What in the World is Antinatalism? I Ask Antinatalists to Find Out

what is antinatalism?

What in the World is Antinatalism? I Ask Antinatalists to Find Out

Just what is antinatalism? My first time hearing the word was while listening to a podcast, which podcast I, unfortunately, do not remember (UPDATE: Reader Marcus figured out that this is the interview I heard via YouTube as opposed to a podcast). However, I am able to recall the guest star – David Benatar. Benatar is a philosophy professor and author of several books that focus on the antinatalist philosophy. He is perhaps most famous for his 2006 book, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence. After the interview concluded, I did not go on to read Benatar’s body of work.

It is not that I was offended by his world views or personal opinions. I just wanted to hear from more than just one person.

The Textbook Definition

The dictionary defines antinatalism (or anti-natalism) as a philosophical stance that assigns a negative value to birth. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t mean much to me. As I looked a little further into what antinatalism, I got a clearer picture.

“The core philosophy of antinatalism is to recognise that being born means to suffer, as well as feel pleasure, but that the foregoing of pleasure is not as bad as the presence of suffering…It is better that unnecessary pleasure is foregone than that unnecessary suffering is created.”

– Nadeem Ali,  Founder of The Antinatalist Party, Interview with The Independent.

This, I thought, made more sense.

The Antinatalists’ Definition

I interviewed nine people from the antinatalism subreddit, all of whom subscribe to the antinatalist philosophy to varying degrees.

“Antinatalism is an opposition to procreation,” Jan* tells me. “There are many reasons why one might be opposed to it, but the fact of opposing it is universal and defining for all antinatalists.”

Frank* explains, “Antinatalism is simply the belief that it is unethical to procreate.”

While Mark* agrees with Frank’s opinion, his view is a bit more staunch. He says, “[Antinatalism] regards childbirth as immoral due to a lack of consent on the behalf of the person being brought into the world.” He continues, “It is unethical to have children – actually, I would go so far as to say that it is the worst crime one can commit against another living creature.”

Margaret* adds, “If parents were able to obtain consent, then their action would not be wrong. Since they can’t, and their action does result in suffering and death, it is definitely wrong.”

“It is better to never have been born than to be born,” William sums up the definition of antinatalism simply.

The Journey to Antinatalism

All antinatalists embrace the childfree lifestyle — that is, if they didn’t already have children upon finding antinatalism— but do all childfree people embrace the antinatalist lifestyle? Well, no. I am not an antinatalist. This is, of course, no secret. Those I interviewed already know this. Regardless, I wanted to know how and when others adopted this viewpoint. And what better way than to ask, right?

Most of those I interviewed only recently came to recognize themselves as antinatalists a year or two ago. Some, for shorter and one for much longer. However, even those new to the antinatalist philosophy admit they knew how they felt before they heard of the term “antinatalism”.

Sarah* explains,

“I came across the term…and everything I had been thinking before then finally clicked into place. I finally had a term for what I knew to be true for close to 20 years now.”

This made sense to me as I knew I was childfree for some time before even knowing there was a word for it.

But, how did these ones arrive at their decision to fully embrace antinatalism?

William tells me he did so “during a particularly bad bout of depression” and that “antinatalism was originally a conclusion [he] came to emotionally, but [he] later confirmed logically.”

Mark, too, became an antinatalist after going through difficult times. He explains, “Well, let’s just say that suffering can change your perspective of the world very deeply.” I think we would all agree.

However, others I interviewed may have ended up at the same philosophy but they definitely took different roads to get there.

Devin tells me, “I arrived at the decision based on the understanding that the planet has an over-population problem, carbon emission/greenhouse gas issues, and overcrowding issues.”

Jan also admits that his decision to become an antinatalist “started from a random insight and grew into its present form as it was slowly processed in the back of [his] mind at all times.”

Antinatalism Is Not Nihilism

Some interviewees also credited the HBO crime drama True Detective for opening their eyes to the philosophy of antinatalism. In Season 1 of True Detective, Matthew McConaughey plays character Rust Cohle, an antinatalist. His character is often described as a pessimist and/or a nihilist but it’s important to note that this isn’t necessarily the case of all antinatalists.

In fact, seventy-seven percent of ones interviewed identified themselves as realists. More than half also do not feel antinatalism is related to nihilism.

Juan, who formerly considered himself a nihilist, explained to me the difference,

“[Antinatalism] may be related with nihilism in the lack of value life has for both but a nihilist wouldn’t care about other people’s suffering and I, as an antinatalist, am concerned about that.”

Juan is not alone. Many others interviewed expressed similar feelings.

Sarah explains, “As an antinatalist, I am hoping that my actions to minimize the suffering of other people actually do matter in the end.”

“Antinatalism is quite the opposite [of nihilism] as it focuses on reducing individual suffering regardless of what others may be doing,” explains Jessie*. Later, Jessie also tells me, “Antinatalism is about not starting new life just so it can suffer and die. It is not about being miserable in your existing life or making other people feel bad.”

Antinatalism — Pro-Suicide?

When asked what she feels is the biggest myth about antinatalism, Sarah relates, “That we are suicidal or don’t enjoy life. I am actually quite happy: have a successful marriage, financially stable, enjoy lots of various activities, look forward to the future, etc.”

