Desire to be Childfree–Is it Hormonal?

Laura Carroll, Childfree Choice

Reading an Australian childless by choice article I ran across something for the first time. Sexologist and associate professor of health psychology at James Cook University, Dr Frances Quirk thinks a reason many of us don’t feel our raison d’être is to pump out rounds of “mini-me’s” has to do with our hormones–“We’re equipped with a physiological arsenal of drives, urges, hormones and synapses that will us, continuously, to make babies. But just like someone can be born without perfect hearing or eyesight, or be good or poor at athletics or maths or drawing, some people are born with lower levels of certain hormones. In women, it’s thought low estrogen levels or high testosterone levels could result in a diminished to entirely eradicated desire to have babies.”

Mmm, at first blush, this idea sounds, well, quirky, Dr. Quirk. I need evidence…

I knew early in life I did not to have children, and my hormones are not high in testosterone and never have been. Estrogen, well these days is more topsy turvy but that is due to perimenopause! Until this phase began, there was nothing unusual about my estrogen levels. What about guys who don’t want kids–does this mean they have low levels of testosterone? High estrogen levels?

Now Dr Quirk does also say it is not all about hormones.  A person’s upbringing, experiences or current situation “will generally play a part in controlling their desire to have, or not have, children.” Ok I buy into that.  Our life experiences greatly influence our attitudes, opinions, and desires in life. She explains that women with low estrogen mothers that made it clear to their daughters (who also have low levels of estrogen) they wished they had not become mothers could be the reason the daughter would end up not wanting kids.

Now, having interviewed hundreds of childfree, I have heard stories that involved mothers, but this sure isn’t what I’ve heard most. What I have heard most includes having babysat a lot when they were younger, and they learned early they did not like it.  I have also heard from many women that they had a woman in their life, whether it be an aunt, teacher, mentor, or even just a neighbor who had no children.

Knowing someone like this showed them as girls and young women that there was more than one way to do your life when you grew up.  With men, I have been surprised how often I hear what influenced them most is having seen a man they were close to, more often than not, their father, struggle financially to support the family.  As boys and young men they saw the financial stresses and pressures their fathers went through and decided they did not want that in their own adult life.

While I agree with Dr Quirk that life experience plays a part, I am not sure I agree with her idea of life experience coupled with the hormone thing.  However, she does have a great take on why those who have or want children often “feel affronted by a woman who shuns reproduction. ‘People who have kids have made a commitment and like any commitment, it has costs,” she explains. ‘So they are psychologically motivated to challenge people who don’t do the same in order to justify that commitment.’ ”

Have you heard of the hormone idea? What life experience influenced you most to not want children?

9 thoughts on “Desire to be Childfree–Is it Hormonal?

  1. I look at people strapping babies into car seats, lugging strollers, changing diapers, wiping noses, screaming, yelling, repeating things 10 times, getting fat, losing their identities, ceasing to travel, read, or appreciate artistic endeavors, going broke, being resented, ignoring their sexuality, and I think, WHY would anybody volunteer for that kind of a life?

    Years ago, someone said, if you love animals, stop eating them. So I did. When it clicks it clicks.

    I don’t miss eating animals and I’ve never doubted my decision to be child-free.

    I found “my people” in animal-loving vegetarians, and again in the child-free world. So happy I did!

    1. Thanks for writing, Kristine. Finding one’s “people” definitely contributes to a happy life! Do you know more childfree vegetarians than not? Just curious.
      When I did Families of Two, I talked to so many childfree who found it hard to find childfree friends, and who really wanted to find like minds. I think it is easier today, with more childfree social organizations and the internet. The digital world has sure helped make it easier for us to find each other~L

  2. I’m a childfree vegetarian! Of course, I’m only nineteen, and as people have told me from the time I was very small that I might change my mind. But I don’t really like children, and I’ve never once even been able to imagine myself having children of my own. The very idea gives me chills.
    A neighbor of mine went through a similar experience. She’s sixty now and childless, but at age 26 realized she never wanted children and that it would be more cost-effective to be surgically sterilized. She went to six different doctors before she found one that would agree to the procedure, because she was just a young woman and they felt she might change her mind. Am I right to consider this a feminist issue?
    Regardless, I do find that somehow, I’ve ended up with a group of friends who also don’t want children. This isn’t really the type of thing that comes up early in conversation (except in the all-girls dorm where I live). So I don’t quite know how it happened. What I do know is that I’ve already experienced people differentiating themselves even in high school and college according to future reproductive preference.
    Ultimately, I’d say that values, far more than hormones, determine whether a person is likely to have children or not. Most of my friends share similar values: learning, personal growth, free-spiritedness, and questioning traditional modes of life.
    But is this a chicken-or-egg debate?

