Ticking Clocks

Reality TV Meets Biological Reality

A new low has hit the world of reality TV. First, we had the dating show The Bachelor, wherein female contestants compete for the affections of one man. Then, of course, there was The  Bachelorette, soon followed by multiple spin-offs.

But to be new, and relevant, the shows had to get more shocking. FOX’s Labor of Love features the beautiful 41-year-old Kristy Katzmann, who is choosing from 15 male contestants to find a father for the child she hopes to create. The show’s host, Sex and the City’s Kristin Davis, sums up the show in the tagline: Kristy is looking for men who want to “skip the dating,” and “go straight to baby-making.”

In the first episode, Kristy explains why she is choosing this “unconventional” path. She had never envisioned herself single at 41, she says, and tearfully tells the camera that if she can’t have a family, she doesn’t see the purpose of all of her “hard work.” She married at 37 years old, but the marriage lasted only six months, and she understands that her biological clock is ticking. But having been reassured by her fertility doctor that her eggs are in excellent shape, she sets out from her hometown of Chicago for Georgia, where she meets Kristin Davis.

Davis reassures her, “I certainly found myself in this predicament as well. Because I worked my entire 30s, I really searched for years to find the best way for me to become a mother . . . ” For Davis, that route was adoption. The two women gleefully admire the beautiful house where Kristy is staying—next door to the equally stunning house where her 15 studs await.

At the first event, a cocktail mixer, we meet the dudes. There’s a fireman, gym owner, CEO, business owner, professional wrestler, and others. They range in age from maybe 37 to 47. Most profess that they feel time is running out for them, too, and reiterate how much they want families. The show devolves from there. At the mixer, waiters and waitresses hand out specimen cups—and the men dutifully enter private rooms in a mobile collection unit to give a sperm sample to verify their own fertility. Then, they go back to the guy house, and the usual drama ensues. (It is not made clear, as of yet at least, how precisely the baby will be created—i.e., traditional versus more high-tech methods.)

The show is awful, for a couple of reasons. First, it completely commodifies an innocent human life. No one ever stops to ask what this poor child will think about being created as the result of a reality TV show. Furthermore, as Davis says, “love is optional, labor is not”—i.e., it is probable that this guy will not end up marrying Katzmann, and even if he does, the marriage probably won’t last (because that’s what happens in reality TV marriages). This poor baby will hence grow up in a single-mother home, which leads to a variety of negative outcomes.[1] Yet, Kristy tells Davis she feels prepared to parent alone, but would “love to have this experience with someone.” All that matters here is adult desire.

But the show also displays some disparities between men and women in the realm of parenthood. It’s a simple biological fact that men are fertile for longer in their lifespans than are women. An interesting study on fertility cited research on the Hutterites in North America (a group firmly opposed to contraception). This study showed that “11% of women were infertile by age 34, 33% by age 40, and 87% by age 45.”[2] For men, though, another study shows that “After adjusting for female age, conception during a 12-month period was 30% less likely for men over age 40 years as compared with men younger than age 30 years.”[3] This is a far cry better than fertility at the same age for women.

The 20s and 30s, prime working years for both men and women, also bear some very difficult choices. For men, fertility is affected, but not that much. So the guys on this show who tell the camera soberly that they feel the clock is ticking for them—well, fine, but not really. They’re there for the fame, or the money, or the notoriety, or the fun experience, or what have you. But the truth is that they all seem to be reasonably successful, pretty good-looking, physically fit, and presumably would be well able to attract a female partner significantly younger (and more fertile) than Kristy. That is simply the way of the world, and it always has been. To pretend that somehow men face the same obstacles in delaying a family is simply false, and also deceptive, and does women a disservice.

For the child created by this show—if a child is created, because IVF rate success is pretty low after 40[4]—the greatest tragedy is that he or she is welcomed not by a loving, married, two-parent family of whatever age, but instead on the front pages of TV Guide.

[1] Sara McLanahan, “The Consequences of Single Motherhood,” The American Prospect (Dec. 19, 2001), available at https://prospect.org/health/consequences-single-motherhood/.

[2] Tietze C. Reproductive span and the rate of conception among Hutterite women. Fertil Steril. 1957;8:89–97, as quoted in Isiah D. Harris et al., “Fertiliy and the Aging Male,” Reviews in Urology 13.4 (2011), e184–e190.

[3] Ford WC, North K, Taylor H, et al. Increasing paternal age is associated with delayed conception in a large population of fertile couples: evidence for declining fecundity in older men. The ALSPAC Study Team (Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood) Hum Reprod. 2000;15:1703–1708, cited in Harris et al., “Fertility and the aging Male.”

[4] “Your Chances of Getting Pregnant at 40 With And Without IVF,” CREATE Fertility (accessed June 3, 2020), available at https://www.createfertility.co.uk/blog/your-chances-of-getting-pregnant-at-40-with-and-without-ivf.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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