And About the Woman From the One-Night-Stand?

For a while now I’ve been writing about the parental status of men where a child results from a one-night-stand. My conclusion has been that these men are not fathers of those children. They are, instead, like sperm donors. (Many, perhaps even most, people are quite comfortable with the idea that a sperm donor is not a father of a child produced with his sperm, even though he has a genetic link with the child. But the law on this does vary state to state.)

I’ve gotten comments, some on line here, some on Feminist Law Prof, where I frequently cross-post, and some privately, that seem to think I’m using a double standard–one rule for men and another for women. I don’t think I am, and I think I’ve said as much, but let me focus here on the parental status of the one-night-stand woman just to be completely clear.

Suppose the woman is pregnant after the one-night-stand. Is she a parent? Not at that point. First off, I don’t accept that there is a child at that point. No child means no parent. She does, however, have the chance to become a parent. If she decides (and remember, I’m indulging in a minor fantasy that she actually has a real choice here) to continue the pregnancy, then when she gives birth she will be a mother.

What makes her a mother at the point a child is born? It is not the genetic link. There is no reason why the genetic link would make her a parent when it would not make a man a parent. To say that would indeed be to employ a double standard.

But between the one-night-stand and the time of birth the man and the woman concerned here are in rather different positions. She is pregnant. He is not. And while we might say that he completed the task of fathering the child during that one-night-stand, her task continues, 24/7, for about forty weeks. At the end of which time, having provided the most intimate of care non-stop, I’d call her a parent. (For the moment I can also throw in that in deciding to continue the pregnancy she has demonstrated that she intends to be a parent, giving her an alternative claim. But I don’t really want to rely on that.)

Whatever our commitment to gender equality as a theoretical matter, the physical fact of pregnancy and childbirth remains a uniquely female experience. There can be only so much symmetry between the position of the man and the woman during this critical period. When the child is born, nine months or so after my hypothetical one-night-stand, she is a parent and he is not. It isn’t that I am using a double standard. It is that they have played different roles, roles that in this case are linked to their differing physical capacities.

41 responses to “And About the Woman From the One-Night-Stand?

  1. HurtinginOhio

    I am surprised to see this type of discussion favoring for the man. I have someone who has been in my life for 11 years now who has made this mistake. Once the girl told him of the pregnancy he offered to help take care of it (I am pro-choice) and she declined. He told this women he wanted nothing to do with the child and she became angry. He did not know her last name and had only seen her in passing once before the one night stand. She is now requesting paternity be established so he will have to pay child support. He is distraught because beyond the actual conception he had no choices. He felt that if she wanted to parent this child that she should be completely responsible. Unfortunately, this is not the way things will work out for my friend. He will be held responsible and have to support this child until it is 18 years old or older if it attends college. She held all the choices and now is trying to trap him which seems unjust.

    • Once someone consents to have sex then they are taking part in an act which may whether it is intended or not result in conception. He chose to have sex with this woman and he must be prepared to stand up to the plate, be a man and deal with the consequences. There is something wrong with a society that thinks that one-night stands are ok, but there is something even wronger with a society that thinks that destroying an innocent life is ok.

      I know there are many people that thinks that a positive pregnancy test doesn’t equal a life. But let me in response ask you this: Then what does it indicate? It shocks me that we live in a society where killing unwanted animals (kittens, puppies, etc.) which may have been born unplanned in the wild is strongly frowned upon, but if it is baby humans who are created during a one-night stand then it is fine. I feel someone, somewhere must be laughing at the irony in our culture and our foolishness in this.

      • I’m inclined to want to separate this into two separate questions. Perhaps a man should be held responsible for the one-night stand. I can imagine doing that by saying that he is obliged to pay child support. And this is actually what the law does generally.

        But I think it is also useful to think about the well-being of the child, if indeed a child is born, as well. (I’m skipping over the whole deciding to abort part for the moment.) I cannot see why giving the one-night-stand guy legal rights–which means legal power–over the child’s life is a particularly good idea. There’s no relationship between the man and the mother. He had no desire to be a father in the first instance. I have no expectation that he’d be good at it and I don’t see why we should assign the risk that he won’t be good to the child.

