The Normalization of Sterility

Today is “World Vasectomy Day.” What do roaming vans offering fast, local sterilization tell us about how far our culture has fallen?

Today, November 18, is “World Vasectomy Day.” Its sponsors claim responsibility for more than 100,000 sterilizations. A key effort involves roaming vans that offer fast, local sterilization: it gives a new meaning to “cut and run.”

I’m assuming you know (and so I will not focus on) what and why the Church teaches about vasectomies. Instead, let’s consider the broader cultural shift this represents.

Male and female sterilization have generally lagged behind contraceptives in popularity and application as methods of fertility destruction because of their permanence: reversing sterilization is rarely successful. (Contraceptive use, especially long-term, may also leave you infertile, but that’s a separate story). In a culture averse to long-term commitment, permanent infertility often seemed a bridge too far.

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That’s changing. Why? I’d suggest four reasons.

First: the cumulative effect of contraceptive propaganda. Over three generations have grown up with “the Pill.” The collective message has been that fertility is at best neutral, in general something bad. The natural state and function of the human body is treated as needing “repair.”  

Second: if fertility is not naturally good but merely a “choice,” so, too, is its outcome—children. “A child should be wanted.” Just don’t be politically incorrect and ask what kind of adult deems a child unwanted. 

The outcome of referenda in four American states on November 8—despite modern biological knowledge, the clear-picture ultrasound, and removal of the obstacle of Roe—shows how deeply the culture of death has permeated our culture. Free from judicial constraint, for the first time Americans directly voted to enshrine prenatal killing not just as law but as a Constitutionally protected “right.”

Third: the flight from parenthood. One can cite statistics that America’s birth rate has been below replacement level since the Recession of 2008. My evidence is more anecdotal. How many young people, especially young women, want to marry? How many want to be mothers? How many think that marriage and parenthood are, in fact, impediments to their “freedom”?  How many, when challenged to be more specific, still write off marriage and parenthood to some gauzy, indeterminate “future”? 

The past three generations have seen a movement from child as gift to child as choice to, now, child as curse. The child-centricity of our culture is increasingly thin and eroded.

Fourth: the gender ideology movement. Just as contraception taught that one’s natural fertility could be “wrong,” we are now gaslighted to believe that one’s very sex can be “wrong”—and that “medicine” can fix what Mother Nature apparently screwed up. The gender ideology movement ensconces the idea that fertility is not inherently human: it is simply “something” that can be destroyed in the name of eros. 

In that process, we inherently teach that not only is fertility not a good thing but that sterility is not bad, at least in the sense of unfortunate. When she became pregnant in her advanced years, Elizabeth praised God for “removing my reproach among men” (Luke 1:25). In a world whose beatitude is “blessed are the barren,” that old lady is incomprehensible.

But there is a further cultural shift afoot here. As gender ideology and its pseudo-intellectual postulates take cultural hold, real sexual differentiation (willed by God and realistically grounded in sexual complementarity) will be increasingly denigrated as a “culturally-constructed” and “discriminatory” “gender binary.” “Heteronormativity” will not just be a counterpoint to homosexual rights: it will be bludgeoned against fertility.  

Because the reproductive system, in the taxonomy of gender ideology, is at the level of “sex,” which is subordinate to “gender,” the fact that sexual complementarity is prerequisite to that system’s functioning will also be attacked. Normal and natural childbirth will be branded as “privileged” and, because it reinforces the “discriminatory gender binary,” will have to be “deprivileged” in law. Society can have minimal to no interest in how children come into it. A woman’s eggs, a man’s sperm, a woman’s womb, will no longer have a personal value: they will be commodities for consumer acquisition.

So, the lie advanced to win Obergefell (the Supreme Court decision inventing “same sex marriage”)—that sexual complementarity has nothing to do with marriage because marriage has no intrinsic relation to procreation—will now likely be turned on its head in the name of “equality.” Since “same-sex marriage” is inherently sterile, expect a push for the state to sanction and probably subsidize technology to replace the sexual act as a way of “having” (note the verb) children. That will inevitably build a cultural viewpoint, probably sanctioned in law, that sterility, not fertility, is the natural human state—so that however the latter is pursued is simply part of one’s “personal procreative interests” that a “just” society can only “affirm.”

That normalization is already afoot when “experts” tell you that rendering minors sterile, either temporarily (puberty blockers) or permanently (genital “surgery”) is no big deal. Please also note that secular anthropology will treat sterility, not chastity, as its default position. Have all the erotic experience you want; just remove procreation from the picture.

It will all, of course, be dressed up as “choice.” And undoubtedly some nominal Catholics will be trotted out to applaud the “evolution” of “inclusivity.” The only victims will be 1.) humans now thoroughly alienated from their own fertile bodies and 2.) children, who will have been commodified for adult interests.And you thought Friday was only about cutting some vasa deferentia. Don’t worry, as convict abortionist Kermit Gosnell put it, it’s just a little snipping.

  • John M. Grondelski

    John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are his own.

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