Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility


469 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-7737-2021-9





Reviewed by Hannah Gay

Hannah Gay is a history professor at Simon Fraser University.


Sex and Destiny is a book one presumes the author simply had to write; it brims with personal anecdotes, historical and contemporary information, ideas and theories. Unfortunately, the latter are not well articulated; too many of the 469 pages are taken up with historical material which, while interesting, is redundant to the main argument. Nonetheless, this is a thought-provoking, stimulating, and well-written polemic, directed at contemporary Western ideology of reproduction and the consequences this has for human destiny.

The order in which Greer presents her material is confusing; for example, the reader must wait until chapter 12 for discussion of a thesis central to the book — namely, that people less engaged in reproduction are able to generate greater spending power than are those whose energy is directed toward raising children. Life with few or no children is highly compatible with consumerism and thus, it is argued, modern industrial societies show a profound lack of desire for children. Indeed, she claims, they are the first in history to demonstrate extreme hostility toward children. This claim is documented, though by no means conclusively, in the opening chapters, where Western attitudes toward children and the status of motherhood are compared unfavourably with those of non-industrial, non-consumer societies.

Since reproduction is curbed in the West (North?), so it must be separated ideologically from sexual drive. Indeed, sexuality is viewed as a decoy, a new opiate for the people. And, needless to say, many feel frustrated in a culture in which there is far more sexual stimulus than opportunity. A further negative consequence, for those who do find sexual opportunity, is the high incidence of pelvic disease and associated sterility. Indeed, the equation of fertility and purity may have a rational basis.

For many, sterility is a curse, and not just in the West. The misery of childless women in non-industrial societies is discussed and the point made that this problem is not taken seriously. Rather, we push our knowledge of birth control on to the rest of the world, and, out of ignorance, view those who reject it as irrational. Greer argues that our own acceptance of contemporary birth control techniques is far too unquestioning. She claims that humanity has, through history, managed fairly well in balancing population with resources and we should therefore view traditional methods of birth control more favourably. For example, she argues that the ineffectiveness of coitus interruptus is pure myth and that we should seek to make the very traditional method of abortion safer and more widely available. Birth control has its place. She also makes the point, insufficiently well recognised, that from a moral stance there is little to choose between early abortion, day-after abortifacient drugs, and the I.U.D. Each method prevents the further growth of a fertilised ovum.

It is Greer’s view — and I agree — that children are a great source of pleasure and interest and that a society that denies itself this pleasure is diminished. We, in our society, need to foster a more caring approach to the birth and upbringing of children. Acknowledgement of this does not imply a set-back for women, or for the feminist movement. Rather, Greer’s message for women in modern industrial societies is to think more critically about the consequences of their sexual behaviour and about the economic and political forces that shape their reproductive lives.


Greer, Germaine, “Sex and Destiny: The Politics of Human Fertility,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024,