There is a surprising report out this month in the British Medical Journal that one in two hundred women in the United States claim to have have been impregnated without ever having sexual intercourse. These are women who later give birth so this are not cases of pseudocyesis or a false or hysterical pregnancy that we discussed earlier. Some 31% of the women studied had signed a “chastity pledge” and 15% of non-virgins who became pregnant claim to have made similar vows. I imagine that many might take offense at the title and timing of this study: Like A Virgin (Mother). They might have wanted to stick with the rest title “Analysis of Data from a Longitudinal, US Population Representative Sample Survey.”
The report covered almost 8,000 women between the ages of 15 and 28 as part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, between 1995 – 2009. Of those, 45 reported at least one pregnancy “unrelated to the use of assisted reproductive technology.” The most significant statistics may be that 36 of the 45 women claiming virgin pregnancies told researchers their parents never or very rarely spoke with them about sex or birth control.
The authors cite religious and cultural influences in “occurrences of parthenogenesis in vertebrates”:
During Advent, many recount the birth of Jesus to the Virgin Mary. Virgin births in non-humans are generally by asexual reproduction, where growth and development of the embryo occurs without fertilization, termed parthenogenesis (from the Greek parthenos for virgin and genesis for birth). Occurrences of parthenogenesis in vertebrates, including pit vipers, boa constrictors, sharks, and Komodo dragons, have attracted much attention. Parthenogenesis also appears in popular culture, including the Spielberg blockbuster Jurassic Park and the 2008 Dr Who episode “Partners in Crime.” Births without a human father are seen as distinct from asexual reproduction, and involve a non-mortal father—for example, the gospel of Matthew reports that Mary’s was found to be “with child” from the Holy Spirit, and numerous Greek demigods, such as Perseus, were reportedly born of mortal women5 (or in the case of Dionysus, his immortal father, Zeus).
Some supporters of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity (aeiparthenos) of Mary (who include not only Roman Catholics but also reformers such as Martin Luther) believe that Mary dedicated herself and her virginity to God, and that her husband Joseph was guardian of that virginity—perhaps a precursor of present day pledges of chastity. Chastity pledges may be signed by those who plan to remain chaste until marriage and by non-virgins who pledge to abstain from further intercourse until marriage; the latter are often called “born again” virgins; this concept of the reconstitution of virginity has also appeared in pop culture, notably in the play Camino Real.