In 1978, in Vitro Fertilization made the world’s first “test tube baby” possible. The birth of Louise Brown made headlines worldwide, and gave hope to couples unable to conceive naturally. Almost 40 years later, advances in IVF may stand to completely disassociate procreation from pleasure, and make the process our preferred method of reproduction– not just for infertile or same-sex couples, but for everyone.
Two Sides to Sex
Our human concept of sex can be defined as one part business and one part pleasure. The “business” side of our sexuality represents our necessity to reproduce, to make more people. The “pleasure” portion provides the motivation to take care of business. Like eating, we’ve evolved to find sex pleasurable because it is necessary in order to survive, both individually by passing our particular genetic traits on to the next generation, and as a species to guarantee the survival of the human race. Perhaps along our evolutionary road, anyone who didn’t find sex appealing most likely did not reproduce, therefore eliminating the genetic trait that accounted for sex aversion from our collective gene pool.
Separating “Business” from “Pleasure”
Thus, for now, it seems that the desire to have sex is hard-wired into being human. But, moral implications aside, technologies ancient and modern have begun to redefine our concept of sex, and disassociate duty from desire. Prophylactics and other forms of birth control began separating business from pleasure, and the process continues with advances in vitro fertilization, or “IVF”. In the video above from Marco Brambilla’s 1993 Sci-Fi classic, Demolition Man, Stalone learns that in the future Utopia of San Angeles, sex for reproduction is obsolete. Super virulent sexually transmitted diseases have made all sex unsafe. For fun, future citizens put on headsets to have Vir-sex, or sex in Virtual Reality. For procreation, citizens go to the lab, where their genetic samples are screened, purified and enhanced to reproduce via IVF.
Gametes from Skin Cells
Like many of us may remember from those awkward high school Health classes, male gametes in the form of sperm combine with female gametes in the form of eggs to make babies. IVF replicates this exact biological process in the lab, normally taking the gametes from donors, parents or both. Now, using stem cells, researchers have found a way to make gametes from skin cells. Imagine, for example, if a single skin sample from the parents is all it took to make a baby. Might demand for surrogate mothers or for egg and sperm donors decrease? Would these methods turn into the budget option for birthing, or become obsolete all together?
“Disgusting! You Mean… Fluid Transfer?!?!”
The ability to create gametes from parent skin cells also allows scientists to screen out any candidates with genetic disorders. Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis, or “PGD” allows future parents to find genetic abnormalities that might be present in an embryo. This type of screening helps physicians verify if the embryo is unaffected by certain diseases before it’s grafted onto the uterus.
Affordable access to such technologies isn’t always guaranteed for everyone, but a future where we rely exclusively on IVF for reproduction could turn out to be another alarmingly accurate prediction from Demolition Man.