A new population analysis says that a significant number of women from all over the United States are claiming that they have fallen pregnant without having sex. What does this study tell us about these women, and why so many are claiming virgin births?
Researchers at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that a small but significant number of young women (o.5%) are claiming to have fallen pregnant without having sex or IVF fertility treatment.
The analysis, published recently in the British Medical Journal, involved data collected from 7,870 women and girls aged between 15 to 28, as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (1995-2009). The study is specifically designed to span the time between adolescence into adulthood. Due to its large scale sampling methods, it gives us representative data of the entire U.S. population.
The study involved young women self-reporting on a variety of things, including their history of vaginal intercourse and pregnancy, as well as their knowledge of birth control methods, and their religious affiliation. The data was gathered through regular questionnaires that the young women would fill out on a laptop rather than in a face to face interview (though an assistant was on hand in the room should the women need it).
The subjects’ parents were also quizzed about how much they discussed sex and birth control, and their school’s administration was also asked about what role sex education played in the curriculum.
What the researchers found was that the women who claimed to have fallen pregnant without having sex shared some similarities.
About 31% of the women claiming to have had a virgin pregnancy had signed a chastity pledge, compared to only 15% of the women who admitted to having sex.
What’s more, the 45 self-described virgins who got pregnant and the 36 who later gave birth also said that their parents had rarely talked to them about sex or birth control, if at all.
The study found that the women claiming to be virgin mothers were on average two years younger than their non virgin counterparts (19.3 years as opposed to 21.7 years). Also, around 28% of the virgin mothers had parents who claimed they couldn’t discuss sex and contraception with their daughters because they themselves didn’t have enough knowledge. That’s compared to just 5% among the women who became pregnant and admitted to having sex.
What Does the Virgin Mother Study Tell Us?
As the researchers point out, one thing this study tells us is that you definitely can’t always rely on self-reporting as an accurate way to compile data.
Lead researcher Amy Herring said that the study in no way primed for this kind of response. This was information the women gave through a series of answers they offered about their sexual history and relationships.
“Even though we thought that the questions were quite clear, there’s still the possibility that some women misunderstood or misinterpreted them, such as simply giving the wrong year, or for whatever reason that they did not want to admit that they had had intercourse,” Herring is quoted as saying. As the original data gathering wasn’t confined to just women, the researchers decided to go back and see if virgin fatherhood was also something that people claimed. “… We actually found a few virgin fathers as well — which is a little harder to get your head around,” Herring adds.
We have to be careful about drawing any concrete conclusions from this analysis. As Herring points out, it may be that a portion of the women had entered their information wrong or had made mistakes in their answers. The study also describes some “born again” virgins who weren’t virgins in the early parts of the study but answered that they were virgins toward the latter half. Why that happened isn’t clear.
Still, there does seem to be a link between women who for whatever reason had signed chastity pledges and the likelihood of them claiming a virgin birth. More in depth research would have to be done on the link between religious motivation for this but, of the handful of reasons why a young woman might sign a chastity pledge, religion and possibly pressure from a religious environment all seem to be likely culprits.
We also have to count ignorance as a factor. Young women deprived of sex education may not believe that the sexual activities they are engaging in amount to a loss of virginity. They may also believe that because they used practices like the so-called “rhythm method,” they couldn’t possibly fall pregnant. There’s also the troubling fact that according to the study, the virgin mothers were more likely to have parents who said they didn’t talk to their children about sex and contraception because they themselves didn’t know enough.
Examining this in a wider context, the study is both humorous and worrying. The religious campaign against sex education, the promotion of abstinence only education and the shaming of young women who do have sex has been proved to have a verifiable impact on pregnancy rates. In terms of abstinence-only education, we have a wealth of evidence to say it actually makes pregnancy rates climb higher. Could it also be leading more women to claim they’re having virgin births?
Despite the fact that this analysis is published in the BMJ’s Christmas edition, which is traditionally packed full of slightly off-kilter research, this is a study that should be taken seriously and used as a platform for more investigation.
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