        The lack of a relationship between the grown-ups really does trouble me. They’ll have to work this out together, but they have no history of doing anything like that. If the mother wants to have the man included as a legal parent (which presumably is because she thinks they’ll do fine as a team) then the law provides way to arrange that. But if she wants to sole parent because she thinks there’s not much chance they’ll work well together, then I’d give her the right to choose that course, too.

  2. I know someone else in this situation…I am a pro choicer as well. I do feel people should be held responsible for their actions. But at the same time, i feel for this man. As a woman, I would save having my child/children for someone that I know wants me and my child. I think mistakes do happen and there is a difference between children conceived in love and those that are just conceived. WOMEN…please no the difference.

  3. YouCantPlayBothSides

    I’m female. Pro-choice. and I think if the woman decides to not use contraception and that includes emergency contraception like the morning-after pill and continues to go through with the pregnancy then she should be completely responsible for the child should the father not want input. She came to this decision by herself- she should handle the consequences by herself – financial or otherwise- how dare she presume to make decisions for other people including the father, his partner and the unborn child and expect them to abide by those choices. Points regarding the father being equally responsible is actually counter-feminism – yes he is responsible for contributing payment for contraception or abortion but any decision one makes independently of him should be followed through independent of him. For the woman to try to acquire means from traditional customs (father paying for child’s needs) she should have practiced traditional courtship.

    • Hi both sides
      I am also a feminist, very pro choice. Actually I think I am more of a humanist. I’m into fairness and equal rights. There are things about the law that create unequal rights for people that I think ought to be fixed. Let me ask you a few questions. But first I’ll have to ask you to forget the adults and their relationship status for a moment – I’ll get back to that.

      Do you think people, as minors, should only be entitled to physical and financial support from their biological mothers and not from their biological fathers? As a blanket policy – out the gate; lets make things even Steven for the offspring of all human beings. Would you say that men, in general should not be responsible for their biological offspring unless they feel like supporting their offspring? When would they have to feel like supporting them for it to be legally enforceable? At conception? At Birth? 1 week old? How would we document that intention? Marriage? Should minors only be entitled to their father’s support if their fathers loved their mothers enough to marry them? That seems unfair to the offspring. They have biological fathers like everyone else but their ability to receive physical and financial support depends not upon the relationship their father has to them but to their mother? One relationship is absolutely permanent and rather undeniable while the other is rather tenuous and subject to change right? I mean a guy can be married one day and divorced the next, but he’ll be a child’s father forever its not something a court can simply erase. All those other paternal relationships flow through him to the child – they don’t appear magically when he marries a woman and they definitely don’t disappear when he divorces her.

      What of the minor whose parents are married when he’s born but separate a week later? Does he deserve the support of his father more than the one whose parents never married? What if the mother and father did agree while she was pregnant that he would support his child and then suddenly he changed his mind. Should that child not have the Father’s support? How would the Mother prove to the court that the Father agreed and then renigged?

      • You’re probably not talking to me, but just in case–in my perfect world I wouldn’t assign the right to support based on genetic connection at all–not for the provider of egg or for sperm. I suppose this is about fighting the hypothetical, but I part company at the set-up. Genetic connection doesn’t (in my view) provide a basis for assigning support obligations for anyone. So it’s nice and uniform across all cases.

    • Hi again both sides
      Anyway its not that I don’t see the logic initially in what you are saying and there was a time in the not so distant past where I myself held that very same view. Its just was not possible to maintain that view once I understood that all of our rights are dependent upon all of our performance of various and sundry obligations. I have a right to walk down the street and not be mugged because I have an obligation not to mug people walking down the street. That does not mean I won’t get mugged it just means that if I do I have the right to some legal recourse against whoever did it. Well we have the right to be supported by our biological parents and we in turn have the obligation to support our biological offspring. We have to cooperate in this system of checks and balances for everyone to get a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Men and women are equally responsible for their offspring’s existence its just women’s bodies develop the negative into a complete picture which we hopefully all view as a positive upon arrival as a complete person. Before a person is born they are just a part of the woman’s body which is why she can decide that she does not want to use her body to develop her embryo into their baby. Yes, I suppose she has the upper hand in that. Women have horrible egos but its not appropriate to deny certain people rights because of the actions of their mothers. We’d all really be up sht creek if that were the case.

