The Without The Vow

There used to be a saying popular among women who were dieting, “A moment on the lips, forever on the hips”. With some mild anatomical adjustments, this saying could be adopted to sex: a moment of pleasure, a lifetime of responsibility. Of course, abortion is an option, but an increasing number of women are deciding to be single mothers – in fact, out of wedlock births have reached record highs in recent years: over 40% of all births in the United States in 2008 were to unmarried moms; in Europe the number is even higher, around 50%.

There used to be an American TV detective series called Baretta, starring Robert Blake. One of the recurring themes from the show was “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.” And if you can’t support a child, make sure your partner isn’t going to get pregnant. Two of the most dominant values for a gentleman are responsibility and restraint, and in this case the latter may save you from the former. There are many, far too many, otherwise responsible men, generally frugal and patient men, who don’t exercise such patience in the heat of passion. But that’s the real test.


One problem is that, once his woman is pregnant, a man loses control of the decision to have, or not have, the child. But he is morally and financially responsible if the child is born. As Karen DeCrow, a New York attorney and former president of NOW, says, “there’s an irony here because it means many women still expect men to be the old protectors. This is a form of sex discrimination, that women can make a unilateral decision to become parents and get someone else to pay for it.” In fact, the laws in all American states require whoever signs the birth certificate to pay child support, even if it is later proved, as it often is, that the man who signed is not the biological father. In 2002, child support payments were $24 billion in the US. In 1993 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that a 12 year old boy who claimed to have had sex with his babysitter had to pay the older women child support.* There are about 200,000 disputed paternities that go to court each year in the US, and in many cases the fathers have good reason to dispute the paternity: the American Association of Blood Banks reports that 30% of men who request paternity testing turn out not to be the father. Genetic experts suggest that 10% of all children are not fathered by the man who signs the birth certificate. The way the system works is pretty simple – two people must consent to have sex, but if the women become pregnant, she is the sole decision maker as to whether to abort, adopt, or raise the child – and the man is obligated to pay child support if she chooses the latter option.

A gentleman is reasonable, and generous, but he is not a dupe. Someone who engages in sex without precautions is not an impulsive romantic, but a dangerous fool. In any long-term relationship there should be an agreement as to whether or not the intention is to have children, and, if not, how unwanted pregnancies are to be handled. None of this discussion is fun or romantic, and, yes, it might put a damper on those impulsive trysts – but it might also save you from a lifetime of regret. Gentlemen discuss these things in advance, something like this:

Gentleman: So, let’s talk.

Lady: That sounds ominous. About what?

Gentleman: Do you want kids?

Lady: I don’t know; maybe. Do you?

Gentleman: Not now, and definitely not by accident.

Lady: I agree with the not by accident part. But I’m on the pill.

Gentleman: I know, but let’s just say you got pregnant by accident.

Lady: That’s not going to happen.

Gentleman: I’m sure you’re right, but humor me here. What would you do?

Lady: I’d take care of it.

Gentleman: You’d get an abortion?

Lady: I hate it, but I would.

Gentleman: That’s good to know, because I just can’t afford a child right now.


*State ex rel. Hermesmann v. Seyer 847 P.2d 1273 (Kan. 1993)

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