Why a Frightening Number of Women Claim They Were Virgins When They Became Pregnant

I wasn’t aware that the British Medical Journal publishes “untraditional” end-of-the-year studies on such things as “Does an apple a day really keep the doctor away?” (A: Yes.), whether a win by a home sports team really causes a baby boom (A: Yes.) and whether James Bond would’ve been a drunk driver with alcohol-induced brain damage and erectile dysfunction (A: Ditto.). But they do.

For this year’s puckish science paper, Reuters reported that researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill published the results of a 14-year adolescent health study of women ranging in age from 15 to 28. Of the 7,870 women in the study, 5,340 reported pregnancies. Forty-five of those women, or .5 percent, claimed that they became pregnant despite never having had sex. The researchers noted that none of those reported pregnancies resulted from in-vitro fertilization (IVF).

Researchers suggest that the results are a reminder to exercise caution before drawing definitive conclusions from self-reported studies, as Sharon Begley pointed out in her story, “fallible memory, beliefs and wishes can cause people to err in what they tell scientists.”

It appears that abstinence-only sex education programs might also cause women to err in what they report to scientists:  The virginal moms were twice as likely to say that they had signed chastity pledges than the mothers who said they were not virgins when they became pregnant (31 percent and 15 percent, respectively). The virgin moms were also younger on average than the nonvirgin mothers and more likely to report that their mothers never discuss sex or birth control with them, leading researchers to suspect that the former group were not actually virgins when they conceived. I’m not sure whether these odd results were more due to denial or naiveté but it’s sad either way.

“Even with numerous enhancements and safeguards to optimize reporting accuracy, researchers may still face challenges in the collection and analysis of self reported data on potentially sensitive topics,” the study authors wrote in their conclusion. Read more about this weird study (titled “Like a Virgin (Mother)”) here.