Professor Carl Djerassi, Austrian-American chemist and inventor of the Pill, recently made an interesting prediction in the Telegraph: that, by 2050, most babies in the West will be born via IVF, thereby making all sex recreational. Yes! Let's go get our free-spirited fuck on because oh wait yeah no this is terrible.
Djerassi told Sarah Knapton at the Telegraph that "the Pill will become obsolete because men and women will choose to freeze their eggs and sperm when young before being sterilized." And:
He also claims it will end abortions, as no children will be unplanned or unwanted.
Prof Djerassi said that advances in fertility treatment made it much safer for parents without fertility problems to consider IVF.
The progress will give rise to a 'Manana generation' who are safe in the knowledge that parenthood can be delayed without repercussions, he claims. They may even have healthier children because their eggs and sperm would be younger.
He goes onto say that the majority of the women choosing IVF will actually be fertile women who froze their eggs to delay reproduction: this will be a commonplace "insurance" move for women in their 20s, who will choose later to be fertilized via IVF because of advancements in genetic screening.
Badabing, badabang, then:
And once that happens then IVF will start to become a normal non-coital method of having children.
"Over the next few decades, say by the year 2050, more IVF fertilisations will occur among fertile women than the current five million fertility-impaired ones.
"For them the separation between sex and reproduction will be 100 per cent."
But, unlike the separation of church and state, the separation of sex and reproduction is not an unequivocal good. You might presume that all sex being for fun would be, well, fun: but if just-for-fun sex isn't all fun NOW, who says it'll ever be, later? I just have so many questions. Like:
Ever hooked up with a guy with an extremely large but malleable penis that doesn't get all the way hard?
Ever slept with a guy who says a lot of inadvertently hilarious dirty shit while having sex with you that makes you want to die?
Ever been with a dude who thinks he is super great at sex but is super not great?
Ever hooked up with someone who treats sex like performance art?
Ever been with a guy who cries after sex?
Ever had sex with a guy who calls himself the Slaw Daddy?
On another tack: Is IVF going to become suddenly extremely simple, reliable and affordable in 35 years to the point that women would actually give up the old-school option to get knocked up from intercourse for something that, at least currently, is considered "complex and expensive," that only 5% of couples use and has only about a 30% success rate?
What if you froze your eggs but Mr. Right didn't freeze his sperm and is now old and sterile? Hubbub hubbub bureacracy, hubbub hubbub power outages, hubbub hubbub human error, hubbub hubbub insert all dystopian science fiction hubbub hubbub the Handmaids Tale of Bad Choices.
"Convenience Sterilization" sounds like a great title for a rom-com, and all-recreational sex sounds like a lot of pressure.
Additionally, there's an inference in Djerassi's prediction that all unplanned pregnancies are unwanted or bad. Certainly, preventing unplanned pregnancy is an ideal goal, and certainly many unplanned pregnancies are unwanted. But not all of them are that way. Many families welcome, embrace, and celebrate "oops babies" as wonderful, happy accidents. And extra planning doesn't always mean satisfaction: lots of people regret having babies, and this feeling often doesn't occur until long after the pregnancy and birth.
And: since when would genetic screening guarantee all healthy babies? Or, for that matter, the eggs being young? Some 80% of babies with Down Syndrome are born to women under 35, for one thing, and for another, greater awareness about intellectual and developmental disabilities has created a new culture, one that embraces the differently abled and doesn't reflexively see them as a problem to be eliminated or dodged.
One upside of Djerassi's imagined world is that couples struggling with infertility would surely have a lot more free time. A couple trying to become pregnant could be freed of that obligatory sex three to six times a week for a year: think of the positive outcomes for not just leisure, but also sex lives in general. Sarah Elizabeth Richards at Slate writes:
Anyone who has had trouble getting or staying pregnant knows that infertility is hard on relationships; however, a new study from Stanford University has documented the extent to which it hurts women's sex lives. Forty percent of infertile women suffered from sexual problems that caused them distress, compared with 25 percent of a control group of healthy women. They experienced low desire and had trouble becoming aroused. They engaged in sexual intercourse or masturbated less frequently.
I'm all for everyone having further control over when, if, and how to have babies—who isn't? (Er, a lot of people). And more options are good. But the idea of taking away old, perfectly workable options for many people seems unrealistic, economically impossible and theoretically overeager to boot.
Grace Dent at the Independent points out, also, that there are many reasons people have sex that have little to do with pleasure:
Obviously, this slightly overlooks all the non-fun reasons why men and women will carry on having sex, such as: "I am having sex with you as your erection is in my back and I'm aware I've not put out since last Wednesday," or, "I am having sex with you as it is cheaper sleeping here than a 2am cross-town taxi, and if I don't put out you will suss I am in love with your friend Carla," or, "I am having sex with you as I'm in a dry spell and I want to see if my equipment is still working but, Jesus, can you not make direct eye contact as you remind me of a pretty Tom Baker."
I propose an alternate future for sex in 2050. Instead of trying to rule out sex for reproductive purposes, let's rule out the use of these feet pictures and also these ones, for stories about sex of any kind.
That, at least, will make things more fun.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby.