The Case against Kids

Is procreation immoral?

  1. In “Fruits of Philosophy,” Knowlton took up the subject of sex, or population growth, which, at the time, amounted to much the same thing. Like Thomas Malthus, whose work he cited, Knowlton was worried about the hazards of fertility. Using nineteenth-century birth rates, he projected that the number of people on the planet would double three times every century. Unlike Malthus, who saw no remedy except plague or abstinence, Knowlton believed that a more agreeable solution was at hand. What he called the “reproductive instinct” need not actually lead to reproduction. All that was required was some ingenuity. “Heaven has not only given us the capacity of greater enjoyment, but the talent of devising means to prevent the evils that are liable to arise therefrom; and it becomes us, ‘with thanksgiving, to make the most of them,’ ” he wrote.

    Knowlton’s pamphlet provided his readers with easy-to-follow instructions. “Withdrawal immediately before emission” could, “if practiced with sufficient care,” be effective. A small piece of sponge, fitted with a narrow ribbon and inserted into a woman’s vagina “previous to connection,” would also suffice. If neither of these techniques appealed, he counselled “syringing the vagina immediately after connection, with a solution of sulphate of zinc, of alum, pearl-ash, or any salt that acts chemically on the semen.” As for the reliability of this last method, which he called the “chemical check,” Knowlton testified that he had discussed the mat...