    • I just can’t quite get over your post. I held similar views once but not quite as adamant. So if a man had 3 biological offspring and he supported one but not the other two that would be cool by you? Would all the kids be considered brothers and sisters by you or how would that work? Would the grandparents be told by their son not to contact the two he was not supporting what about their cousins? Did you know if a man’s name is not on the birth certificate the law actually does not consider him or his relatives to be the child’s family? They can all get married if they want if you can believe that.

      • I think a man could have three biological offspring and be a legal father for one of them and not the other two. Suppose the second and third offspring were conceived as a result of his providing sperm to his sister’s partner? Then I’m happy to say that his sister and the partner are the legal parents (and have the support obligation, too) of kids 2 and 3. He’s not a legal parent of those two (in my view) and he should not have a support obligation.

        Whether the kids would be considered siblings is difficult to answer in the abstract. If you needed to contact your siblings for possible blood or organ donation, then yes, I’d include them as siblings. But if the school district allowed a sibling preference so that a second sibling had the right to go to a school the first sibling was enrolled in (Seattle used to do this to make life for households/families a bit simpler) then no, I wouldn’t include them as siblings.

        And I’ll do the same thing down the list. To give an different sort of example, if a boy and girl are adopted into the same household as infants and raised together, I would call them siblings for many purposes whether they were genetically related or not. But for some purposes (mostly medical, I think) they aren’t siblings if they aren’t genetically related.

    • not talking about alimony for her but child support for his kid.

    • I think I probably vacillate on agreeing/disagreeing with you here. But what alarms me is when the man is assigned not only financial responsiblity but also parental rights. As I’ve mentioned somewhere around this part of the blog, giving a person parental rights gives them a certain amount of power over others who have parental rights. And I really do not want to give the one-night-stand guy that sort of power vis-a-vis the woman who decides to maintain a pregnancy and raise the child.

  4. If there is no child before one is born, then there’s no one to functionally parent and provide “the most intimate of care” to for forty weeks.The pregnant woman is merely going about her daily life and not taking any positive action.

    If there were a law that would interpret her “decision not to have an abortion” in the face of the father’s reluctance to act as a parent as proof of her positive intent to parent alone as a single mother by choice, then it would in fact be coercing women who cannot or will not raise the child alone to undergo abortion.

    Perhaps we are getting to the point where there should be a court hearing after every birth of a child who is not the biological offspring of two married opposite-sex parents to have all the adults in question try to legally work out their own solution to their unique situation. If all the parties agree, then great, as long as the child has accurate information legally obtainable somewhere. If not, then the court decides what is in the best interest of the existing child.

    • Ah yes–this is a very serious problem for me. I’ve got an idea of what I mean and what I want to say, but I have a lot of difficult with the language. As you say, if there is no child pre-birth then there is no parent/child relationship and no one is acting as a parent. I don’t think that I’d go quite so far as to say that the pregnant woman is merely going about her daily life, though. And the part about “positive action” brings to mind the distinction between action and inaction and I think that is a peculiarly slippery and elusive distinction that has long bothered me. I think there is something extraordinary about the relationship between a pregnant woman and the fetus she carries that could warrant some special treatment.

      I agree about the second paragraph–hadn’t thought that through. Good point. Though could she allow the child to be adopted and can we get around it that way? Is the question whether she has the right to keep the child and raise it with financial support from him without giving him parental rights? That’s what I suggested, but I realize most will find it unreasonable.

      I do sometimes think I’m heading towards what you describe in your last paragraph but I always pull back because I realize it’s an absurd idea. Ridiculous. Impractical. So I try instead for principles that can be easily applied across cases, at least as a starting point.

      • I guess I might as well come out of the closet and say I’m really not a fan of abortion and do believe in “life before birth” – I think there is a child before birth and there is a relationship that forms in those 40 weeks.

        This does not mean that I believe the child should be recognized as a legal citizen nor that abortion or anything else that might endanger it should be illegal. It’s just that I’ve see too many women who basically felt coerced to undergo abortions by some facet of patriarchy and who felt powerless to keep their babies – which they wanted to do – to see the right to an abortion as the real feminist issue here.

