Please don't think of this as political
August 19, 2012 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Regarding legitimate rape (ignoring the peculiarity of this phrase) is there actually a mechanism or mechanisms in human females that prevents pregnancies following a rape?

I know of some examples in the animal kingdom but they were more anti-pregnancy from certain mates than "anti rape." I can't come up with a plausible situation for how this trait would evolve (many for why it wouldn't), but maybe someone could enlighten me. Or maybe this guy is full of shit.
posted by Patbon to Science & Nature (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Categorically full of shit unless the woman in question is sterile.

I believe, however, there is a certain brand of female condom that is meant to prevent rape by forcing its self closed around a man's penis with little painful hooks. That's the only method I can think of, but few women go around with one of those in them.
posted by Hello Darling at 8:27 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

No. He is full of shit.

The best any legitimate scientist could say would be that negative emotions encourage some sort of hormone release that might inhibit pregnancy (or retard the release of the hormones that encourage it), or that men are more likely to rape women who happen not to be ovulating, or the like. But even then -- and I highly doubt that anything like that exists -- that would prove that pregnancy is less likely.

Because no, there is no mechanism in human females that prevents pregnancy if X or Y cultural construct is present. Whether that's rape, foreplay, marriage, or chocolate chip cookies.
posted by Sara C. at 8:28 PM on August 19, 2012

No, that sick creeper is blatantly making shit up.
posted by elizardbits at 8:30 PM on August 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

False. Worse: There is no mechanism or mechanisms to prevent this guy from making up lies.
posted by mochapickle at 8:31 PM on August 19, 2012 [32 favorites]

He's full of shit. Or at least, I've never heard of this, and I'd want to see some fucking good science proving it.

As you say, it would be an evolutionarily maladaptive trait, or whatever the word is for "making selection less likely."
posted by J. Wilson at 8:32 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

The many descendants of Genghis Khan say no, this guy is full of shit.
posted by pickypicky at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2012 [33 favorites]

There are over 30,000 pregnancies per year resulting from rape in the United States (source). There are there articles (searchable through Google Scholar).
posted by cushie at 8:33 PM on August 19, 2012 [6 favorites]

Goddammit, I just closed a Reddit thread which actually cited a study showing that probability of conception was actually possibly increased in a rape vs. non-rape scenario, but I can't find it.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:35 PM on August 19, 2012

Possibly a more useful answer: This isn't so much "made up out of whole cloth" as a misconstruing of other things by people who don't really understand the systems involved very well. It's pretty common for women trying to conceive to be told to de-stress to make sure that optimal conditions exist for getting pregnant. Some studies support this. People coming from a very natalist position are likely to have heard this sort of thing a lot--their nearest and dearest are more likely to be publicly struggling with infertility than with unwanted pregnancies.

So. "Stress can reduce your chances of conception when you're trying over a period of time" gets mistakenly translated into "being in a very stressful situation, like rape, at the time that sex actually occurs will prevent you from conceiving". The former might possibly be true. The latter is not.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:36 PM on August 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

Ah! Found it. "Are per-incident rape-pregnancy rates higher than per-incident consensual pregnancy rates?"

So, yeah, anyway, this is a myth, and Akin is a hideous rat-faced liar either way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:38 PM on August 19, 2012 [20 favorites]

Here is the abstract of the study that I think Sticherbeast is referring to. Unfortunately the full article costs forty bucks. Excerpt from the abstract:
Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.
posted by Flunkie at 8:39 PM on August 19, 2012 [10 favorites]

It's horseshit.

It's also very, very old horseshit, based on the medieval/Early Modern belief that both partners had to orgasm in order to release the appropriate 'seed' -- it was widely believed that if women conceived they had consented or at least enjoyed it. But it was also extremely hard to prove rape at all.

There's some evidence that trauma or shock can *cause* us to ovulate when we otherwise wouldn't, which is a classic example of how you Just Can't Win.
posted by jrochest at 8:40 PM on August 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

Stress can affect the hormones in the ovulation cascade, including GnRH (which in turn stimulates releases FSH and LH). Extreme stress can cause anovulatory cycles.