    1. Thanks Estie–re the chicken or egg thing, hard to say…I would like to see more data on the hormone thing. Values definitely drive people’s decision, and they are formed from our life experiences and personality. Glad to hear you have a group of like-minded friends..lots of childfree have a hard time finding this! Your neighbor friend’s experience is also not uncommon. Indeed it’s a feminist issue, a right to privacy issue, a reproductive injustice issue! Don’t get me going. Can be Very frustrating for people. You might be interested in a new resource list on — it is a list of childfree friendly docs that will sterilize irrespective of age (above 18 that is). Pass it on! ~L

  3. I’m a high-testosterone woman, so there’s one data point for you, but the hormone thing is an angle I had never considered. Have you listened to the Testosterone episode of This American Life? There’s a segment where the TAL staff all get their testosterone levels tested and then try to draw connections between their respective results and personalities.

    I definitely can relate to the story you say you get most often from men, except in my case it was growing up observing my mom & her peers and knowing that theirs was a job I didn’t want to do. I had no childfree role models at all, so until it finally occurred to me that deliberately avoiding parenthood was possible (I was 22!) I spent a lot of time thinking about how I might do motherhood differently, to make the best of it. My husband identifies with your masculine story as well; his father revelled in every sacrifice like a delighted masochist and still loves to tell war stories about the price of private school, etc. My husband didn’t have any CF role models either, and it’s this lack that led to his categorisation as an “acquiescer” rather than an “early articulator”: he believed he would be disrespecting his family’s sacrifices by choosing not to make them himself and so had resigned himself to an eventual life of stressful providership until he came to understand my position.

    In Two Is Enough there is a bit about the conspicuous absence of heavy drinkers & smokers in No Kidding! groups. The author figures this is because the childfree are typically people who carefully consider the consequences of their actions. It makes sense there would be many childfree vegetarians, too.

    My vegetarian conversion story is very similar to my childfree one: for as long as I can remember I was uncomfortable with the idea of eating meat, and as soon as I realised I was able to opt out, I did (but in this case I was really young, because despite not knowing any vegetarians personally, I did know that they existed!)

    Estie, there is also the CF_resources community on Livejournal. That’s where I found the awesome Dr who tubalised me at 25.

    1. Sidonie, Thanks for the thoughts– will definitely check out This American Life– a great show. I’d like to see more data on the hormonal thing as it relates to the childfree and still searching…During and since I did Families of Two, I have talked with and interviewed hundredsof childfree people and have not seen any real trends of no heavy drinkers, smokers, or anything else, really. It might be related to the kind of people that know about or have an interest in joining groups like No Kidding! Many childfree can be more private people, and are not “joiners. The only trend I see overall is that like people who are parents, we are a heterogenous group–all kinds of personal styles, interestts, personalities, lifestyles, etc. In many ways we are like veryone else except when it comes to making one of life’s biggest decisions, we make one that is different than the majority. Since I have been blogging, I have noticed that childfree people I communicate with who are on the “younger” side say 20s who clear about their decision not to have kids tend to mention they are vegetarians. But that is just an observation… We may consider the consequences of our actions when it comes to kids, but it does not necessarily follow that we would in culinary avenues of our lives. Would be an interesting study however, like many others that could be done! ~L

  4. Dr Quirk’s comments in regards to upbringing and life experiences were spot on for me. My parents pushed us to believe family and children was the only option in life. Their marriage and our lives were not exactly ideal and they were not the best role models. I couldn’t understand why they believed it would bring me happiness. Then in my early 20’s I had a mentor who was child free and she had a large influence on my future choices. Not sure about the hormone bit. I never did get that “longing” that friends had for a child. Some of them were desperate. I couldn’t understand that need. My estrogen and testosterone levels are normal as far as I know.

    1. Hi Heather, Lots of childfree women I have talked to said they too had a role model who was childfree that influenced their future choices. They helped them see that there was more than one way to do their adult life when it came to kids. I continue to try and find info on the hormonal thing other than Quirk …~L

  5. I’m a 19 year old vegetarian too. I have also noticed that many child-free people are also vegetarian, not everyone. Ever since I can remember I have never wanted or particulary liked children. I’d usually play with my ‘Fur-babies’ (Dog, guinea pigs)haha. I was a tomboy too, never interested in dolls or anything considered feminine. I don’t understand the need to breed and breed like it’s the end of the world. All my friends think I’m weird, I have never known anyone to be child-free. My mum is a child minder and used to babysit all the time. I guess you could say I have grown to be fed up and ‘Ewwwed’ by them. But I have always had a house full of animals, so I’m not sure if that’s the case.

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