        Sorry for the long off-topic post here, but this angers me. Only yesterday, a friend told me that when she got pregnant by a man who wanted nothing to do with the child, she was basically told that she should just “take care of it” and not bother him any more. She was able to keep the baby and is a fully independent single mother now – but many women are not able to do this. They should not have to feel (or effectively be) obligated to abort or relinquish just because of that.

        “Though could she allow the child to be adopted and can we get around it that way?” Coercing single women to surrender their children for adoption is something that’s often been done in the past and the consequences are well nigh catastrophic (google the Baby Scoop era). Please, don’t suggest we should go back there!

        Perhaps a court hearing is too impractical – how about a document signed by all the interested adults? Similar to a contract or a will?

        • I agree that coercing women to surrender their children for adoption is unacceptable. If the whole idea of choice and autonomy in child-bearing has meaning, then a woman must be free to choose to have the child and raise the child.

          That said, I don’t know quite what to do with economic realities. Children are expensive. People sometimes cannot afford to have them. The birth rate has fallen during the current economic downturn, right? More people using birth control? More people having abortions? More people being careful about not getting pregnant? Possibly all of the above.

          In my perfect world, you’d be able to have and raise a child knowing there’d be adequate state support, preschool, health care etc. But I don’t have any illusions about that world coming round anytime soon (here in the US, anyway). So maybe it does mean that the guy from the one-night-stand has to also be on the hook for the child if the woman is to have the freedom to make her choice in a meaningful way? Of course, he may not have the resources either, so then what?

          Here’s a thought: In the US we’re very eager to find father’s for children so a document has been developed called a VAP (voluntary acknowledgement of paternity). It is signed by a man and a woman after the woman gives birth. Hospitals hand them out. It basically says that the man is acknowledging paternity (and it states he had intercourse with the woman in the right timeframe, which is why only a man and a woman can enter into one). And it makes him into a legal father. It’s provided a quick and easy (and sometimes problematic) way to get a second legal parent where the woman isn’t married. There are problems with VAPs but they might be a starting place for something like what you suggest.

    • “The pregnant woman is merely going about her daily life and not taking any positive action.”
      I agree with this statement 100%. pregnancy is a physical condition, not an activity. therefore pregnancy is NOT care providing.
      Pregnancy is unique because this growing soon-to-be full fledged separate person, is now part of one body with the pregnant woman. The best thing that a pregnant woman can do for the baby is to take care of HER OWN health, because they are part of one body.
      I agree that many women feel forced to have abortions that they did not really want, due to circumstances not of their own choosing. the answer of course is not to curb women’s rights to have an abortion but to address these circumstances.

      • as for going to court to have all the adults work things out, court is usually what happens after the adults have failed to work things out on their own isn’t it?
        I oppose a standardized requirement for all unmarried parents to appear in court. Isn’t it illegal to discriminate on the basis of marital status?

  5. In my case, I was raped 6 years ago and as a result I got pregnant. I didn’t have a one night stand!! I didn’t have the “choice” of getting pregnant. And I surely don’t see why I should go through the traumatic experience of abortion (which I endured in my early 20s!!) because of a stupid selfish coward monster!! I do not regret my child a bit!! He is my everything!!! But this man, got away with rape, despite me reporting him to police (a very small percentage of rapists get convicted due to lack of proof!) and got on with his life while me and my child have had the most difficult times!!!
    Now, with loads of efforts on my part (because I knew very little of him) I have managed to trace him and I am filing for child support!!! And I don’t care what you all lot think of it, I think he should be responsible for HIS actions!!! The Maintenance people have contacted him and he denied even knowing me. Then, he stated not having the money to pay for the DNA test! Now, he is on ultimatum to do test or he will be legally acknowledged as the father of my child and obliged to pay child support by court.
    Once he will have to pay child support, I will push for him to pay back every penny he owes!! And NO, I don’t care if his life is ruined!!! He ruined my life and my child’s life and HE DESERVES what it’s coming to him!!!!

    I personally think the only men who should not be forced to pay maintenance are those who have been cheated by a woman (woman who claims she takes the pill or is infertile when it’s not true!). However, child support is not for the mother, but for the child. So, in that view, every child is entitled to child support from its father regardless of how it was conceived.

