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

Can you TELL? or, Lies I Believed About Women’s Reproduction October 5, 2012

by Sierra

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.

Comments open below

Read everything by Sierra!

Sierra is a PhD student living in the Midwest. She was raised in a “Message of the Hour” congregation that followed the ministry of William Branham. She left the Message in 2006 and is the author of the blog  the phoenix and the olive branch

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  • Mary

    There’s so much wrong with that Branham quote, you barely scratched the surface. First of all, a blood cell? Branham thinks that the male contribution to reproduction is blood cells? I hope he saw a doctor, if he had blood coming out of the relevant body parts.

    Second, to “to bring the egg through the tube to the womb”? So did this guy think that if a woman never had sex, she’d never menstruate? I mean, I take it he did not understand that women ovulate once every four weeks or so, an egg passing “through the tube to the womb” and that the woman can’t generally feel it and isn’t aware of it until two weeks or so later when the body disposes of it, if it didn’t happen to be fertilized while it was sitting there in the womb? If he really thought ovulation didn’t happen until sex happened, what did he think menstruation was all about?

  • alwr

    I heard in far right evangelical church as a pre-teen that you could tell whether a woman was a virgin or not by the way she moved. My mother corrected that myth quickly. We also didn’t regularly attend that church for much longer.

    Minor note on Branham’s insanity: The Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception doesn’t even refer to the conception of Jesus. It refers to Mary being conceived and born without original sin.

  • The more I read about what Branham taught, the more baffled I am. Teaching that Jesus didn’t have a human mother means denying the humanity of Christ. This absolutely goes against the most basic, standard orthodox Christian doctrine– and yet this guy was hailed as a prophet by other Christian groups rather than pointed out as a cult leader and heretic. It’s like they were all blinded by the supposed miracles.
    And that’s not even mentioning the terrible hatred of women and the horrible lies and misinformation. Sierra, could you explain a little more why people think Branham was a prophet, in spite of all this?

  • wanda

    There’s no need to focus on Branham here. Akin believes these things, despite not being a Branham believer. I think that for some of the people who believe these things, it’s not that they’re uneducated. Certainly a person like Todd Akin, who according to Wikipedia attended prep school and later earned an engineering degree, should have been educated on basic health facts, and if not he’s had plenty of time and opportunity since then to learn. These wildly unscientific beliefs are *useful* for them. The more people they can convince of these beliefs, the more the women will adhere to “traditional” gender roles, and the less sympathy anyone will have for women who were raped or women who need abortions. So, they believe these things, because it reinforces their worldviews.
    We need to get people with this toxic worldview out of public office and out of positions of power.

  • Jewel

    Ironically, I remember being taught in Catholic school that a woman would rarely become pregnant when she is raped, because the “stress she experiences would prevent ovulation”. This is not true because, although stress CAN delay ovulation, ovulation could have already occurred the day before or earlier that day. Stress would have no effect at that point. I consider this lie even more insidious by the Catholic church because they have been teaching natural family planning for generations, and they know the workings of female reproduction probably better than most. I guess this goes along with their strong stance against abortion though. But you can’t have it both ways, and lie when it suits your agenda.

  • Beth

    People like that guy and anyone who perpetuates that nonsense and call themselves Christians are a major embarassment to those of us who really are. I can’t imagine being raised that way. My dad is a minister, but when I was around 12, my mom got me a scientific book about sex and reproduction so I could be educated and informed about things. These fundamentalists have such a deep hatred of women and have to invent these crazy lies to keep them subservient. It isn’t even Biblical. And sometimes, I wonder if there’s a special place in Hell for those types of people for making us all look like complete idiots.