View Full Version : The Slayer and fertility

09-02-19, 08:10 PM
The question of whether or not Slayers can have children is never directly asked or answered in BtVS. It’s brought up obliquely, through the fact that Robin Wood is the son of Nicki Wood, but the show never states whether he was born before or after her Calling. Given the Slayer’s short life expectancy, and the fact that he appeared to be 4-6 years old at her time of death, I suspect it was the former. (Spoiler tags used for explicit-yet-dry discussion of sexual health.)

However, the show provides enough evidence to suggest that Slayers would not have normal fertility. Either they would be hyper-fertile (at least until labor– more on that later), conceiving more easily and avoiding pregnancy with more difficulty than the average woman, or they would be completely sterile. There’s not much room for an in-between.

Pregnancy prevents something of a paradox for women. While better health makes them likelier to conceive and carry a child to term, the pregnancy itself is a drain on their body. In a sexually-reproducing species, part of a body’s health is its ability to pass on its genes, and in this sense, any interference with fertility is a form of illness; yet the individual may live a fuller, longer life if she produces fewer children. Further, many forms of birth control produce non-reproductive side effects, which the woman must balance against her need to avoid pregnancy. Medicine produces many such paradoxes and dilemmas: Julius Wagner-Juaregg won the 1927 Nobel Prize in medicine (https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1927/summary/) for his work in curing syphilis with deliberately-induced malarial fevers. His discovery was eclipsed by that of penicillin and sounds horrifying to us today, but, at the time, it was among the safest and most effective remedies for syphilis, which, since the discovery by Europeans of quinine, had been much more dangerous than malaria.

Aside from abstinence (unappealing) and the rhythm method (both unappealing and unreliable), the mechanisms of which are obvious and neither of which alters the body, birth control for women takes a number of forms. Birth-control pills “trick” the woman’s body into behaving as though it is already pregnant. This not only prevents ovulation, it inevitably interacts with her whole endocrine system to produce such familiar symptoms as weight gain and emotional changes. It even hampers her ability (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/birth-control-pills-affect-womens-taste/) to judge a compatible mate by smell– a powerful tool in determining her future sexual satisfaction and the health of any future children she has by said mate. It would be hard to argue that this is not a form of illness or poisoning, although, when compared to the effects of pregnancy, it may often be the lesser of two evils.

“Plan B,” or the morning-after pill, is also a chemical form of birth control, known but not widely available (or FDA-approved) at the time when the show is set. It is essentially the “acute” version of the “chronic” BC pill. Although its rare usage is very safe with regard to long-term side effects (other than the reproductive loss of the potential pregnancy), it works by a disruption of the endocrine system. Once again, we have a minor poison which can be used to prevent a greater harm (again, unless we consider the loss of a reproductive opportunity harmful, which would be reasonable from an evolutionary standpoint, in which genetic success is the greatest success).

The copper IUD (https://www.webmd.com/sex/birth-control/iud-intrauterine-device#1) has a different mechanism of action, stimulating a localized immune response– in other words, it creates the symptoms of an infection, without the infection being present. “The symptoms of an infection” are an obvious form of sickness, of which temporary infertility is just one symptom: It often leads to painful, heavy periods as well. I do not condemn the usage of copper IUDs; pregnancy itself can be a more terrifying prospect than virtually any sickness; but the fact remains that the woman is sick.

And Slayers are very, very healthy. We see Buffy weakened by disease only once (”Killed by Death”), and that is the result of a particularly virulent flu which struck during perhaps the most stressful period of her life, as her ex-lover terrorizes Sunnydale. She sounds as though she has a cold in “The Killer in Me,” but this is never stated in-universe. While her resilience to acute diseases is likely high but not absolute, “Chosen” makes clear that she has nothing to fear from chronic diseases like HIV and hepatitis, as she, the Potentials, and the notoriously promiscuous Faith bleed themselves with the same knife to open the Hellmouth.

Similarly to her disease response, the Slayer benefits from some, though not total, resistance to chemical agents. She is drugged in “Reptile Boy,” but recovers her superhuman strength within minutes of awakening. While Giles manages to drug her to weakness with an unknown quantity of muscle relaxers and other “poisons” in “Helpless,” she (in the body of Faith, also a Slayer) surprises her kidnappers with her resistance to tranquilizers in “Who Are You?” If her demonic Slayer element works to keep her body functioning at the human optimum, then it should adjust to chemicals which disrupt her reproduction in the same way that it adjusts to agents which interfere with her awareness.

Of course, none of this would make her partners’ sperm any more potent. Spermicides should be just as effective as with any other couple (which is to say, not very). Barrier methods could work in theory, although it seems unlikely that Slayer-level orgasmic contractions would reliably leave male condoms in place. Her best bet, when dealing with human men not ready to undergo sterilization, might be the female condom; if it became displaced due to the force of her orgasm, I suspect that it would be pushed out and over more of her partner’s genitals, rather than getting dislodged in her vagina.

Would hyper-fertility, in terms of becoming pregnant, lead to live births for the Slayer? This is another difficult question. After all, the Slayer should be able to carry to term, but, in labor, her muscular strength might prove more of a curse than a blessing. My own mother was not especially athletic, yet her strong contractions proved cause for concern during my delivery: They squeezed me tightly enough that my heart stopped. A Caesarean section would be an option, but this carries its own risks to the baby, albeit more in the long than the short term: Children delivered by this method experience (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/c-section-cesarean-births-child-health-problems-asthma-obesity-diabetes/) significantly higher rates of asthma, obesity, and type 1 diabetes than children delivered in vaginal childbirth.

Another possibility remains, which is that the Slayer’s demonic essence, being immortal, does not recognize the transfer of her genes as a biological necessity. In this scenario, Buffy (or any other Slayer)’s healing power treats the embryo as a simple parasite, either refusing to allow its implantation or rejecting shortly thereafter. No matter how many eggs became fertilized, her body would never permit a fetus to drain its resources long enough to attain viability; as a result, she would be effectively sterile. If Slayer potential has a genetic component, then this could pose a long-term problem. However, if the un-Called Potentials have even slightly-better health than the general population (which seems likely, as they apparently do possess heightened senses and predatory instincts; see “Potential”), their own increased health, and thus number of healthy children, should more than compensate for the single Slayer’s sterility. Indeed, after hundreds if not thousands of generations in which Potentials have had a reproductive edge, their genes should have overtaken the Earth by now, and it’s likely that only a magical limitation keeps them from making up a majority of the Earth’s young women.

For much of the series, this is, for Buffy at least, a moot point. She is celibate throughout seasons 1, 3, and (except, possibly, for the final episode of) 7, and all of her sexual activity in seasons 2 and 6 (and, if she has sex at all in it, 7) is with vampires, who cannot reproduce through intercourse. Only in seasons 4 and 5 does she confront a risk of pregnancy. Still, if she possesses only the knowledge made clear on the show, she must know that it is a serious risk, as her body will not reliably respond to birth-control medications. Perhaps it is in the back of her mind when she finds herself drawn, repeatedly, to vampires instead of human men.