    As for those who make a difference between children conceived through two willing participants wanting to have a child and those who have a child unplanned I would say. Yes, there is a difference: some children are the result of the choice of humans, and others are the result of the choice of GOD!!! My child has been given to me by GOD himself!!

    • JC, you’re amazing! I believe you and your child have every right to receive child support.

    • Your child has a father whether or not he is a good man is besides the point he is his father and he owes him a duty of support and you go get your child what he’s due.

  6. I wish there was like’s so i could like that comment too.

  7. The woman carrying the fetus is simply a host. The baby develops inside her body to become an independant being. Independant meaning, it becomes a person of it’s own once the cord is cut. Please don’t bring test tube babies into the argument. Let’s agree that birth is the way a “person” comes into the world. Why do women think they can kill this growing fetus that is developing into a human being?

    With that in mind, why does the woman get to make ALL the choices?? To abort or not abort, yet the man involved has absolutely NO say. She decides not only the fate of the baby’s life or death, but she also decides the fate of the man involved. She decides if he will become a father or not. Whether he wants the baby or not, it doesn’t matter. Why shouldn’t he have the choice to father his baby or not, or to give it up for adoption or to release his parental rights? ALSO, why is a woman not willing to host a living fetus for nine months? She has the option of giving the baby up for adoption after birth or she can release her parental rights to the man involved. There are many more loving couples who want to adopt that there are babies available. I know because it took years for my husband and I to find a baby to adopt. Our second adoption was a 6 year old.

    Please don’t tell me she deserves the right of ALL decisions because she is carrying the child. Again, she didn’t produce this baby on her own. The ‘factory’ that brings the sperm and egg together and then creates this child happens to reside inside her body.

    • “With that in mind, why does the woman get to make ALL the choices?? To abort or not abort, yet the man involved has absolutely NO say.”

      Duh, because it’s now a part of her body and not his?
      Or did you forget your screed about men and women being different biologically????

      Once the baby is OUTSIDE her body, ie born, she does NOT get to make all the choices. The father may sue for custody. Of course their are many people who would like to limit those fathers’ rights but that is what we are fighting.

  8. Don’t forget that we could stone fornicators to death. Sure makes it easier than figuring out what to do about the child, eh? There are enough children being born legitimately, and enough adults around to take over whatever jobs the adults were doing, we won’t miss any of them. I think that’s where we are headed, because we’ve gone so far in the other direction, people seem to think it’s perfectly OK to have sex and children out of wedlock, it’s just a matter of, well I’m not even sure what the concern is actually. Making sure the woman gets paid for this?

    • Not in the United States of America. Actually in no place in the world. Even the Taliban does not stone fornicators, only adulterors (I’m not sure if men or women only on this). Fornicators are flogged.
      How does it make you feel to be more extreme than the Taliban?

      • No, I’m pretty sure it is for fornicating too, check out this verse, and the related verses on the sidebar:

        I’m not advocating for that, I’m more of the “go and sin no more” school, as long as we remember that it is a sin and there is no right to fornicate. Everyone in this thread seems to think that one night stands are acceptable and have to be legal, and we just have to figure out how to deal with the aftermath. The way we’ve done it is through paternity testing and child support, essentially pretending the couple was married and then immediately divorced, if a baby is born, so that the man is on the hook for the same amount he would be if they had been married and then divorced. But we should also be fighting the perception that fornication is a right and normal acceptable behavior, and reminding everyone that it is a mortal sin, and society is right to just stone fornicators to death and get rid of them. They have no right to continue living in the world.

        But I do have a real proposal that I think we should implement:

        In my state of Massachusetts there is a $30 fine for fornication, and I think we should collect it on the tax forms, $30 for every month they check off in which fornication occurred, under penalty of perjury. That would offset some of the social costs of fornication and make fornicators pay for the costs. Why should people that do not fornicate pay for all the courts and clinics the state has to fund to deal with fornication?

