For one reason or another, people can't give birth anymore. This is often but not always due to a plague inflicted upon a species due to a Depopulation Bomb
dropped on them by their enemies, hence the name. However, this can just as easily be caused by a natural plague, biological changes in a species which might prevent sex, or a cultural phenomenon causing people to be terrified of heterosexual sex (or at least pregnancy). Most horrifyingly, perhaps your enemies just decided to come along and castrate all your males.
Of course, the most popular agent for this problem by far is genetically engineered disease. If you are considering what type of Depopulation Bomb to use on your enemies, you may consider the Sterility Plague the best option for many reasons. First of all, it is a very covert and completely humanitarian method of mass genocide. It will not kill a single enemy civilian or combatant. It is incurable, except where the forces of pure good are involved (But really, what can't they fix?). Your enemies will live just as long as they would have otherwise, but they will not multiply and will cease to be any threat at all after a generation or two. If your race is particularly long-lived then you might consider waiting for everyone to die to be not such a big deal.
Then again, if you are short lived, this might not seem like much of a solution. Also, it does not do much to kill or disable the enemy besides lowering their morale. In fact, it might just really piss them off. And, if they have artificial means of reproduction, a Sterility Plague may be a really dumb idea.
If your civilization for one reason or another has decided to completely abandon sexual reproduction (possibly in favor of artificial means), expect this to become a major issue soon after the story starts. In fact, unless sexual reproduction can be rediscovered by your race, expect disastrous if not nightmarish consequences. This is probably a little homophobic (especially if you have only abandoned heterosexual sex) and a lot allegorical.
Lastly, you can expect any Knight Errant
or civilization-redeeming Messiah figure
who comes along to cure the Sterility Plague in the space of a single episode or two-hour feature film. The forces of good make fertility a point of focus, often impregnating virgins, men, and the infertile, so you shouldn't be surprised when they pull double duty by curing a plague and bringing pregnancy to the downtrodden masses.
A sub trope of Depopulation Bomb
. Compare Gendercide
. Likely to result in a Childless Dystopia
Anime & Manga
- Fafner: The Festum did this to Japan, prompting the Alvis project which gave rise to artificial reproduction, and, by the same token, genetically engineered supersoldiers (i.e. our heroes) born to fight the Festum. The plague is cured somehow by the final episode as a Someone to Remember Him By.
- Vandread: The heroes come across a planet in the second season which had this done to them by Earth. Needless to say, they cure it.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, Third-generation Coordinators (like Lacus Clyne) suffer from this, due to their modified genes and the human body being unable to handle the changes correctly. During both it and Gundam SEED Destiny, there has been no cure to this infliction and many Coordinators (such as Patrick Zala) refuse to entertain the idea of mating with Naturals (unmodified humans). "Marriage laws" to boost fertility are mentioned in passing several times, although what exactly these laws are isn't ever explained. It might explain why Athrun and Lacus were engaged at a young age, though, and the fact that Yzak's mother gave birth to him at 17 is apparently a result of their aggressive pro-birth policies.
- In Animal Land, the Zelyda Disease is what killed off the original humans of the world.
- In The Boyfriend Story, one of the stories in the horror manga anthology Screaming Lessons, this is brought about by humans perfecting a cell app that allows for the creation of perfect holographic replicas to serve as the existing humans' companions of any sort. Friends, lovers, spouses, children. With this, the need for meaningful human interaction and consequently birth rates plummet, leading to a world populated solely by replicas.
- In one storyline in Captain America, Superia attempted to release a plague that would sterilize the world's female population except for her and her cadre of supervillainesses. As the only fertile women in the world, they would essentially have been able to hold the world to ransom.
- An EC Comics story (based on a prose short story) has female sterility happen as a result of cosmic radiation—after enough years that even the last born child is a senior citizen, they finally develop a time travel gate with the catch that they can only set it up once, and it will be immobile. And travel to the future renders one amnesiac. So the future people set up their gate/trap in New York City in the 1950s; lots of people there to grab. But everyone who comes through the gate is male! Turns out they've set their time gate up in the men's room at Grand Central Station, a place no woman would voluntarily enter.
- In almost the Exact Words of the Laconic ("No more mutants!"), the Scarlet Witch used her Reality Warping powers to not only depopulate the mutant species, but also to prevent mutant births from happening in the future. Since House of M ended, there have only been six mutant births in total.
- A major plot point in the Gallimaufry arc of Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire is the outbreak of an engineered virus that completely eliminates human sex drive.
- Bad guys once dropped a bomb on Vartox's home planet Valeron, rendering his people sterile. Vartox attempted to seduce Power Girl into breeding the next generation, but she instead found a way to cure his people's sterility.
