she might change her mind later." An adult woman can't make that sort of choice for herself because it's believed that she doesn't know herself well enough to live with that choice?!? Yet this isn't a problem for young men.

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    • I think you're right about this – it is harder for women to procure permanent sterilization at a young age then men. Even getting an IUD can be difficult!

      But I will say that I personally know more than one young man who has been turned down for a vasectomy in their twenties for similar reasons.

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      • Trying to get an IUD has been impossible for me. I've had four different doctors refuse to give me one on the grounds that if I contracted an STD ("But I'm in a committed monogamous relationship!" "Well, too bad, go fuck yourself" [paraphrase]) it might make me infertile, and NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT TO A WOMAN'S LIFE THAN HAVING BABIES, RIGHT?! And obviously as a woman in her twenties, I am WAAAAAYYYY too young to make the informed decision to take that risk or not for myself. GRRRRRR BITTER BITTER BITTER

        It wouldn't be so bad if I weren't violently, potentially lethally allergic to all hormonal birth control, leaving my only real options a diaphragm (which won't sit right in my lady bits), the sponge (Coming to about $5.70 per, I absolutely cannot afford that) aaaaaand condoms, which, you know. Break. And also make sex uncomfortable for me.

        End Rant. Sorry, I'm super bitter about this situation, and the fact that all my doctors seem to think me not having sex ever is a fair trade for preserving my fertility, which I may or may not use. This discussion just brings up all that raaaaaaaage.

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        • Wow. It's incredible that FOUR different doctors have been (a) so misinformed about modern IUDs and (b) so paternalistic. I hope you're able to find a good practice!

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          • IS YOUR AVATAR FROM HARK A VAGRANT?!

            Infuriatingly, every single time, I tried to explain to them that I have done my research, the risks are small, I am very well-informed, I am aware of the risk and willing to take it, PLEASE JUST LET ME HAVE SEX AGAIN, and they've all basically patted me on my pretty little head and sent me off for my sticker and lollipop with an "Aren't you cute using big doctor-words!"

            Hopefully now that I've moved more permanently to NYC, things will be easier. The problem has become finding someone who's both willing to do it and accept my insurance.

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        • If there are any around your neck of the woods, see if a women's clinic/reproductive health center/midwife/"abortion clinic" can help. They seem to be more flexible, at least here in the South.

          (I put "abortion clinic" in quotes since the ones I worked at did a LOT more than abortions!)

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          • Yep, these doctors were all in the South. Two women, two men. I did have a positive response at a family clinic, but they didn't accept my health insurance — so it would have been $700+ out of pocket, which is an awful lot when you're making $800/month.

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        • That's so crazy! I'm surprised to hear it–I just got an IUD with no hassle at all. I was all geared up for a fight, since I am a young, unmarried woman in a small midwestern town, but nobody batted an eye.

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        • That's ridiculous. I just got an IUD put in and I'm 20. My doctor did ask me many times about whether or not I was in a monogamous relationship, but other than that was supportive.

          Also, about the sponge as a contraceptive, my parents were using it when they conceived me.

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      • I also had a hard time obtaining an IUD. I finally got one, but only because I can't take mixed hormone birth control due to my migraines. What I really want is sterilization, but that's off the table due to my age and lack of babies.

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    • Interesting enough, after my brother was born in the mid-80s (when both my parents were in their mid-20s) my dad had a hell of a time getting a vasectomy when there were plenty of doctors who were willing to give my mom a tubal!

      This might have been because the reasoning behind the vasectomy was partly my mother's health problems… and the docs told him, "You might divorce her and want more kids later!" Funny how he didn't…

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    • Agreed. I did look into the many ways to sterilize women. I don't even qualify for and IUD because I don't have children. Meanwhile, vasectomy.com says things like "Men who have finished having kids or wish to never father children." That's not even an option for women. Look at their websites. On top of that, I'm not allowed to even talk to my doctor about sterilization until after age 35. Vasectomy.com says "This procedure is recommended for men 25 or older." 25?!
      So my hubby and I looked into a vasectomy, and it grew even more frustrating. New no-scalpel no-needle pain jets for the needle-phobic, and a mere $30 copay, which is less than my birth control on the same insurance.

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      • Regardless of having children, as long as your uterus is large enough (6cm long for Paragard), you can have an IUD put in. That said, it will be a bit more painful than if you had had a child. The main concern the doctors have is that it is easier to get a major infection from an STD with an IUD in place.

        • I was sent by my doctor to get an IUD (my doctor's idea, not mine), but the gynecologist wouldn't do it because there are also dangers of the IUD not going in properly, causing scarring if it shifts, etc. Plus she wanted me on birth control because I may actually want kids.

          • That's peculiar. Mine liked it because of the low risks involved, and I chose it precisely because I do want kids (in a couple years).

