How Does Childlessness Affect Your Sex Life?

Got your attention? This year, World Childless Week devoted a whole day to talking about sex. What’s sex got to do with it? Everything.

As Michael Hughes of the of the Full Stop podcast noted in a fascinating session, it all comes down to the sperm and the egg and how they need to get together to make  baby. In other words, sex. We don’t talk about it much, he said, but it’s a big thing.

Hughes and his podcast partners Berenice Smith and Sarah Lawrence are all childless through infertility. Each talked about how their efforts to conceive took the joy and spontaneity out of sex. It became less about intimacy and pleasure and more about making a baby. Every time they did it, the question hovered over them. Will it work? Will it lead to heartbreak with another miscarriage or failure to conceive? And how can you feel good about your body when it is not doing what it’s supposed to do or when you’ve gone through so many procedures you really don’t want anyone to touch you? Or when it physically hurts? After a while, they didn’t really want to do it.

The three said it took years after they gave up on trying to conceive to feel good about their bodies and enjoy sex again. Even now, it’s not quite the same as the old magic they had at the beginning.

In another session led by Jody Day, women in all aspects of the childless journey, including those who have never found a partner to make babies with, talked about their struggles with their bodies and sexuality and shared suggestions for learning to feel sexy again. It’s a wonderful session. You can watch the recording here. Also read Jody’s essay “Where Did She Go? Reclaiming My Erotic Self After Childlessness.”

I know that some of you are dealing with fertility issues. How is sex for you? Is every encounter about trying to make a baby? Or is it always a reminder that certain parts aren’t working?

For me, I can’t say that it affected my sex life. With my first husband, we were using birth control, but I always had that hope that when the time was right, we would welcome children.

With Fred, who had had a vasectomy, conception was never possible, and it was not part of our sex life, except for the relief of not needing birth control. We were not trying to make a baby. Our goal was simply intimacy and orgasms, and it was good. Now, listening to these people who struggled with infertility, pain, and hating their own bodies, I am grateful for my health. My body has its issues, but I like it just fine, and I still feel sexy.

This is the Childless by Marriage blog. Infertility is only one of many reasons we don’t or may not have children. If you or your partner are unable or unwilling to conceive, how does that affect your sex life? Do you think about it during sex? Does it make you not want to have sex? Do you resent using birth control because it’s keeping you from the babies you want to have? Do you think about the sperm or eggs being wasted because they’re not being given a chance to connect? Or does being childless free you to enjoy sex without the baby worry?

Sex is a tricky subject. How does being childless or potentially childless affect your sex life?

Do comment. You can be as anonymous as you choose to be.

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Do You Ever Lie About Your Childless State?

People end up childless for many different reasons. Some are unable to conceive or to carry a baby to term; some don’t want children; some have never met the right partner; some of us are with partners who can’t or don’t want to reproduce; and some of us are just victims of bad timing—when you were young enough, the opportunity wasn’t there, and when the opportunity came along, you were too old. There are all kinds of variations on these themes.

But most of the world sees only that we have deviated from the norm by not having children. I’ve experienced that. People have said, “Oh, you didn’t want kids.” I scrambled to convince them that that was not the case, that I did want children, but it didn’t work out. “Well, then, why did you stay with Fred?” they might ask. Soon I feel as if I’m on trial because I’m not a mother. It’s easier to jump in with a half-truth. “We couldn’t.” “God had other plans.” Or, when I was younger: “We’re working on it.”

We weren’t working on it. We were never going to work on it. Fred had no sperm, thanks to his vasectomy, and he was done with babies. There would be no reversal, adoption, or other work-around. But I didn’t want to get into another 20-questions situation. At baby showers, when people would announce that I would be the next to have a baby, I’d just smile or laugh. I didn’t want to spoil the party.

In the book I just finished reading, Childless Voices by Lorna Gibb, she describes horrible things that are done in some parts of the world to women who don’t produce children. They are shunned, imprisoned, beaten, or banished. (I’ll share more about this next week.) But even in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries, the childless are considered “other,” a weird and foreign species.

Gibb writes: “Western society is predominantly pronatalist and the childless and child-free are often interrogated as to the reason for their state. If it then becomes known that someone is voluntarily childless, they suffer from negative stereotyping and may be regarded as deviant, and treated with disbelief and disregard.”

In other words, we get stink-eye. Even if it’s not our fault, if we are childless because it takes two and we don’t have a willing or able partner.

So my question today is this: Do you find yourself lying or shading the truth about your lack of children to avoid awkward conversations? Why? What do you say? In similar situations, what does your partner say? Does his/her story contradict yours? Let’s talk about this in the comments.

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Forgive me for missing last week. I had a minor medical situation, but it’s all fine now. See my Unleashed in Oregon blog for a most unflattering photo. 🙂

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The Nomo Crones—childless elderwomen—are chatting online again on September 15 as part of World Childless Week. It’s at noon Pacific time. Check the website for information on all the week’s activities happening on Zoom from all over the world. You’re sure to find something that grabs your interest. The sessions will be recorded so you can watch them at your convenience.