When I posed the same question to Phil, he responded similarly. “Probably that antinatalists are in favor of suicide, or are pro-death in general [is the biggest myth about antinatalism]. Antinatalism is really anti-death — you can’t die if you were never born to begin with.”

Jessie, too, highlights the myth “that antinatalists are pathetic losers that should just kill themselves.”

Devin tells me, “The biggest myth is likely that people think that we have others and want humanity to die off. While some may feel this way, I do not believe it is the root of the antinatalist culture and is instead simply that we do not believe that people should be having children either currently or at all for one reason or another.”

Certainly, suicide is not something most antinatalists condone.

In Conclusion

Admittedly, I did not know much about antinatalism when I began this project. It was hard to imagine what to expect. What would they think of a non-believer questioning their world views? Well, while it is impossible to generalize antinatalists as a whole, all of those I interviewed were incredibly kind and very willing to discuss their beliefs with me. I feel really fortunate to have gotten a glimpse of this philosophy.

I think it’s important to become educated about what you don’t understand. As someone who has been unfairly judged for being childfree, I can relate to these antinatalists’ frustrations about common misconceptions. And so, I want to end with a beautiful quote from Greg*:

“It saddens me that people might dismiss the antinatalist philosophy out of hand due to a vocal and macabre subset of antinatalists who only represent one particular perspective. I want people to know that antinatalism can be the ultimate expression of compassion for the unborn.”

* Names have been changed.

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    • Tejas Gokhale
    • September 13, 2017

    “It may go without saying that all antinatalists embrace the childfree lifestyle.” – This is not true. There are antinatalists who have bred in past and have come to realize the moral problems with their acts later.
    For eg. Author of this book has 2 daughters – https://www.amazon.com/Confessions-Antinatalist-Jim-Crawford/dp/0989697266

    1. Tejas, thank you for your comment! You are correct. I’ll change my wording to reflect that point. Thanks again!

  1. Reply

    Maybe you heard Benatar on The Species Barrier radio show? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oypADCYvg0w

    One other correction would be regarding the statement that ANs “don’t condone suicide”. Rather it isn’t mandatory or necessarily advocated. Your statement suggests a stigma among ANs against suicide.

    1. Hi Marcus,

      Yes, that’s the one I heard! I will add a link in the post. I appreciate the correction, I’ll change my verbiage. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for introducing me to yet another fascinating concept, Brittany! Like you, I don’t directly identify with the antinatalist philosophy, but I certainly can identify with aspects of it. I really like Greg’s insights at the end there – “compassion for the unborn” – because that’s exactly where part of my childfree philosophy is coming from. If I had a child, it’s quite likely it would live until at least 2100. Given the trajectory we are currently on, I really hate to think what the world will be like then (as sad as that is to say).

    1. Lisa, you’re very welcome! There’s an antinatalist saying that I really love that fits what Greg mentioned: “I love my kids enough to not have them.” It seems we both agree with that aspect!

    • Q
    • April 2, 2018

    I appreciate this blog. My husband and I are child free. I go round and round with myriad reasons for my decision, but the biggest reason is that I am an antinatalist. I identify most with “Sarah’s” comments about how finding the term clicked for her and that I’m not suicidal; I enjoy life as much as I can. I have every intention of making the most of this life I didn’t choose to be born into. I just refuse to have children. I also often joke that “I love my unborn children too much to bring them into this world.” There are many things in this world I find unethical (having children is one of them), but it’s not for me to try to take away someone’s choice.

    That final quote really is beautiful. I couldn’t help but see the similarity in how feminism is sometimes vilified or dismissed, due a certain subset’s behaviors.

    1. Thanks, Q! It was so interesting going through and compiling the information from these interviews. Like you, I could definitely relate to some of the sentiments shared. Thanks again 🙂

    • Vince
    • May 26, 2018

    Hey Brittany,
    Great post right here! I was stumbling through various websites and I ended up here, and it looks like there is plenty of quality content on this site.
    Antinatalism is definitely an emerging philosophy and so far has opened up many debates across the world. With the question of overpopulation and depletion of natural resources coming up, I think it is an essential standpoint which hopefully will not be dismissed as a “silly/edgy philosophy”, which can be seen when we bring this topic up while talking to natalists.
    I just wanted to clear some confusion about the relation between antinatalism and nihilism. As someone who follows both the philosophies, I think it is perfectly alright and not contradictory, as some might assume.
    This is because, when we become a nihilist, we realize the fact (based on empirical evidence) that at some point of time in the future, humans, earth, the Sun, and basically the whole universe (after trillions of years) will all cease to exist. This realization, while initially appearing dark, is actually very liberating. Now, as someone you interviewed mentioned that for a nihilist “nothing matters”, here’s a misconception. It is not the case that since everything will cease to exist one ‘shouldn’t’ care about anything. Words like should and shouldn’t are subjective. It also doesn’t matter whether or not you care about anything at all. Which leaves a nihilist with an absolute sense of liberty because morality becomes subjective. So basically, a nihilist can always be an antinatalist, but cannot state that it is an objective ethical position, as ethics are a human construct. “Since nothing matters, I am free to do what I feel like, and since I like reducing suffering, I will do it” – is how I think. A bit complicated, but is definitely logical, in my opinion.
    Sorry for the lengthy comment.. It is nice to see more websites being open about various ideas!

    1. Hi Vince! Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate your shedding some light on the relationship between antinatalism and nihilism and clearing up some of the misconceptions!

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