- The Stargate fanfic Bless the Children by Maureen T sees SG-1 meet a race of aliens with a fertility problem and an unusual solution, the consequences of which drives the plot of the story.
- "But, you see, there aren't any children. They aren't born." The last line and premise of Stephen Vincent Benet's anti-war poem Nightmare for Future Reference, first published in the April 2, 1938 issue of The New Yorker magazine.
- Due to insufficient research on long term effects, the "cure" for AIDS turns out to be one of these in the first third of the novel The Breeds Of Man by making it impossible for women to have more than one child. The second third is about trying to find a cure for the cure before it's too late, and the last third is about trying to find a way to cure the cure for the cure (since the protagonists just can't stop breaking things).
- In Gulliver's Travels, the Houyhnhnms decide the best way of wiping out the Yahoos is to castrate them all. They got the inspiration for this from Gulliver's description of how horses are treated in England (male horses were castrated to break their spirits and control the population.)
- The novel Children of Men by P.D.James, as noted with the film adaptation, is an archetype of this trope.
- In the Belgariad's past, when Gorim of the godless finally got a god to accept him, he asked for his people to follow and cursed those who refused with sterility. In Belgarath The Sorcerer he expresses regret on this and surprise that the curse wasn't lifted.
- In Bumped, a virus went around causing all adults to be sterile. As a result, adults will pay lots of money to teenagers (and in extreme cases, preteens) to be surrogates.
- In Prized, the sequel to Birthmarked by Caragh O'Brien, Gaia travels to Sylum, a matriarchy where 9 out of every 10 babies are male, so females are prized members of society. On top of that, a couple hundred of the men are infertile. It is revealed that some sort of problem with the water is causing the men to be intersex, thus making them infertile.
- Le Dernier Homme is an 1805 science fiction novel written as a prose poem where humanity as a whole is going sterile. It involves the voyage of the last fertile man to meet the last fertile woman only to meet with Adam, who has been charged by God to convince the couple to not reproduced, thereby allowing the world to end and the world be reborn.
- In The Bible, this happens to both a pharaoh and a minor king named Abimilech, because both had brought Sarah (a married woman) into their harems after her husband grabbed the Idiot Ball out of fear for his own safety. Before either of these men can defile her, God makes them sick and their other wives and concubines sterile, until they figure out that Sarah doesn't belong to them.
- In Childhood's End it is mentioned that there is no biological reason for more children to be born, when the existing children start to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence
- In Alien Chronicles, the Dancing Death severely reduced the population of the Viis, and is believed to be responsible for their now much lower fertility and high rates of mutation. They keep many races of slaves, one of which is ironically an Explosive Breeder.
- The villain in one of the Dirk Pitt novels intended to sterilize the human race this way, or at least half of it, as more "humane" than wiping them out. Pitt calls him a "freak" for this.
- The Handmaid's Tale: A side effect of the revolution that created the Republic of Gilead was widespread sterility. The few fertile women, dubbed Handmaids, are assigned to the households of powerful men for the express purpose of producing children.
- In the novel Mr. Adam, a journalist discovers that no woman has become pregnant since the accidental explosion of a nuclear weapons stockpile.
- Earth in Old Man's War had a more limited version of this a few decades ago; male fertility was sharply reduced, and birth rates still aren't quite back yet in the developed world. Since it was an alien virus, the planet remains under quarantine to avoid a more thorough sequel. Except it wasn't alien at all; the colonial authority created it to justify the quarantine in a bid to snatch power from terrestrial governments.
- In William Barton and Michael Capobianco's Alpha Centauri the organization known as Indigo developed "autoviroids" that replicate in infected men's sperm and destroy the eggs of women they have sex with. Intended to solve the solar system's population crisis. Their agent Mies manages to infect all but one of the women on the Alpha Centauri expedition.
- Part of the Twist Ending in Dan Brown's Inferno: the titular Inferno is not a new version of the Black Plague but really a virus designed to make one third of the world's population infertile. By the time the novel ends, it has already infected everyone on Earth.
- This comes to afflict all of humanity in Galapagos, with the only people unafflicted being a tour group marooned on the eponymous island. As the narrator is a ghost who observes said tour group and their descendants, he gets to observe how humanity further evolves from these few survivors.
- Vashti and Champagne discover in Edenborn that the combination of Black Ep and its treatment leaves women incapable of carrying a child to term.
- Though the female aufwaders in Robin Jarvis's Whitby Witches trilogy can still conceive, the curse on their race means that, unless they end the pregnancy, their blood will turn to brine, causing an agonising, and ultimately fatal, illness. As if that wasn't bad enough, the mother will be reduced to a briny sludge and the child, if it survives to term, will crumble to dust within minutes of birth. Only one aufwader born since the laying of the curse has survived infancy.
