By now, everyone is familiar with Missouri Republican Todd Akin’s claim that women don’t get pregnant from ‘Legitimate rape’, whatever the fuck that is.The story is everywhere, but here’s the CBC
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape is] really rare,” he had told KTVI-TV. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
He doesn’t explain what he means at all. He has also issued a ridiculous non-apology.
“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Akin’s statement said.
Akin also said in the statement he believes “deeply in the protection of all life and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”
Again, he’s not strong with the definitions. What part of his earlier comments is he disavowing? Is it something he believes, and is now sorry that he said it out loud? Perhaps he is referring to the ancient idea that the probability of pregnancy occurring during a sexual act is directly related to a woman’s orgasm.
From The Guardian UK
The idea that rape victims cannot get pregnant has long roots. The legal position that pregnancy disproved a claim of rape appears to have been instituted in the UK sometime in the 13th century. One of the earliest British legal texts, Fleta, has a clause in the first book of the second volume stating that:
“If, however, the woman should have conceived at the time alleged in the appeal, it abates, for without a woman’s consent she could not conceive.”
This was a long-lived legal argument. Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence contained the same idea as late as 1814:
“For without an excitation of lust, or the enjoyment of pleasure in the venereal act, no conception can probably take place. So that if an absolute rape were to be perpetrated, it is not likely she would become pregnant.”
This “absolute rape” is not quite the same as Akin’s “legitimate rape”. Akin seems to be suggesting that the body suppresses conception or causes a miscarriage, while the earlier idea of Farr relates specifically to the importance of orgasm. Through the medieval and early modern period it was widely thought, by lay people as well as doctors, that women could only conceive if they had an orgasm.
I remember this idea being promulgated by some girls in high school back in the 70s. I also remember several girls wearing maternity clothes under their graduation gowns. What I never did find out, or even consider, was whether they enjoyed the pregnancy inducing sex act enough to orgasm or how if they were the victims of legitimate or perhaps illegitimate rape.
The concept behind this is an aspect of ‘slut shaming’, where young women are criticized and even ostracized for the perception of promiscuity. This is another holdover from medieval religion, and is often identified with the more fundamental sects, where any exposed female flesh incites lust in men. It is tied in with patriarchal ideas of sexuality that persist throughout the general population. we often hear stories where rape is often dismissed because of a woman’s past sexual history or even her clothing or perhaps as a way for a woman to express regret over an indiscretion. Just check any the website of any men’s rights group for more details.
In this incidence, there is no doubt that Akins’ words came from his religious background, but it is important to remember that the idea is much more widespread than religious fundamentalists.