HOWEVER, massaging this into a "theory" about rape and pregnancy total bullshit because-- among other things--many women who are raped will have obviously already ovulated.
posted by charmcityblues at 8:44 PM on August 19, 2012

Our analysis suggests that per-incident rape-pregnancy rates exceed per-incident consensual pregnancy rates by a sizable margin, even before adjusting for the use of relevant forms of birth control.

I would take this with as much as a grain of salt as Akin's claim. The study's author is not a scientist, and the data analysis smacks of evo-psych "this is why rape is totes okay it's EVOLUTION!"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:47 PM on August 19, 2012

Grain of salt noted, but I have no idea where you would get the idea that the study was saying the rape is okay.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:50 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Per Hello Darling's mention above, the only anti-rape method I'm aware of:
the RapeX, a female condom that can only be removed from the penis by a doctor.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2012

Excuse me. *Axe. Not X.
posted by DisreputableDog at 8:53 PM on August 19, 2012

I'm really curious whether Gotschall & Gotschall 2003's findings have more to do with female ovulation or with the sperm motility of males who are mildly predisposed towards sociopathic actions, entitled thinking, and/or have low sensitivity to social cues, or other risk factors for rape commission. I have no intuition either way.

I'm inherently suspicious of the line of logic that goes "women are prettier when they're fertile" --> "women get raped more when they're fertile" because of the necessary detour through "women get raped because they're pretty" which I hope we'll all agree is total BS.
posted by katya.lysander at 8:54 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

As I can't access the full article at this time, I did not say the article said it was okay - I said it smacks of evo-psych, which typically says awful behaviors (racism, sexism, rape) are okay, because there is this one point of data that supports the argument. Please ignore those thousand other data points that don't support the argument and excused our bad behavior - it's simply how we've evolved and we can't help it!

Evo-psychs hallmarks are non-scientists collecting gappy data, which is what I'm getting from the abstract.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:56 PM on August 19, 2012

A lot of the physical elements of arousal and orgasm are described as being helpful to conception; though I'm not sure that idea has ever been experimentally validated[1], it's commonly stated. Assume that's true, turn it around, put it in a dark room and squint at it the wrong way through a telescope, and if you're sufficiently ideologically motivated I think you can get from there to "if the woman isn't aroused she won't get pregnant" and from there it's only a handful more logical fallacies to "if you get pregnant you must have been asking for it".

[1] Some googling finds statements that Masters and Johnson did some experiments that rejected specific versions of this idea. Almost everything else I found on the subject lacks a reality basis.
posted by hattifattener at 9:00 PM on August 19, 2012

I don't see why we'd reject that "pretty women" get raped more just because it sounds icky, but either way I'm also suspicious of that logic, because it would depend on rapist spontaneously selecting from a large pool of candidates for each rape, or something.

Also I don't think Evo-psych types are always rape/violence/whatever apologists. Understanding doesn't mean acceptance.

Good answers, I think this question is closed
posted by Patbon at 9:01 PM on August 19, 2012

I've definitely read articles stating that female orgasm can help increase the chance of fertilization; basically the cervix contracts and helps pull in the semen. I googled a little just now and it looks like those studies might be crap. Regardless, it's entirely possible to orgasm during a "legitimate rape" (can we agree to never use this phrase ever again after this thread is over? jesus christ). It's also entirely possible to get pregnant without a female orgasm. I'm quite comfortable saying that this guy is full of shit. And evil. And stupid.
posted by gatorae at 9:01 PM on August 19, 2012

I'm familiar with evo-psych mostly through finding it wrong/silly/etc., but I have never seen any evo-psych articles claim that rape was "okay," nor do I see any hints that this article would smack of such a "rape is totes okay" value judgment. Indeed, assuming that that sort of value judgment would be reached in the article is just another conclusion drawn from a gap.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:03 PM on August 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Understanding doesn't mean acceptance

I agree completely, but there's a difference between an anthropologist or a biologist and an evolutionary psychologist.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 9:11 PM on August 19, 2012

I posted this a few months ago. It's just as nutty.

