In a universe stocked with sentient robots and faster than light travel, you'd hope that science would have mastered something as mundane as the human reproductive system, yet the fictive cosmos are littered with unplanned pregnancies, bastard children, and all manner of unpleasant critters bursting from one's internal organs. Is any form of contraception safe in world of science fiction? We looked at seven tried and true methods and started to worry that the future we've envisioned is one in which we're all paying child support.
Socially-Mandated Birth Control
How it works: When the world is on the verge of overpopulation and resources are strained, sometimes a government's got to put the breaks on reproduction and restrict baby-making to the desirable few. After all, after thousands of years spent clawing to the top of the Darwinian ladder, we can't have every Tom, Dick, and Beowulf Shaeffer dumping his DNA into the newly limited gene pool. Fortunately, there's a veritable buffet of methods for de-fertilizing the populace. The body-numbing "ethical birth control pills" of Vonnegut's Welcome to the Monkey House make sexual contact utterly uninteresting, while Andrew Neiderman's The Baby Squad opts for the simpler solution of mass sterilization. The women of Sarah Hall's Daughters of the North are fitted with an outwardly visible IUD, and Brave New World does away with childbirth entirely, making pregnancy the pinnacle of personal disaster and arming women with a birth control utility belt that would make Batman proud.
Why it fails: It turns out that the long arm of the government can only reach so far. In Hall's book, women occasionally slip off the reservation to join the Carhullan Army, where they'll take out that contraceptive device post haste. And, despite the looming threat of execution, women in The Baby Squad and Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories have been known to get pregnant on the sly. Of course, sometimes birth control just plain fails. Even with a lifetime of practice at the Malthusian Drill, Brave New World's beta Linda still manages to get knocked up, and with nary an abortion tower in sight.
Making it with a Robot
How it works: Assuming you've gotten a hold of one of those fully functional models and not one that's genitally lacking, robots may be the perfect lovers – all that stamina with no messy gametes.
Why it fails: While this might work with entirely abiological specimens, the rules get tricky when your partner's a Cylon. If you're a human doing a Cylon, don't fall in love. If you're a fellow toaster, then plug away – unless you're one of the Final Five. Which you might be. On second thought, it's best just to use a rubber.
Male Birth Control
How it works: As modern researchers are tirelessly working to staunch the flow of sperm, Starfleet has long known the benefits of offering contraceptive injections to men. It reduces the odds of accidents and prevents alien-loving starship captains from leaving little Kirklets across the Alpha Quadrant.
Why it fails: As with its modern female analog, the male contraceptive injection is only good as long as you keep it up. And captains like Ben Sisko are just too busy bringing down evil empires, battling Pah-wraiths, and preserving the timeline to stop by Sick Bay for a hypospray. But not too busy, apparently, to get it on with Kasidy Yates.
Living in a World Without Men
How it works: Maybe all the men died off one day in a mysterious and bloody event. Maybe women have gone off and formed their own society without thinking to take a few Y chromosomes along. Maybe a whole species is kept female to control their breeding. Whatever the reason, the absence of sperm would seem to take pregnancy off the menu.
Why it fails: Even in the face of gendercide, men are not so easy to fell. There are bound to be a few hiding out in secret labs, in orbit, or dangling in straitjackets from the ceiling, ready to impregnate the first female who pounces. Or, as in Jurassic Park, the absence of males may prompt a handful of females to tiptoe across the gender line. And maybe men aren't a necessary component after all; the women of all-female utopia Herland opt for parthenogenesis, making themselves pregnant without the benefit of a partner.
How it works: Thomas Beatie aside, it's unlikely that a man is going to find himself pregnant at the gonads of another human being. Even exclusively male societies, like that in Lois McMaster Bujold's Ethan of Athos, tend to rely on external gestation devices rather than construct a male womb.
Why it fails: While human fetuses find the male body hostile, other species may not be so discerning. From the Octavia Butler's Tlic to Ridley Scott's chestbursters to that Alien in Red vs. Blue, there are plenty of extraterrestrials perfectly happy to place their embryos in our bodies, regardless of a uterus.
How it works: We all learned it in school: the only surefire way to avoid pregnancy is abstinence. Or sodomy.
Why it fails: As Deanna Troi and Shmi Skywalker will tell you, keeping your knees shut doesn't exactly guarantee a baby-free existence. When those microscopic or incorporeal beings want something from you, be it a Force-balancing messiah or a chance at fleshy life, they aren't going to wait around for a little thing like sexual intercourse.
How it works: In olden times, death generally put a damper on one's ability to become a new parent. But with today's medical advances, it's best to dispose of every last shred of genetic material – ova, sperm, and any gestating alien life forms.
Why it fails: Giving birth to an Alien queen was just the sort of thing Ellen Ripley was trying to avoid when she jumped into a vat of boiling lead. Little did she know that, in the hands of Joss Whedon and a handful of ethically-challenged scientists, even death is no match for the miracles of the reproductive process.