Every now and then we hear reports of whales stranding themselves on shore. Why they do this is a mystery.

Moving from whales to humans, two human behaviors seem to me to be equally mysterious. First, the loss of a desire to have children. This is not too common but it is more and more visible, especially among the more affluent. Second, the loss (among the young) of a desire to have sex.

Our world is full of children and explorations of sexuality run rampant and often destructively among us. The desire to have children and to have sex (with or without thought of children) are biologically embedded instincts. Would not the loss of these desires run counter to our biologically derived instincts? If these attitudes and behaviors continued and expanded, what kind of future would we create?


What is the future of children? I don’t mean the future of the children in the world. I mean the future of having children.

One of my favorite movies is Children of Men. The premise of the movie is that couples, for some unexplained reason, stopped having children. It is a dystopian vision of a future with no children and, thus, no hope. (For an interesting take on this thought –

An essay I read in the New York Times, Opting out of Parenthood with Finances in Mind, made me wonder if the reverse is also true. Is the loss of hope tied to loss of a desire to have children?

The essayist, a married, affluent, and urban young woman, writes about the economic sacrifices of having children. According to her, when she explained the article she was writing to other mothers, their words to her were: “good for you”. Not exactly the kind of mothers I’m used to.

What stands out to me from her essay is not the economics of having children. What stands out to me is that she could find no good reasons for having a child. Ironically, I could not escape the deep sense of poverty in her view of life.

I’m sure the essayist is a fine, loving, and healthy person, but this article made me ask a dark, dark question about the worldview it suggests. I have to ask, What if children were free, a dime a dozen? Would she and her husband (who is very concerned with the way humans tax the planet) find a reason or the space in their lives for a child?

I wonder, how similar is the worldview of this essay to that of Toni Vernelli who aborted her child to save the planet and about whom I wrote in an earlier post?

This question is not about the authors of the articles in particular. I’m sure there’s a world of difference between them as individuals. But there seems to be larger cultural questions here. After all, there is a culture wide decline in births. Somewhere around midcentury, the world’s population will plateau and then decline.


Demographically speaking, the single most important measurement of humankind is the Total Fertility Rate (TFR). The magic number in measuring TFR is 2.1. That’s how many births per household a population needs to replace itself.

Many of the western democracies are experiencing birth rates lower than 2.1. In other words, our whole culture seems to be stepping into a worldview similar to the one mentioned above. Is our culture concluding that having children just isn’t worth it?

If demography is destiny, then is it the destiny of the west to disappear? Are we having our very own “Children of Men” moment?

Earlier generations delighted in the birth of a child. I wonder, has the loss of a religious view of life so disoriented us that we cannot be bothered with even the most basic evolutionary compulsions? (The irony of that last sentence does not escape me.)

Or, do the young somehow intuit that they live at the twilight of their society and from this deep lack of hope feel nothing worth sharing and passing on to a new generation?

Is it a good thing now to not have children? Since we seem to have lost the natural instinct of it, perhaps it is better to stop. At least until we discover a reason to live, to enjoy life, and to love it enough to want to be part of expanding the experience.

This is HUGE.

Here’s another even more mysterious symptom of the same malaise. Not only did Japan have fewer births in 2012 than any previous year, young people in Japan have stopped having sex.  Just in case you read what your brain thought should appear in the text, let me put an emphasis on the key word: “Stopped.”  You can’t even get to the question of should we or should we not have children, if you despise physical contact.
Japanese man and woman lean away from each other

Just when you thought the impossible never happened. Here it is.
The article stated: “A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 ‘were not interested in or despised sexual contact’. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.”
It feels weird to ask this but, is not having sex becoming an epidemic in Japan?

What’s going on here? Is it a positive? Are we finally gaining mastery over our naturally evolved instincts?

