The news has whipped itself into a frenzy about the latest headline-grabbing guff from evolutionary psychology: blow jobs cure morning sickness. Specifically, the pregnant woman should swallow the semen of the father of the baby because then she’ll develop a tolerance to his genetic material. That sentence alone is eyebrow-spraining. Delving deeper, it only gets worse.
The research comes from an evolutionary psychologist named Gordon G. Gallup. It is useful to view the morning sickness story in the context of his previous work because a pattern starts to emerge.
Gallup’s career started out fairly promisingly, with him developing a paradigmatic test for recording self-awareness in animals, which has been widely used. He was then the go-to guy for research into what happens when you hypnotise chickens, which is probably far more interesting than it sounds.
Somewhere along the line, though, Gallup lost his way, and moved towards the side of evolutionary psychology which is obsessed with sex and comes to thoroughly bizarre conclusions about both sexes through the use of dodgy science. Many of the studies I’m going to highlight here are paywalled, but you’ll probably shit a brick off the abstract alone if you know anything about science or have ever enjoyed sex.
Gallup became interested in boobs, hypothesising that breast implants were a way for women to advertise their fertility, then never testing this hypothesis because, let’s face it, how the hell would you? He delved into homophobia, suggesting that it was an adaptive response to parents thinking the gays would bum their children into homosexuality. This was tested by getting college students–not actual parents–to fill in questionnaires about hypothetical children, and some of them saying they wouldn’t like their kid to go to a gay paediatrician. When the work was criticised for implying that gays are paedophiles and maybe this was down to “xenophobia” (in the evolutionary sense, rather than the sociological sense; i.e. a fear of strangers), Gallup responded by saying that actually there is a disproportionate number of homosexual paedophiles, so there. Another study of Gallup’s ostensibly showed that women take more care to stop themselves being raped when they are ovulating, by guessing when the participants were ovulating and administering a questionnaire.
None of this encompasses Gallup’s true love though. Shaking off the mantle of being the chicken-hypnosis guy, Gordon G. Gallup is now the semen guy.
Regular readers of this blog might remember the time I went ballistic over a study claiming to show that semen was an antidepressant. That was one of Gallup’s studies. It showcased some almost criminally bad science, which I covered here, and it’s worth reading the whole thing to see just how bad it is. If you can’t be bothered, the tl;dr summary is that vaginally-administered spunk isn’t an antidepressant and there was no way he could have ever shown it with that study. Other miracles of semen, according to Gallup, is that if a man regularly spaffs into the mother of his kids, he’ll be a better dad. Again, Gallup didn’t even bother testing that hypothesis.
After covering his bases in getting semen into women, Gallup turned towards how to keep it there. Readers with penises, did you know that your cock looks like that because it evolved to displace semen of rivals from a vagina? It totally is, because Gallup has some hardcore science to prove it. This paper is open-access and well worth a read if you fancy a laugh. He used two different tests for this hypothesis. In the first set of studies, he bought some dildos and an artificial vagina from a sex shop, mixed up some fake spunk, put it in the rubber fanny, then fucked it with some dildos. He found that the more realistic the dildo, the better it displaced the jizz-mixture. Oh, and the dildos being dildos, they lacked foreskins, which throws an enormous spanner in the works as it means that human cocks would function entirely differently, considering circumcision is a minority practice and didn’t happen while we were evolving.
So he turned his attention to humans. Rather than watching them fuck, he went for a questionnaire, which is distinctly less fun, and proved about as much as his sweaty session with a fleshlight and a dildo. From a survey, he discovered that men fuck their girlfriends harder if they’ve been away for a while, or if they’ve heard their girlfriend was cheating. Passionate reunions and angry hatesex, according to Gallup, are actually just the chap trying to thrust any stray spunk out of his lady-friend.
Which brings us, finally, to the morning sickness research. Having exhaustively researched how to get sperm into a vagina and get it out again, he wondered how best he could get it into a lady’s mouth. His theory is this: morning sickness arises from the woman reacting to having unfamiliar genetic material inside her, i.e. the father’s DNA in the foetus. In order to build up a tolerance, the woman needs greater exposure to the father’s genetic material which means loads and loads of semen, and apparently eating it will totally work.
It’s important to note here that this has never been tested, and, like much of the work we have seen here, it is just a hypothesis presented at a conference, which the media have picked up and ran with, presenting it as SCIENCE. It isn’t. Also, it’s a pretty fucking shitty hypothesis for two major reasons.
First, it goes against the general evolutionary thinking regarding morning sickness: that it’s a way of protecting the foetus from any toxins or bad nutrition by causing anything harmful that has been ingested to be shouted into rainbows. Secondly, and perhaps more crucially, how the hell does Gordon G. Gallup think women get pregnant in the first place? It kind of involves exposure to semen. While a lot of pregnancies may not stem from regular exposure to the same jizz, a lot of them do, and morning sickness affects up to 80% of women. Furthermore, within Gallup’s hypothesis, if it’s just the father’s genetic material the woman needs and it can be got through ingested semen, this can easily be transmitted by any other means, such as lots and lots of snogging to exchange saliva, or touch, or blood rituals, or whatever.
It makes no goddamn sense whatsoever, and I look forward to seeing him try to prove it.
I don’t know if Gordon G. Gallup has dedicated the later part of his career towards discovering escalatingly spurious reasons to insert his semen into women–if so, I think we can expect future studies which show that bukakke makes you immortal–or if he has simply found the recipe for media success: say something silly which dovetails with existing patriarchal prejudice. Either way, I wish he’d stop, and I wish the media would stop gushing with excitement about hypotheses and bad research.
Update: commenter James, who is an experienced midwife and pre-eclampsia researcher has found a cohort study which Gordon G. Gallup obviously hasn’t read. The study looked at recurrence of hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe morning sickness. It found that sickness was less likely to occur in a second pregnancy than in a first. The authors had a large enough sample of women whose second pregnancies were from a different father than the first pregnancy. Comparing recurrence of hyperemesis, it emerged that risk was lower in women whose second pregnancy was by a different father than those who had had two pregnancies from the same father: 11% risk of hyperemesis for those who had changed paternity, versus 16% for those who had not. While this is a cohort study, and therefore low down on the pyramid of evidence, it’s still far better than some dude who had a hypothesis, and provides some evidence to suggest that “unfamiliar semen” is not what causes morning sickness.