Women’s biological clocks drive human conception—and, in turn, human history.
Biology’s inflexible window of female fertility is generally agreed to be between the ages 18 and 35. Any older, and the risk of miscarrying, not getting pregnant at all, or bearing unhealthy children skyrockets. When the average lifespan for a woman in the Western world now hovers at around 80 years old, this means that less than 25% of her life can be spent easily (and safely) procreating.
Men have the luxury of being able sow their seed for most of their lives with few health ramifications (which is why someone like 72-year-old US president Donald Trump has a 12-year-old child). By comparison, the average woman will only ovulate 300 to 400 eggs in her lifetime, which means she only has the same amount of menstrual cycles to ever pursue procreation.
This seemingly unfair accident of human biology is all about to change, thanks to transhumanist science. Genetic editing combined with stem-cell technology will likely make it safer for a 50-year-old woman to have a baby in 2028 than for a 25-year-old woman in 2018. In two decades’ time, healthy 75-year-old women could be starting new families once more.
Scientists are working on this by converting skin cells into stem cells, which are cells that can turn into other types of cells. They can then turn these stem cells into women’s eggs. This technology could allow a woman to have tens of thousands of eggs instead of just that 300 to 500, all from a cotton swab swiped inside the cheek. These stem-cell-conceived eggs can then be mixed with sperm of one’s choosing to create viable embryos, which then are implanted back into the uterus. This process—already trialed in mice—has become known as “in vitro gametogenesis,” or IVG.
But if you thought turning skin flakes into ova was controversial, here’s the kicker: Skin cells can also be turned into sperm. In this way, a single human may soon be able to create its own offspring without a partner. This could eventually lead to a society where relationships, sexual or otherwise, are not functionally necessary to continue the human species.
IVG won’t only upend traditional procreation—it’ll encourage those who use it to embrace “test-tube baby” and genetic-editing technologies. If conception is created in a lab to start with, why not control other potentially problematic issues while you’re at it? IVG will give us ample opportunity to scan for diseases and only pick the best, most healthy embryos we create.
For example, late last year a Chinese geneticist claimed to have used CRISPR genetic editing techniques to manipulate hereditary traits of two children. He was condemned worldwide (unfairly in my opinion), but his actions are likely just the start of an era where humans attempt to create designer babies. While we can only select for gene-specific traits like eye color or hair type for now—and eradicate some diseases—the hope many transhumanists have is that in the future, we’ll be able to create offspring with higher IQs, stronger bodies, and possibly more advantageous psychological tendencies, like the propensity for loyalty or kindness.
Switching off the biological clock
What does all this radical new technology mean for women? Not only will they be able to wait longer to have children, but as procreation tech improves along with medical care, waiting a few decades longer to have kids might be the safer health bet, not a riskier one.
This is a phenomenon I call the “Delayed Fertility Advantage,” and I’m guessing it’s going to alter the landscape of romance, relationships, and work for both men and women by reducing the influence of the biological clock.
Some of the benefits of delaying procreation are obvious. The main one is career opportunity for women. Without a biological clock, women will be able to focus entirely on careers without fear of losing the chance to start a family. This could also be a step toward income parity, as maternity leave issues are no longer undercut by capitalistic forces.
There are risks, too. A significant issue with fertility science is whether everyone will have access to it. Growing inequality worldwide could have terrible effects for humanity if procreation advantages and genetic-editing techniques are only available for the rich.
Another unfortunate issue with women delaying pregnancy might be the laborious process of giving birth, which certainly will be harder on older women’s bodies. Transhumanists answer this concern by forecasting there will be artificial wombs within 20 years’ time. This will possibly even eliminate the need for the uterus altogether.
Scientists are already experimenting with this idea. In support of ectogenesis (the study of artificial procreation), 18 months ago researchers succeeded in using artificial wombs to keep infant lambs alive—one for nearly a year. The current goal of the growing field of ectogenesis is to use it to keep human premature babies born around 23 or 24 weeks alive—and still growing. Eventually, these advances will likely lead to an era of children born without the need of women’s uteri at all.
It’s a controversial future, no doubt. But it’s a future where people—women especially—no longer need fear that their biological clock is ticking. Science is giving humans a new clock, and there’s no expiration date set.