A related point that we used to hear back a couple of decades: Rape is impossible because penetration is impossible without lubrication, and a woman can only be lubricated when she is aroused. Bullshit.
posted by megatherium at 9:12 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

[Hey, foks, we need to avoid getting into a general discussion and/or debate on this (for that, go to the Metafilter thread), or evo-psych theory, and stick to answering the question with medical / scientific info. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 9:23 PM on August 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

No. If women could control their fertility through the power of will, we would have no need to have these ghastly dehumanizing arguments over whether we have the 'right' to control our bodies.

This is just another case of hateful victim blaming; hence the ghastly phrase 'legitimate' rape. Because if you were really raped, you wouldn't get pregnant. Now who would that retroactive consent benefit?
posted by Space Kitty at 9:27 PM on August 19, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yes, the two women I know who barely survived Serbian rape camps and gave birth to bodies from rape (abortion wasn't an option, obviously) really wanted it. In my home country, what to do with the children from forced rape was a major issue. These were not wanted children. Some were given up for adoption as soon as this was possible, and many of these languished due to Bosnia's strict adoption laws (especially dealing with adoptee couples from outside Bosnia) and from the fact that - after suffering their own tragedies during the war - few people could afford to adopt and deal with the stigma of having adopted a "rape baby." (And Bosnia's tight-knit big family structure means adoption was rarely necessary before the war . . . some family member would almost always take a baby. But since many people fled the country or were killed or, like most, financially devastated by the war, this changed.) Not to mention the historically huge number of orphaned children.

Mothers who kept their children were torn between a natural instinct to care for the child and ongoing memories of brutal (often multiple) rapes that caused the pregnancy. Many kept their children, to be shunned by family and village (not always out of evil, sometimes from a mental need to escape what the war left behind), and to suffer from any lack of aid - financial assistance (it goes without saying that many of these women were not considered especially marriageable) or more importantly, any sort of psychological or mental health assistance.

I've had at least one friend commit suicide as the aftermath of this. Not a woman who experienced these rapes was unaware of what horrific future a pregnancy would bring. (Many committed suicide upon learning of the pregnancy.)

Some women who became pregnant took incredibly dangerous steps to "kill" the pregnancy. Local herbs, jumping down staircases, and so on. When this was successful, few reported that they had ever been pregnant. For many women, rape is deeply, deeply shameful. Pregnancy, when possible, will be taken care of privately and never discussed. I would imagine that might skew the numbers of how often rape leads to pregnancy at least somewhat.

For some Tea Party motherfucker from Missouri to openly opine that rape doesn't lead to pregnancy is beyond my understanding. It's simply not true. It's anti-woman to the standard of the world as presented in A Handmaid's Tale. It's ignorance in the highest form.

Lubrication in rape is not widely understood. Women who are older / have gone through menopause and have a difficult time with natural lubrication often suffer horrible physical damage from the act of rape. Younger women, less so. Scientists now believe that the female body has evolved a response to the "threat" of sexual activity for the simple reason of preventing tearing and whatnot during rape. This should in now way be confused with desire or arousal. I just read a great piece about this days ago. I can't find it know, but via Google I did find a lesser article here.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 9:56 PM on August 19, 2012 [69 favorites]

Women get just as pregnant from rape as from consensual sex, if not more so. This has been known for as long as anyone has been paying attention.

It's generally believed that this is the phenomenon that changed Jewish law on identity from patrilineal to matrilineal -- around the time of the Roman conquest of Judea, when the Jewish population became subject to ubiquitous rape by foreign soldiers, was when they changed the laws on Jewish identity from patrilineal to matrilineal, so that the kids born from the rapes would be part of the community and not stigmatized.

And here we all are 2000 years later, and somehow this guy STILL hasn't figured it out. It's quite astounding.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:08 PM on August 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Well, a significant of eggs fertilized under any circumstances end up being reabsorbed or expelled before the pregnancy is even detected, but I doubt that Akin was somehow misunderstanding that. The real explanation is much simpler, he is either stupid, lying, or both.
posted by Good Brain at 12:29 AM on August 20, 2012

