Saturday’s issue of the Wall Street Journal (July 23-24, 2011, C1-2), featured an article by a woman named Holly Finn. Ms. Finn is 42 years old, and has been trying to conceive a child for the last three years. Several rounds of in vitro fertilization attempts have failed. Finn has endured a long, expensive, and apparently hopeless struggle, but has not given up hope, planning yet another round.

Finn reports statistics that in any given month, a healthy couple has a 20-25% chance of conceiving naturally when the woman is in her 20s; 10 – 15% in her 30s; and 5% in her 40s.

Obviously, Finn kicks herself and fate for her waiting so long to find the right man to have children with. It wasn’t for lack of trying, and she always wanted children. She still hasn’t found him, finally decided to go it alone. But that’s not what I’m writing about. The part of Finn’s article that struck me was what she said about the reaction of her then-new boyfriend last January. As she planned another round of IVF using donor sperm, the boyfriend said he would like to ‘be involved’, i.e., be the father. But, as Finn writes, ‘The day before my flight to the fertility clinic…, I returned from an ultrasound to an empty house, no note. Later, X (the boyfriend) told me that he wanted four kids and thought I’d only be able to give him one or two.’

How many young women out there are wasting their time with men who aren’t ready to have children, aren’t remotely interested in having children yet, only to find that when they are ready, the men want those children with someone ‘who can give him 4′ (code for, someone who is much younger)? I’d like to see the statistics on that.

I labeled this post “Infertility and the sexual cartel’ in reference to something I wrote about in my book, The Redemption of Love.
By sexual cartel, I refer to what used to be an invisible but universal agreement in virtually every society that women and girls would not give a man sex until he married her. Obviously, the women and girls did not hold a convention and take this pledge, but over time societies create an elaborate system of norms, prohibitions, and punishments that work to this effect. This is the ‘why buy a cow when you can get the milk free?’ mentality, which people laugh at now — but which, on a societal level, proved to be a valid warning. As some single woman whose blogs turned into a book contract (can’t remember her name at the moment) wrote, holding out for a commitment is next to impossible today because ‘it’s a virtual diary aisle out there’. Everyone is giving milk away free, and any woman who wants to wait for marriage is in a very non-competitive position. When word gets out on a college campus that ‘so-and-so doesn’t have sex,’ she becomes everyone’s buddy and no one’s girlfriend.

While ‘holding out’ to force a commitment is hardly a morality based on religious ethics, which I think has a much different motivation, the old sexual cartel afforded a level of protection and choice that young women simply do not have today.

I’d love to hear what you think, and about your experiences.