Welcome to ask a child-free person, the blog where I, a child-free person who studies motherhood for a living, negotiate common conflicts that arise between the parented and the child-free.

I would argue that asking someone why they do not have kids is one of the top five most personal questions there are. It’s right up there with, “How heavy is your menstrual flow?” Sure you can ask it, but should you?

In this column, I am going to take a hard-line approach. I believe you should probably never ask someone why he or she does not have children. Why? Because in our intensely pro-natalist society where celebrity bump watch is a sport and horrible people like the Duggar parents get TV shows just for procreating, the very question can feel like an attack.

We live in a society where our default assumption is that everyone will one day grow up to be a parent. This assumption remains despite the fact that many people feel children just aren’t for them, or they want children but cannot have them. Parenthood, I would contend, is considered the ultimate passage into adulthood, the move that proves you are officially “mature,” simply by virtue of writing your name on a birth certificate or a set of adoption papers.

Now look, I’m not here to bash parents. Parenting is hard work, but the act of having a kid does not prove you are a full human being. Plenty of people who have kids are irresponsible – or even evil – humans. Being a parent proves nothing. Not to mention the fact that there are many more ways one can contribute to society than raising kids. After all, you don’t have to push a baby out of your vag to volunteer at a soup kitchen or help plant a community garden.

While it should not be true, forgoing kids is something our society doesn’t look well upon. Permanently child-free women in particular are seen as objects of pity if they don’t have kids because of issues like financial or fertility barriers. Conversely, they are seen as selfish if the reason they do not have kiddies is that they just don’t want the experience. Simply by asking this loaded question, people may feel like you are judging them.

Not only might people feel judged by this question, but it could be triggering, too. This query – no matter how well meaning – could evoke memories of miscarriages, years of failed IVF treatments, failed adoptions, or perhaps relationships breaking up over one person’s conviction they do not want children. Do you really want to be the jerk who brings all of this up for someone just because you’re nosey?

Look, I do think people should be able to talk about why they are child-free. I wish there were more safe spaces for child-free people to discuss their lifestyle and what it means to them. But that is not a reason for you to FORCE such conversations. Let child-free people come to you with the reasons for their lack of spawn if that’s something they believe is in their interests.

In the end, if a child-free person feels you should hear all about why and how they came to be permanently child-free, they’ll tell you in their own time. Otherwise, I’m sorry, I’m firmly in the camp of, it’s none of your business!

Sarah Sahagian is a PhD candidate in Gender, Feminist and Women’s Studies at York U, where her academic specialty is motherhood. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington PostxoJane, & The Beaverton. When she’s not writing her dissertation, Sarah reads a lot of novels about other angsty young women, streams a lot of Netflix, and tweets about topics ranging from reproductive rights to who’s going to win The Bachelor.