Can you TELL? or, Lies I Believed About Women’s Reproduction

Contrary to the popular Shakira song, hips totally do lie.

Ever since Todd Akin’s remarks about women’s bodies’ magical powers to repel the sperm of rapists sent echoes of shock reverberating through the mainstream media, pieces of similar doctrines have bubbled back up into my memory. Akin’s views did not surprise me, as they did not surprise other bloggers who study the Religious Right. Instead, his assertions reminded me just how much liberty fundamentalist Christians take with scientific and medical matters, and how willingly some of them abuse their authority as pastors to spread misinformation about the natural world.

In a 1962 sermon called Oneness, William Branham preached the following about the immaculate conception of Jesus:

Now, the other day, standing preaching, there was a bunch of Catholic people in my audience, and I said, “You Catholic people that call Jesus, or call Mary, rather, the mother of God, how can God have a mother when He’s eternal? He can’t have a mother. Jesus was not even anything to Mary, but He was just… She was an incubator that hatched Him.”
Well, they always believed, and I had an idea of it myself years ago that the–the immaculate conception was that God overshadowed her and put a blood cell in there, but the egg come from the woman. If the egg come from the woman, there has to come a sensation to bring the egg through the tube to the womb. See what you do with God? You make Him in a sexual mess. God, Who created the blood cell, created the egg also…

In other words, Branham repeated a myth that dated from before the 18th century that women must experience sexual pleasure in order to conceive a child. This fits hand-in-hand with Akin’s beliefs about rape: if a woman doesn’t enjoy sex, she can’t get pregnant.

Well, you might say, that was 1962! Trouble is, two million people still listen to and believe William Branham’s words. Two million people believe him to be a prophet who spoke the direct words of God. Two million people would have a seriously hard time uttering the words, “Branham was wrong,” when challenged with medical truths.

Christian fundamentalist parents are notorious for their unwillingness to teach their children about sex or to allow them to attend sex education classes in school. What happens when a kid who received no sex education grows up hearing myths like these over the pulpit? That kid turns into another Todd Akin, a misinformed adult who votes – or worse, runs for office – without properly understanding the basic facts of conception.

Here are some more of the myths that I grew up believing about sex and conception as a fundamentalist Christian girl:

1. You can get pregnant by swimming with boys, because sperm can leak out and travel through pool water.

2. You can get a “false pregnancy” by masturbating – convincing your body that you’re having sex – and will then go through a miscarriage.

3. People can tell whether or not you have ever masturbated by the way you smell (pheromones).

4. When a woman has sex, her hips widen and her demeanor changes. You can tell if a woman has lost her virginity by the way her hips sway when she walks.

5. If you think lustful thoughts or have crushes on boys, you might also get a “false pregnancy” and your hips might widen automatically.

That’s right, folks. I actually believed you could tell who was a virgin by sight. I was terrified that having crushes on boys meant I would lose the appearance of virginity, and that it wouldn’t matter whether or not I’d done anything because my guilt would be plain for all to see. I used to believe that women whose hips swayed when they walked had to be either married or no longer virgins – which, of course, became a problem once I developed my own hips. All this misinformation not only made me afraid of the changes in my own body, lest they be telltale signs of sinful lust, but it also provided a platform on which I (and fundamentalist kids like me) judged other women.

These are the kinds of judgments witch hunts are made of. Literally. If you were an unpopular old woman in a village where people’s children kept dying, the mole on your neck might spell your doom before the court. If you were a woman with a wide pelvis in a fundamentalist church, you might be labeled impure on the spot.

Needless to say, this isn’t okay. You can’t look at a woman and know whether or not she’s had sex. You can’t look at a pregnant woman and know that she consented to sex. You simply can’t tell.

But unless you’ve received some kind of decent education, you might not know that you can’t.

  • Kat

    I wasn’t raised fundamentalist, but I actually heard similar myths in public school–mostly middle school. For example:
    1. The wide hips thing–and that once you have sex you automatically gain weight especially in your breasts and hips.
    2. You become less flexible after having sex–I was a cheerleader, and there was this ridiculous rumor that if a girl couldn’t get all the way into the splits after previously being able to, it meant she had had sex.
    I was a ballet dancer and TERRIFIED of sex for these reasons, no way did I want to become fat and inflexible.

  • perfectnumber628

    It seems like some Christians are afraid of women or think that femininity is dangerous and evil. Like you said about women developing hips being a sign that they were impure. Geez.

  • Rae

    I wasn’t raised as fundamentalist, but I definitely heard a myth that said that the earlier a girl went through puberty, the more sexual thoughts she had been thinking because it caused hormones and apparently all hormones were equal to these people. Of course, when all the other girls went through puberty and I didn’t… let’s just say I quickly disproved that myth.

  • Amethyst
  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    In Spain, in public schools, puberty is thoroughly explained so I never heard any of these strange myths. The most I heard about where the masturbation myths for boys being mocked when I was a kiddo and not exactly heard but absorbed the myth that girls are n0t very likely to masturbate because they have less libido than boys.