  9. Explain how the men who engage in a one night stand are less than the women who also engage in the sex with a stranger?? If anything, the woman is THE pathetic mess of a person. She is well aware that SHE is the one who will have to carry a pregnancy. These are usually women who think nothing of that because they are the same ones who use abortion as birth control. Women that indulge in one night stands do it for their ego. “Wow, I have the power to produce an erection! I am so hot this guy can’t resist me!”

    Unlike women, men are wired with an intense and powerful desire to fornicate. For a man, a one night stand is just about the physical act of sex, the strong desire to spill seed. Period. Without that intense desire mankind would disappear. If you don’t believe me, do your research.

    Responsibly, conception would take place within marriage. I get it. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that both parties participate equally. Your naive if you think the woman isn’t seducing, luring and enticing the man to engage in sex… one way or another, blatantly or covertly. Married man or not, when a woman gives the signal that she is willing to engage in sex and that man is the object of her lust, the chances are very high that she is going to get it.

    It takes a feminist to believe that men and women are sexually alike except for the plumbing.

    • Sharon, kindly present your credentials as the supreme authority on the universal sexual motivations of men and women, or else speak for yourself only.

      • “Married man or not, when a woman gives the signal that she is willing to engage in sex and that man is the object of her lust, the chances are very high that she is going to get it. ”

        Your expectations of men are very low. I am sorry that you have been exposed to such low quality men. There are many men who absolutely will tell the women I’m married so kindly get lost.

      • “Your expectations of men are very low. I am sorry that you have been exposed to such low quality men. There are many men who absolutely will tell the women I’m married so kindly get lost.”

        I said “the chances are high”, I didn’t say that EVERY married an takes the bait. The statistics for infidelity prove my point.

        Also, I have wonderful men in my life.

        “Sharon, kindly present your credentials as the supreme authority on the universal sexual motivations of men and women, or else speak for yourself only.”

        Kisarita, their are many credible authorities that have published those finding. If you research, you’ll find them.

        I think that women tend to feel threatened (and angry) when they hear that men are visual creatures who are very often sexually stimulated by, and fantasize about sex with women other than their girlfriends or wives.

        Is that why you are insulting me?

        • I am responding to your insulting, know it all (but actually ignorant) assessment on every woman who has ever had casual sex, myself and my dear friends included. I don’t need an expert to tell me that you are full of it.

  10. Huh well Sharon I find myself at the edge of this very confusing precipice attempting to hang on to my beliefs…Your compelling here, but your earlier post kind of pissed me off. I’m not even sure what your point is but parts of what your saying are true. When you say it takes a feminist to believe men and women are sexually alike are you saying you are one or are not one. Women will always be just what you said that’s our gig we get off on luring guys in. You are right that if a guy gets that signal it makes no difference whether he is married or not he’ll likely give in they are built for that. Why are you saying that the woman is a pathetic mess because she has a one night stand? You are being kind of mean and judgemental, it feels good when someone can”t resist you that is the power everyone wants. I mean who wants to be resistable? .

    On your earlier post the cookie crumbles in the direction of the woman having authority over her body to the extent that she can decide not to allow a pregnancy to develop into a viable fetus. She can decide that against the wishes of the man who will be the father once the child is born and because it is not his body he has no say. Alternately should he protest and she allows the pregnancy to move forward he will have offspring and will be responsible for them like it or not and neither of them should be able to opt out of caring for the child as its not the child’s fault what they did or did not intend they have two bio parents and two bio parents need to take responsibility.

    He does have the right to think the mother is a bitch but not the right to take that out on his child.

  11. When you pull your pants down whether its a one night stand or not you take the chance of having a child, don’t be stupid you all know when sperm hits an egg it producess a child. I’m sick and tired of this crap its both peoples responsibility

  12. Charles Mickelson

    You are fully taking the wrong approach to writing this. I was recently blessed with a beautiful baby daughter as the result of a one night stand. I am no “sperm donor” as you so blatantly called me. I am a loving, caring father who has an amazing girl whilst not being together with the mother. I admit, I was no where near ready to be a father at the time of conception or when I found out I had a daughter when she turned a month old. I am still to this day not financially ready for a baby as I am finishing my senior year of college. However, I am 100% mentally in tune with my role as a man, a co-parent, and above all father to my Arya. Stay strong men. You have what it takes to play in equal part in raising your daughter/son.

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