- Stargate Verse:
- The Asgard suffer from the fact that they have totally abandoned sexual reproduction in favor of cloning.
- In the Bad Future portrayed in the SG-1 episode "2010", the Aschen plan to surreptitiously conquer Earth involves one of these, distributed under cover of advanced medical tech. As shown in the later episode "2001", this is their modus operandi.
- In one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation there's a group of colonists who had too few people to successfully build a colony, so instead of sex the went the cloning route. Now due to replective fading they can't do that any more, so they steal DNA from people on the Enterprise. The resolution if that they marry their cousins from Oireland IN SPACE!.
- In another episode a world where all the remaining adults are sterile, and steal the kids from the Enterprise to be their next generation (no pun intended). Turns out this world's impressive tech was what was causing the sterility, ensuring the children would become sterile in due time.
- Earth: Final Conflict: the Companions are sterile; Zo'or is the last one to have been born.
- The plot point is still developing, but all the clones in Orphan Black are apparently sterile - with the exception of Sarah, who has a daughter named Kira. Thomas immediately decided to hunt Kira down upon learning of her existence, and Delphine purposely hid her existence from Dr. Leekie when she was spying on Delphine. It is revealed by Ethan, one of the original creators of the project, that the clones were intentionally made sterile, which also has led to the auto-immune disease that has killed many of the clones.
- In LOST, women who conceive on the island cannot give birth there. Those who try all die. It turns out that the island's electromagnetism sets off an immune response that attacks the fetus, killing both mother and child.
- The The Outer Limits revival episode "Dark Rain" concerns a future where chemical warfare has left most of humanity sterile. The rare viable pregnancies are sought out by the government and confined to hospitals so the newborns can be seized as wards of the state.
- A second season episode of Spellbinder has the dimension-traveling protagonists find themselves in a Victorian-themed world where a deadly plague killed off a large amount of population before a cure was found. Strangely, the cure not only cured the plague but also made people immortal. Unfortunately, the Immortal Procreation Clause is in full effect, as humans are no longer able to conceive. Instead, they build automatons that play and entertain their "parents". When a scientist finds out that the protagonist (a teenage girl and a 20-some man) are fertile, he kidnaps them in order to make a fortune by "producing" real children for everyone and breaks their dimensional ship. They manage to fix it and escape.
- Doctor Who: In "The Leisure Hive", the Argolians are a Dying Race who were rendered sterile by radiation in the aftermath of the twenty minute war they fought with the Foamasi.
- The Network in Utopia have already created a very subtle one of these and are attempting to deploy it.
- Off-White: No human babies have been born in the last three years because the human white spirit was eaten alive.
- This is part of the reason of the Elves isolationism in Errant Story (That and a healthy dose of Our Elves Are Better). Misa was the last known full-blooded elf birth and she's 1500 years old. No one knows why and no one's been able to fix it. Note that Elves are only sterile with each other; they can cross-breed with humans with little issue.
- In Drowtales, members of Zala'ess Vel'Sharen's bloodline start becoming affected by this as a result of their demonic taint, with the female members either miscarrying early into the pregnancy or giving birth to stillborn and horribly deformed children. It's unknown if this has any affect on the male members, but since drow trace lineage through the mother it wouldn't matter as much to them if it did. It's eventually revealed that this was intentionally done by Zala's sister Snadhya'rune, who chose this method as form of irony since Zala is known for her many many children.
- This is a common method humans use to eliminate harmful organisms in their environment such as mosquitoes and viruses. Scientists tasked with wiping out a short-lived life form often focus on disabling is means of reproduction. They find ways of infecting, poisoning or destroying stagnant water to stop mosquitoes from breeding, and the only known means of effectively killing viruses is to interfere in their reproductive cycle (i.e. interferon medicines).
- This is also the reason why the pesticide DDT was banned. The chemical bioaccumulates, meaning it remains in the body and active for a very long time after ingestion. This did not have many noticeable effects on insectivores that consumed DDT-killed insects, but as those insectivores fell prey to higher level predators the concentration of the chemical compounded. Apex predators like eagles, ospreys, and other raptors ended up with stunning amounts of DDT in their bodies that had passed through hundreds of other organisms with its potency intact. In birds, DDT causes a defect in the process that creates the hard shells of their eggs. Female raptors were laying eggs with shells so thin that they would break during routine incubation. Since these are species that usually bear rather small clutches, losing so many chicks before hatching caused their populations to plummet steeply. So steeply, in fact, that the US was for some time in danger of having its symbolic animal, the bald eagle, go extinct within its borders. Since the ban on DDT, most raptor populations have rebounded with some help from captive breeding programs and hefty fines on hunters.