  • Rae

    I was thinking over this earlier – so Branham is willing to ascribe to God the power required to supernaturally create, from absolutely nothing, a human embryo, but he can’t supernaturally move that embryo into the uterus?

    Doesn’t that basically imply that God can be defeated by a falliopian tube?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    I always knew that nothing but sex could get you pregnant but I do remember hearing from a lot of kids that the way a woman walked changed after she had sex–yeah, more hip-swaying. Although I heard the opposite about flexibility–I heard that a girl got MORE flexible after sex since she’d been “broken in” by a guy, har har. I was pretty skeptical of those myths. I was in high school by the time I heard them and, by then, I could smell a rat–specifically, the idea that women with voluptuous bodies are less Pure and Virtuous than those with more petite, girlish bodies. But there were plenty of other myths that I believed. For instance, I did, for a time in middle school, believe that a woman couldn’t get pregnant the first time she had sex and that she could only get pregnant if the man were on top. All of the above things I heard from my friends and classmates.

    And I’m speaking as someone who grew up in a liberal, sex-positive household! That’s how widespread and insidious this stuff is. But I didn’t get a whole lot of information from my parents, except two talks from my mom, the “how babies are made” one (when I was very little) and the birth control one when I was about 11 (she handled that one very well). I think the thing was that my mom is herself a very private person and knew that I was very much like her, so she didn’t want to embarrass me, although she would periodically make clear that she was available for any questions I had if I wanted to ask–of course I didn’t. I think she was a little naive about what kind of info I was getting from school, teen magazines etc. A child of the hippie, “Our Bodies, Ourselves” generation, my mom came of age in a brief moment in time when a lot of people actually WERE taking proper sex education seriously. She didn’t realize how far downhill things had gone. Now I tell her about the kinds of things I read about sex in Seventeen etc. and what I heard around school when I was a kid and she’s pretty shocked and horrified–she says that she would have taken a more proactive approach if she’d only known what kind of poison was going around. I respect her for having wanted to respect my privacy and follow my lead about sex talk but my future kids are definitely getting a list of good websites and maybe some books left on their beds, at the very least. That seems like a good balance to me. In this culture, nobody’s safe from damaging misinformation, not even the children of liberal, well-educated former hippies!

    Interesting about the masturbation myths–I DID at least know that those were all BS, still, I think it was a big problem that nobody ever talked about the fact that girls did it too. Like you say, Paula, it was just assumed that girls weren’t interested because, of course, they were less sexual than boys. This was a major source of shame for me as a teen because, well, that didn’t exactly apply to me. I never believed that masturbation was harmful or dirty per se, but since people only ever talked about it with regards to boys, I did feel that doing it some how made me less feminine. It was something that boys were supposed to do so did doing it make me like a boy? Did it make me oversexed or abnormal? I was sensitive enough about that kind of thing as it was since, as an outspoken, opinionated self-identified feminist, people were always telling me that I was not a proper girl. I actually remember listening to my guy friend rag each other/boast about masturbating and how often they did it and thinking “okay, it’s okay as long as I don’t do it as often as they do it.” And then trying to figure out my maximum allotment per week that would allow me to maintain my femininity. Seriously.

    Once again, not a drop of religious sexual shame in my upbringing. I got all this shit from regular old “common sense” about male and female sexuality–mainstream culture. Christian fundamentalists seem to think mainstream culture is The Enemy of Good Christian Sexual Morality. If only it were true.

  • from two to one

    Oh my word, Sierra. This is horrifying and just proves how badly we need comprehensive sex ed, not blatant lies and misinterpretations. Thank you for sharing.

  • W.

    I heard alot of those same myths too. Incredibly silly, bronze age superstition type stuff… coincidentally, exactly like the type of “thinking” that’s in the bible.

    These ignorant men seem to frame women’s sexuality as a parallel of their own and nothing more. Not only does the “pleasure” component exist as you described, but the description of how the egg leaves the tube sounds remarkably like ejaculation. And recently, Rush Limbaugh made a comment about women taking a birth control every time they have sex… just like men would take Viagra. When birth control have never worked that way because our bodies do not work that way. It tells me that not only are they stupid regarding basic human biology, but they have never had a truly intimate conversation with a woman in their entire life. Their entire frame of reference for sexuality is just their own, and any part of women’s sexuality that doesn’t mirror their own (they think) or isn’t useful, is simply irrelevant or worse, they’re both ignorant AND arrogant misogynists and assign all sorts of repressive and/or superstitious connotations to it. These men, Limbaugh, Branham, Akin, etc., are in their middle ages or older and have conceivably been sexually active for the better part of 30 years. And this is the best they can come up about women? And they dare think they can legislate our bodies when they can stand there in all seriousness and liken the release of an egg to their own ejaculation? And worse, people listen to anything about what they have to say on the topic because why…?

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