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.


    1. Good point! If it works with saliva exchange, etc, which contains all that DNA, it should work with semen without sperm. If it requires live sperm, then fuck knows.

      You realise we’re already doing better than Gallup in terms of examining the minutiae of this…

    2. If the vasectomy was effective, then I would question if the aforementioned snipped individual was the father in question…

  1. To test his theory he should: A. inject himself with the hormones that cause morning sickness. B. Eat some spunk and see if he feels better.

  2. In an attempt to be as fair as possible to Gallup, it doesn’t seem (from the Slate report at least) that he’s saying cum will cure morning sickness at all. It seems that the problem here is more like the Daily Mail’s tendency to interpret “coffee has a measurable effect in a study comparing different conditions for cancer likelihood” as “drink coffee to cure cancer”. A tiny measurable effect that is explainable by adaptation, is not the same as making a recommendation for how to treat morning sickness.

    Though the models aren’t mutually exclusive, if the existing Trying-To-Purge-Pathogens model has holes then it’s reasonable to look at morning sickness as another adaptation specific to humans. A strategy for habituating to a regular sex partner (or lessening the chance of carrying a baby by, eg, an attacker) and thus ensuring you’re more likely to carry offspring that is more likely to have paternal support is congruous with a wider framework of human adaptations centred around collaboration as crucial to survival.

    1. To your first point, I refer you to the bit about increased exposure building up tolerance. It kind of is what he’s saying

      1. Not really, he’s saying that if you’re in a long term relationship with a person you’re more likely to successfully and comfortably carry their offspring because of the tolerance you’ve built up.

        It needs to be read as an observation, not a lifestyle guide.

  3. In addition, his theory does generate testable hypotheses and has supporting data in the oral sex – preeclampsia correlation. I haven’t read his paper yet, so I don’t know if he’s done data collection, but if those predictions bear up then rejecting his hypothesis requires explaining such data some other way.

  4. You know, you often blog within my limited research area, I like it!

    Haven’t read any of the links you posted, as far too busy with actual science, *but* there are many fetal medicine/obstetric/midwifery theories that argue that pregnancy complications are caused by a reaction to foreign DNA – for example, statistically, you are much less likely to develop pre-eclampsia after a first pregnancy, but only if subsequent pregnancies are fathered by the same man; new couples have the same risk as first time mums. The same applies to many other pregnancy complications…

    1. So glad you showed up in the comments, I was hoping you would! Do you know if there’s an association between pre-eclampsia and morning sickness? Or, in fact, if there’s anything about who is more likely to get morning sickness?

      Also, do you know if the reaction is specifically down to alien DNA, or more OH MY GOD FOREIGN OBJECT KILL KILL?

    2. There appear to be no links between pre-eclampsia and ‘hyperemesis gravidarum’ (translated to lots of sickness in pregnancy, severe health-treatening sickness rather than general morning sickness); however, just found this interesting cohort study which shows 16% chance of morning sickness recurring, but that this decreases to 11% if paternity changes (haven’t read full paper).
      There is a link between morning sickness and female-fetuses, multiple pregnancies (twins etc), and a history of general nausea (travel sickness, getting nauseous from drugs etc); couldn’t find any studies linking semen consumption and morning sickness, but that’t my post-doc sorted!

      1. Cushiest. Post-doc. Ever. Just zillions of papers of “err, didn’t find anything here either”.

        As for the cohort study, those are some big fuckoff error bars going on right there, but that’s pretty interesting!

  5. I’m sure I read study showing that the foetus is more likely to be rejected/attacked if it is male, and that this effect increases with each additional male foetus – suggesting that the reaction increases with exposure rather than exposure limiting the reaction.

  6. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that dual-function rival-foiling spunk-pump cock thing posited for other animals as well. Or similar things, like jizz that sets solid or detachable one-use cocks to prevent rivals from getting in there after you.

    Anyway, yet more reasons why I think this is less of a set of excuses to get his jizz into ladies and more a (purely academic you understand) fascination with the stuff itself.

    1. Surely, if all you have to do to get your body to accept foreign DNA is consume more of the same DNA then we’ve just solved the problem with transplanting pig hearts in to humans. Just make the rest of the pig in to bacon sandwiches and it’s problem solved.

  7. Point 1. Everyone go read *Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation* if you want to read a scientifically accurate and hilarious tour of the variations in reproductive strategies. Indeed there are many strategies out there for displacing or killing others’ sperm in the animal world.

    Point 2, a question. The inside of the stomach is a pretty brutal place. The woman can only get the benefits if the semen manages to make it into her physiology as a nutrient or something similar, right? How is this explained? DNA is not going to survive in there. Is there any mechanism proposed for how this process works? There’s not that much to begin with.

    Point 3. Whatever the claim is, the validity of the science depends upon the elimination of alternative hypotheses. P-values and the like are irrelevant without some model or theory, and this is ultimately a matter of biological science, psychology or sociology, genetics, etc. I dunno, maybe couples having oral sex are happier? Maybe giving oral sex results in getting it more which results in more orgasms which results in some kind of endorphin rush which strengthens the immune system…

    Just to repeat, the P-values etc are irrelevant unless there is some kind of mechanism proposed.

    Point 4. We won’t get into what’s required to confirm a hypothesis of adaptation.

  8. It’s incredible that these evolutionary biologists will make claims that cannot be empirically verified (DNA/hormones/biological component makes all X act Y) while claiming they can be verified (‘if we just ask enough X’s if they do Y, then it proves all X will do why) and then not even bothering to do the ’empirical research. This reminds me of the 3 paragraphs in Steven Pinker’s ‘How the Brain Works’ dealing with gay man; though he admittedly hadn’t given much thought to them while ‘solving’ every ‘mystery of women’ in the rest of the book, he assumes that gay men must have 3000 partners a night due to the ‘natural male urge’ to fuck everything.

    Your criticisms are sharp and spot on; can’t wait to read more!

  9. Just to add to the fun…I’m a case study in my own right as I’ve got four babies, all same father, boy, girl, boy, girl. I can confirm violent chundering for babies 1 and 4 (a boy and a girl respectively), absolutely NO blowjobs in any pregnancy (I could barely clean my teeth without throwing up) and – while I’m sharing – PIV sex continuing thoughout my pregnancies with the boys 1&3 (because we both wanted to) but stopping for the whole of pregnancy for the girls 2 & 4 (because we both didn’t want to).
    Go figure.

  10. It’s just another go at convincing us women that we must do such things for men. Why not give us free will and maybe we’ll be more inclined!

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