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Why don’t guys want to talk about childlessness?

You might have noticed most of the people commenting here are women. This is not an all-woman blog. Men are welcome, but they are definitely in the minority. Why is that?

Many women, including me, have struggled to get their male partners to talk about the baby-no baby question. They change the subject, shut down, or leave the room. Why?

At a recent World Childless Week webinar, Robin Hadley, a counselor who specializes in working with involuntarily childless men, gave some answers. Childless himself, he said he came from a family of eight children and really wanted to be a dad when he grew up. But circumstances worked against him. His first marriage ended in divorce. By the time he met his second wife, he was in his late 30s. She was older, and it was simply too late to have children. He was forced into a stay-or-go decision and decided to stay.

Hadley has learned to express his feelings about childlessness, but knows he’s in the minority.

People may mistakenly think that women are “broody” and men just aren’t, Hadley said. But they both have the biological drive to procreate. Men are silenced by the “culture of masculinity.” Men are supposed to be strong, courageous, and independent. They strive to prove their virility not just by reproduction but by work and earning money. Girls are encouraged to be expressive, but from boyhood, males are taught to be strong and never show their emotions. Boys aren’t supposed to cry. It becomes deeply ingrained, and that may be why your partner won’t discuss how he feels about having children.

Does this make sense? Male readers, do you recognize this in yourself, this need to stifle your emotions and be strong? Or is there something else that keeps you from opening up about childlessness? Please share in the comments.

These articles perhaps explain the situation better than I can. Give them a read.

“Male Childlessness: You Think ‘If I’m Not Reproducing—Then, What Am I?’” The Guardian, Nov. 17, 2018. Features interview with Robin Hadley.

Men Don’t Talk About Their Feelings Because They Don’t See the Point, Study Says,” Martha Edwards, Huffington Post, Sept. 9, 2011

Markway, Barbara, PhD. “How to Crack the Code of Men’s Feelings,” Psychology Today, Jan. 18, 2014

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Would you like to write something for the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Clueless Comments That Hurt

We have all heard them, the mean or ignorant comments that cut to our souls. How many kid do you have? Why don’t you just adopt? You must not like children? This party is just for moms/dads/families.

That was the subject of a lively discussion at one of the World Childless Week presentations earlier this month. Speakers Sarah Roberts, founder of The Empty Cradle, and Krin Enfield de Vries, operations director for Gateway Women, offered some of the cutting words people had shared with them:

  • Can’t your sister have one for you?
  • I’d love to have your freedom
  • You can always adopt
  • Being an aunt is almost the same
  • You said you weren’t sure if you wanted them
  • At least you have each other

“I get so mad,” said deVries, for whom cancer took away her ability to have children. “How dare you dismiss my grief? Don’t you think we’ve considered every option already?” People would understand if someone had a child who died, she added, but they don’t get how much it hurts when the opportunity to have the future they dreamed of has been taken away. You may not have lost an actual child, but you have lost your chance at parenthood, to hold a baby, etc. Some people understand, but others never will.  

Motherhood had always been a part of her future, Roberts said. To not have that is a “staggering loss.” She is often surprised at the lack of empathy.

Comments come in all different forms, including advice, pronatalist assumptions, blaming/shaming/hostility, the assumption that you had a choice, minimizing your grief, minimizing the importance of your situation, idealizing the childfree life, or invalidating your pain. There’s also the awkward silence when people find out you don’t have children.

So what do you do? In some situations it’s okay to explain how inappropriate the comment is or to say you don’t want to talk about it, Roberts said. But you need to consider who they are and where you are. It will be different with your boss at work, for example, than with your mom or your friend. Consider what’s behind the comment, she suggested, and try to help them understand.

Other options:

  • Walk away,
  • Change the subject
  • Counter with a sarcastic comment or a joke,
  • Give a brief, clear answer
  • Be honest about the emotional impact
  • Use it as a “teachable moment”

“You don’t have to justify that you’re grieving,” Roberts said.

After such a comment, take care of yourself. Cry if you need to, talk to your friends who get it, and think about what you can do to change things. As time goes on and you become more accepting yourself of your childless status, the comments may not hurt so much. But they’re still going to come. If you can take the time to wonder what causes people to say these things, it helps. Maybe one comment at a time, we can help to make the world understand.

What clueless comments about childlessness bother you the most? How do you respond? In retrospect, how do you wish you could respond?

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Would you like to write something for the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

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I have received the first cover designs for the new book, Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, which is a compilation of the best of the Childless by Marriage blog. I will show them to you here as soon as I’m allowed, but this is exciting. Stay tuned.

Does Being Childless Make Us Feel Unworthy?

Dear friends,

Last week I attended many online events offered during World Childless Week, put on by folks in the UK. They did a fabulous job, and I hope some of you had an opportunity to tune in. If not, the recordings are available at the website. Speakers included many familiar authors and bloggers from the childless community, including Jody Day, Michael Hughes, Kate Kaufmann, and others I enjoyed getting to know. In coming weeks, I will be exploring several topics covered in the webinars.