            I'm not sure where you live, but doctors in the US tend to be under-informed about IUDs – they're widely used in Europe and China.

      • Interestingly enough, I have also been told that I don't qualify for an IUD, however, now that I've started calling doctors for information on getting Essure, IUDs are being offered as an alternative. Drives me crazy.

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  6. I think it's for the same reason that women are asked when they plan to marry, and men are asked when they plan to 'settle down'. There's an expectation in the west that women want marriage and babies, and that men want careers and a bachelor lifestyle.The flip side of men not being asked about why they don't have kids yet is that men that stay at home and look after the kids are asked constantly why they don't have a 'real' job. The idea is that a woman is abnormal somehow if she doesn't want children, and a man is abnormal if he has more than a passing interest in children.

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    • This is so true. My husband loves kids, has wanted to be a dad for a long time and wants to stay home to raise them. He's looked down upon for this by a lot of people and is considered weird, especially by the men in his own family.

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  7. I'm trying to imagine how my guy might respond to the question "Why aren't men grilled about having kids like women are?" And I could see him saying something like,

    "Well, generally, we don't really drive the decision, because that choice is going to affect the woman physically a lot more than it affects the man. You're the one who has to actually go through pregnancy, birth, & breastfeeding. If you don't want a kid, you have the right to an abortion. Even though we'll obviously share in the mental/emotional/parenting parts of having children, you're the one who's got final say on whether/when this happens, because it's your body."

    Which, I dunno… makes sense, in a general sort of way.

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  8. I agree that it's a social/cultural thing. As soon as I got married people started asking me when I was going to have kids. When I got pregnant, DH's friends looked at him like he was crazy and asked if he was really ready for it. It's like women can't have kids soon enough, and it's always to early for men…

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    • And there's almost an expectation that women "trick" men into getting them pregnant!

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  9. I just think of how the media portrays men versus women. Single Men: Strong, powerful, cool and charismatic. Dads: Bumbling, submissive to their wives, stupid, forgetful, obsessed with their lawn.

    Single Women: Either despierate to have a man (the majority of the Sex and the City chicks) or ball-beaters, boring, "manly" women.
    Moms: Can be greatly diverse… you either have the sexy MILF which is becoming more and more common, or just the boring yet nurturing maternal woman.

    Single men get the best PR, so it probably isn't a big deal to be child-free. That said, anecdotally, my husband has more problems with people bugging him about having kids than I do. I don't know if it is because I am slightly younger, less of a "nurturer" or early in my career, but he is asked about it much more often than I am.

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  10. Actually (pushing up nerd glasses) Shelley Correll, a sociology prof at my university, has done some research on the professional costs of being a mother – and her experiments have had some super surprising results for childless men.
    In an experiment, she compared the hiring desirability of men without children, women without children, men with children, and women with children. The people at the greatest disadvantage were women with children and men without children.
    Women with children were clearly at the bottom of the barrel on a lot of the outcomes, but men without children were also noticeably at a disadvantage. They were considered less committed, less reliable, and were even less likely to get called for an interview than mothers (who were very unlikely to get called back). Childless women, on the other hand, were often perceived as very competent and desirable for hire. Men with children were the coolest ever.

    Correll, S. (2007) "Getting a Job – Is There a Motherhood Penalty?" American Journal of Sociology

    This link might work: http://meshulav.biu.ac.il/staff/bugush/penaltyformotherinjobgetting.pdf

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  11. I would suggest that men get an easier time avoiding talking about it because, as a man, I'm pretty much expected to stick my penis in everything, or have the desire to do so. That colors any conversation about a man deciding to be childless.

    As an experiment, I just now pondered a vasectomy. Doing so made me expect two reactions from other men:

    1) lowbrow "sweet you can have all the sex you want, live the sex-filled, hedonistic lifestyle mentioned in lore (penthouse letters)"
    2) highbrow "I'm glad you're being a responsible human and doing your part against overpopulation"

    From other women:
    1) lowbrow "you probably want to have lots of sex with people and no consequences
    2) highbrow "I'm glad you're being a responsible human and doing your part against overpopulation"

    So I, as a fairly sensitive guy, wouldn't ever bring it up because I feel those two interpretations are fairly limiting on my actual reasons. Were I the non-sensitive kind of guy, I wouldn't really talk about it because it's about medical stuff. Put another way, if you are on the range of men who *would* feel comfortable talking about it, you're probably cognizant of how it would portray you negatively, so you'd avoid it.

    Sorry for the inadvertent stereotyping, men; also, I think I'm really only representative of dudes in their 30s, so Your Mileage May Vary.

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  12. Interesting responses. I have to say, when my current friend-with-benefits and I were first talking about getting involved, the fact that he had a vasectomy made him so much more attractive to me than he already was. And that reaction has started me on the path to permanent birth control.

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