Or, Is this a surrender to the meaninglessness of it all? Are these attitudes symptoms of the dis-ease of hopelessness that can attack all humans anywhere at anytime? Both situations mentioned here are a manifestation of their own context and culture. At very least, we can say that not having children and not having sex are, biologically, dead ends. Are they the human equivalent of diseased whales beaching themselves on the shore? Something about life stops working. And we run counter to the most basic drives within us.

In the negative, we can postulate that human societies start by dismissing Spirit or Meaning which leads to hating life and evolves to despising each other. In the positive, we can experiment by breathing faith, hope, and love into a culture that can’t seem to figure out why humans are worth saving, worth bringing into the world, or even worth touching.

What do you think?

See you in the mystic…

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9 responses to “Two Mysterious Human Behaviors”

  1. John Gnotek Avatar

    Wow, first thing I see this morning is our friends the Crownovers have their third baby. Second thing I read this post. Some very thought-provoking thoughts and questions. I’ll have to ponder these.

    1. alexandermcmanus Avatar

      You had quite opposite experiences back to back then. Looking forward to your thoughts. -Alex

  2. jthelmsdeep Avatar

    This is my favorite line in your very well reasoned article: “In the positive we can experiment by breathing faith, hope, and love into a culture that can’t seem to figure out why humans are worth saving, worth bringing into the world, or even worth touching.” I like the idea that hope can restore what would be a natural and basic human instinct, the preservation (or continuation) of life, otherwise it makes nonsense of the theology that suggests that Jesus died so that we may LIVE.

    1. alexandermcmanus Avatar

      Thanks Joseph. You touched on a line that communicates, as well as anything I’ve written, the heart of everything I do and sense to be true.

      1. jthelmsdeep Avatar

        Which is why you and I are such good friends. We are traveling parallel journeys, together. 😊

  3. Daniel D. Grover Avatar
    Daniel D. Grover

    I taught 25 years in public schools where the great majority of students qualified for “free” breakfast and lunch. Pregnancy was rampant, maybe even more so in middle school than high school, and the lack of interest in sex described here was surely a rare thing. Granted this is anecdotal evidence, but I think that the vast amount of children in fatherless homes is much more problematic than no children at all.

    1. alexandermcmanus Avatar

      Thanks Daniel. So true.
      I heard recently that, in the US, nothing predicts poverty more than unwed mothers and fatherless children.
      My understanding is that not even the absence of a high school diploma creates as much poverty.

      That is certainly a huge problem.

      But, with regard to my article, I wasn’t arguing primarily that the “two mysterious behaviors” of (1) not wanting children and (2) not wanting sex are “problems” but that they are “mysterious” and counter to our biologically evolved impulses.

      The scenario you suggest seems to be “natural” in the sense that, biologically speaking, males and females are “compelled” by their nature to procreate.

      In other words, we create institutions like “marriage” and create taboos regarding premarital sex in order to restrain our “natural” impulses and direct their socially acceptable practice and enjoyment. But, in general, we don’t create institutions to inspire unrestrained sex because (again, in general) we don’t have to. It’s part of our biology. Our practice of having sex and creating children would be rampant and indiscriminate except for our social restraints.

      That’s why the two behaviors I highlight are mysterious like the whales that beach themselves.

      Now, in terms of which is more of a problem — no children at all or fatherless children — that might make another good topic for thought and discussion.

      Thanks again.

  4. Kim Avatar

    Such a fascinating article and something I have been grappling with as well. On the advent of baby number two for our family, we were faced with an unexpected dilemma in December when we discovered that through the Affordable Care Act, this birth could cost our family up to $6,000, not including the incredibly high premiums (think luxury car payments). After getting over the shock, I began to think of the educated, middle class who would not qualify for assistance and would be faced with the high cost of having children, let alone rearing them. This is not to sound elitest at all- just what of those 3o-something’s who wonder if they can afford to have a child and give them a similar up-bringing to their own.

    1. alexandermcmanus Avatar

      Thanks, Kim. My grandparents used to say, there’s always food for one more. Doesn’t it seem that prior generations focused on the blessings of children and we tend to focus on the cost? Thanks again.

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