I don't actually know about the politics behind this question and sounds like I don't really want to. But I am a biologist who has studied mammalian physiology for years, which included a lot of study of reproductive physiology even though that's not my speciality. This is a pretty straightforward scientific question. I don't know of any mechanisms where a women can prevent conception after rape or any other type of sex, excepting outside interventions like the morning after pill. That's why those interventions exist after all. As has already been mentioned, stress may be able to lower the chances of conception over time due to changes in the hormone cycle, but that has nothing to do with an acute attack. And there is plenty of evidence showing that plenty of women are able to conceive even when put under prolonged, awful, debilitating stress. Keep in mind that a lot of received wisdom about improving conception in couples that are trying is based more on the idea that it can't really hurt and might help rather than solid scientific evidence, plus there is a lot of biological variation in the ability to conceive between people just at a baseline level. Where this idea that a women can somehow influence conception came from I don't know, but it wasn't from the biology.

The study's author is not a scientist, and the data analysis smacks of evo-psych "this is why rape is totes okay it's EVOLUTION!"

I can access the article. I read the first paragraph and skimmed some of the discussion but I'm going to stop now because, ick. It's not as blatant as what Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth said up there but it's definitely on that spectrum. When you start your journal article by telling me why everyone else's analyses are wrong (because they were done by scientists) while also telling me the criticism of rape having evolutionary benefits is suspect and yeah, no thanks. In the discussion their take home message is that rape is evolutionarily beneficial. The article is more about pushing an agenda than any kind of scientific research (which describes the whole field of evolutionary psychology in my professional opinion) and should probably be ignored for the purposes of this question.
posted by shelleycat at 12:54 AM on August 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

It's actually such a common misconception (hur) that it's answered on the Planned Parenthood FAQ.
posted by 168 at 5:16 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

It's a common, untrue, anti-choice talking point. Many people who are generally uncomfortable with abortion nonetheless feel it would be wrong to force a woman to carry her rapist's child. This reasoning runs afoul of the strict "pro-life" argument that life begins at conception and therefore any abortion is murder.

So, there are two common talking points used against the "exception in the case of rape." The first, this suggestion that it's incredibly difficult to conceive through rape, is meant to imply that there are very few pregnancies resulting from rape. The second is an equally unfounded suggestion that having an abortion can be as traumatic or moreso than the rape itself.

Which is all to say: yes, this guy is full of shit.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:30 AM on August 20, 2012

Re: lubrication during rape;

I think there is often a lot of misconception around what constitutes "lubricated". It's true that sometimes fear or threat causes women to start secreting more. However, these other things are also true:

1) vaginas are like noses; even when they're not dripping, they have some mucus in them. I have a friend whose boyfriend believed that she was always horny, just because she was "always wet". A lot of men don't adequately understand how a vagina works or what a mucus membrane is. They mistake normal vaginal secretions for horniness.

2) sometimes (sorry this is gross), vaginas just squooge a bunch of goo out randomly for no good reason. It's called discharge, and different women can have it in different amounts at different times. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a guy were unable to tell the difference. Especially if he were a rapist.
posted by windykites at 5:40 AM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

This article just published over at the Guardian says that the idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant is, literally, a medical medieval concept.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:04 AM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's a link to an abstract -- the article, from the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology (1996) costs $30 -- that concludes that rape-related pregnancy occurs with significant frequency.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:29 AM on August 20, 2012

I came by to add another link that cites this as a 300+ year-old belief.
posted by RobotHero at 8:01 AM on August 20, 2012

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists weighs in: "There is absolutely no veracity to the claim that “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down.” A woman who is raped has no control over ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of a fertilized egg (ie, pregnancy). To suggest otherwise contradicts basic biological truths."
posted by gingerest at 8:38 PM on August 20, 2012

I'm glad the matter is closed about this myth, I'm fascinated that someone has data that the reverse is actually true, and I still think the missing link here is the dudes. Surely outlier values of sexual aggressiveness --> high testosterone --> higher sperm counts/motility --> greater likelihood of pregnancy? I can find no research specifically addressing the fertility issue.

Also, I'm a partisan of the "rape is about power first, not about sex" school, so perhaps that informs my belief that when rapists say they chose their victims because they were so darned attractive (as reported in Thornhill & Palmer, 2000), they are telling themselves a convenient story about their motives.
posted by katya.lysander at 9:39 PM on August 20, 2012

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