The other day I was watching this documentary on deep-sea life and learned the following fact about fish: if they made porn it would be nothing but money shots. Turns out fish don’t have body-contact sex, the way humans do when we’re lucky. Instead, a bunch of fish just sort of congregate in this relatively small part of the ocean, and release their various eggs and sperms into the water, and some of them come together and thus begins the Miracle of Fish Life.
And that’s it. The clam plate orgy’s over until next mating season.
I don’t want to think too much about the sexual habits of fish because that’s probably not healthy, but I can’t help wonder: why do they even bother? We have sex (which sometimes leads to babies) because it feels good. Do fish get any similar good feelings out of being within a few yards of each other?
This all somewhat ties in with an interesting article, by an evolutionary biologist named David Barash, called “Sex is Essential, Kids Aren’t.” It starts by mentioning that in Germany, 30 percent of all women were childless—and by choice.
Demographers are intrigued. German nationalists, aghast. Religious fundamentalists, distressed at the indication that large numbers of women are using birth control. And evolutionary biologists (including me) are asked, "How can this be?" If reproduction is perhaps the fundamental imperative of natural selection, of our genetic heritage, isn't it curious — indeed, counterintuitive — that people choose, and in such large numbers, to refrain from participating in life's most pressing event?
I’m one of those people. Kids are cute but I don’t want any. I understand that somebody needs to keep the human race going, but it’s not going to be me. So is this a problem?
intentional childlessness is indeed curious — but in no way surprising. It is also illuminating, because it sheds light on what is perhaps the most notable hallmark of the human species: the ability to say no — not just to a bad idea, an illegal order or a wayward pet but to our own genes. . . . People are inclined to eat when hungry, sleep when tired and have sex when aroused. But in most cases, we remain capable of declining, endowed as we are with that old bugaboo, free will. Moreover, when people indulge their biologically based inclinations, nearly always it is to satisfy an immediate itch, whose existence is itself an evolved strategy leading to some naturally selected payoff. A person doesn't typically eat, for example, with the goal of meeting her metabolic needs but to satisfy her hunger, which is a benevolent evolutionary trick that induces the food-deprived to help out their metabolism.
At this point the article talks about how sex and birth used to be pretty much connected until the invention of contraception. Then it goes on:
Behavioral ecologists distinguish between what are known as "r" and "K" strategies among living things. Thus, "r" strategists — such as mice and rabbits — breed early and often, producing large numbers of offspring that suffer high mortality. "K" types — such as elephants and whales — breed later and relatively rarely, producing fewer offspring (with lower mortality) and investing more in each. Neither elephants nor whales send their children to college, although they indulge in the animal equivalent.
Pretechnological human beings are comparatively "r" in their reproductive style. But with improved socioeconomic conditions — especially, better educational and vocational opportunities for women — comes the demographic transition, whereby "r" gives way to "K," and infant mortality plummets along with birthrate. There also arises a tendency to take especially good care of the fewer children one produces, as well as a greater inclination to look out for No. 1, sometimes — horror of horrors! — by producing no children at all.
I don’t have kids. Nor am I going to. I know some people are offended by the idea of a willingly childless woman, but y’all should be happy instead. After all, with my kid out of the picture, yours has a better chance of getting into college.