I trust you a lot more than I trust Ann Landers. I was wondering if you can give me the straight dope on the following letter that recently appeared in her column.
"Dear Ann Landers: I am a 17-year-old high school senior. I accidentally got my girlfriend pregnant. Here's the catch: We never actually engaged in sexual intercourse. As a matter of fact, we are both virgins. Please tell your readers that any ejaculation, whether directly within or outside the female, can lead to pregnancy. Semen ejected outside of the woman's body can drip into her body and fertilize the ovum. Although this is an uncommon occurrence, I now know from experience that it can happen. . . . Parents should remind their kids that even what may seem like harmless foreplay or "fooling around' can lead to an unwanted pregnancy. --Buffalo, N.Y."
"Dear Buffalo: You told them--and very effectively. Thank you."
How about it Cecil, can you conceive without intentionally putting sperm into the woman? --Anonymous, via Internet
Well, it's not as though Ann Landers hasn't been fooled before. Straight Dope correspondent Peter van der Linden claims he conned Ann with the following jewel, which ran on July 14, 1989:
"Dear Ann Landers: I have a terrific suggestion for removing grease and grime from the hands and face. Take a cup of lard and add 5 tablespoons of sugar. Mix well and use like soap. You'll be amazed at the results!"
Ann's reply: "I did try it and it works quite well. Thanks for sharing."
Boys will be boys. Is the virgin-birth letter likewise the work of practical jokers? Not necessarily. A nurse who guesses she has performed 5,000 to 10,000 pelvic examinations says:
"Back when I was doing nurse-practitioner-type stuff in an abortion clinic, I met two young girls who were pregnant and who had intact hymens. This was on two different occasions, years apart. I know their hymens were intact because I did pelvic examinations on each of them. These weren't situations where the girls simply had very stretchy hymens that snapped back into place, as it were, after intercourse. In each case it was very difficult and painful to insert my fingers to do the exam. Each swore up and down that 'He never put it in.' In one case the girl believed she couldn't possibly be pregnant for that very reason, and so did not come in until well into her second trimester.
"Cervical mucus changes drastically during ovulation. It becomes a much more hospitable home for sperm and facilitates the sperm's transport into the uterus. Some women produce copious amounts of the stuff, and it runs outside the vagina. It's entirely possible that semen hitting this stuff would swim very fast up into the cervix. However, it's pretty unusual." A University of Chicago infertility expert I spoke to agrees with the foregoing.
One sex practice that conceivably (sorry) might lead to pregnancy without intercourse is "genital apposition," in which the unclothed partners assume the missionary position and rub their genitals together without penetration. "The resulting orgasm is often not as satisfying as one attained in penetration intercourse, but it will do," says one who's tried it.
The most bizarre case I've heard of (British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, September 1988) involved a 15-year-old barmaid in Lesotho, South Africa, who became pregnant even though she did not have a vagina, presumably due to congenital defect. She had just performed fellatio on her boyfriend when she was discovered by her ex. A knife fight ensued during which the girl received an abdominal wound requiring surgery. Nine months later she delivered a healthy baby via cesarean section. Baffled doctors could only surmise that the knife had penetrated the alimentary canal, picked up some swallowed sperm, and carried it to the reproductive tract. To quote my bud John E., intercourse may not be required for pregnancy, but it's definitely recommended.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.