A couple of things kept coming up, and I want to discuss them with you. Several of the speakers mentioned “coming out” as childless. We’re all familiar with the usual meaning of this, when someone who is gay or lesbian discloses that fact to family, friends, and the world. But here, it was used for telling people about their childless state. And maybe how they feel left out among their mom and dad peers. Is this something that we need to announce? Do we try to hide it? To “pass” as parents? Don’t those who matter already know, and as for the rest, it’s none of their business? Is it that there comes a moment when we know it isn’t going to happen and we feel the need to tell people because otherwise they assume we have kids? I don’t know. What do you think?

Another thing that came up quite a bit was “worthiness.” We had guided meditations and panel discussions on the topic. We chanted, “We are worthy.” Some of us, especially women, but also men, may feel that we are worthless because we haven’t had children. We may push ourselves to excel at work or in other areas to make up for our childlessness. Do you ever feel that way? I know that I tend to work round the clock and don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not working, but is this because I’m childless and trying to make up for something?

Karin Enfield de Vries, operations director at Gateway Women, cautioned against identifying solely as childless. “My childlessness is part of me; it doesn’t make up all of me. I have so much more to offer.”

Jody Day, founder of Gateway Women and a psychologist, said we tend to draw our worthiness from other people’s view of us, but we have to take our worthiness back from other people’s opinions. Childlessness is only one aspect of who we are.

As someone noted in the comments, some of us make our work the definition of who we are. I wrote it down because I do that. I am all about work, both the writing and the music, because what else am I? A dog-mom, sister, friend to many, but what else? With my parents and husband gone and no kids, I guess I need to work on that. Or do I? Maybe the real answer is to convince myself I am already enough, that I am worthy and I don’t have to justify it. And neither do you.

I’m going to sign off. We’re having a huge storm with such strong wind I expect to see Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz flying by any minute. But I ask you: 1) Do we need to “come out?” How? When? Why? 2) Do you feel worthy? Why or why not?

See you in the comments.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for personal stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.

Can You Be Both Childless and Childfree?

One of the speakers at a World Childless Week webinar that I watched yesterday, Les Finneman, introduced himself as “childless some days, childfree others.”

I had never heard anyone say that before, but if I’m being completely honest, I feel the same way, childless some days, childfree others. Some days it breaks my heart that I never had children. I want to cuddle my babies, teach and take care of my older children, watch my teens grow into adults who contain parts of me and their father. I want to applaud at their graduations and cry at their weddings. I want to shower my grandchildren with love and gifts and guide their little fingers on the piano keys. When I need help in old age, I want them to . . .

I know, I know. They might not be there. Last week I sat in the ER with my friend for seven hours (she’s going to be okay). She has grown children and grandchildren, but they’re all far away. “Sue and I just have each other,” she told the doctors and nurses.

Yes, I feel childless much of the time. I am missing something important in my life, grieving that I don’t have children, hating that I’m different from four out of five women.

BUT sometimes I am just fine with my non-mom status and the freedom it gives me. Fewer people to worry about. Freedom to write, play music, and travel. Freedom to spend money on whatever I want or need instead of saving it for my children and grandchildren. Freedom to walk away from the toddler wreaking havoc at the grocery store and be grateful I don’t have to deal with that.

Child-free. I didn’t choose not to have children, but there is freedom in it. I feel guilty for saying so, but sometimes I like that freedom.

Do you ever feel kind of glad you don’t have children? It’s okay to admit that you’re sad about it one day and a little happy the next. Life is not black and white, and neither are our feelings.

The webinar Finneman spoke at, about the childless network he and colleagues created at the University of Bristol, was part of the UK-based World Childless Week. I really should have alerted you sooner, but I didn’t realize there was so much to it. They are having webinars every day. Many are at times that don’t work for me here in Oregon. 2 a.m.? But all the sessions are being recorded, and you can watch them for free. Today the theme is aging without children. Tomorrow they’re offering the male point of view. Sessions go on through Sunday. It’s quite miraculous that we can attend these events from all over the world. Visit the website for the schedule and give it a go, as the Brits might say.

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The new “best of Childless by Marriage” book, actually titled Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both, is currently with the designer, who will pretty up the pages and design the cover. I hope to show you a picture soon.

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Do you want to tell your story at the Childless by Marriage blog? I’m looking for stories, 500-750 words long, that fit our childless-by-marriage theme. You could write about infertility, second marriages, partners who don’t want children, stepchildren, feeling left out when everyone around you has kids, fear of being childless in old age, birth control, and other related issues. Tell us how you how you came to be childless “by marriage” and how it has affected your life. Or you could write about someone else. We love stories about successful childless women. We do not want to hear about your lovely relationship with your children or how happy you are to be childfree. Not all submissions will be accepted, and all are subject to editing. If interested, email me at sufalick@gmail.com.