FEMFACTS
25 Feb 2019

Attack of the male DNA

Does your body “retain the DNA” of every man you’ve had sex with? No. No it does not.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Attack of the male DNA - NewsMavens
A sperm cell fertilizing an egg cell, Wikimedia Commons

WHAT’S THE CLAIM?

“Novo jutro” (New Morning) is a talk show on the largest Serbian TV network, TV Pink. A few days ago, one of the show’s hosts, Irina Vukotić, announced that a sensational discovery, like something from a scifi movie, was putting every woman in a serious conundrum:

I’m wondering how to interpret this scientific discovery, which is that women -- check this out now -- retain and carry the live DNA cells of every man they have had sex with.

Two guests were there to help Vukotić with her “interpretation”: one was introduced as a psychosexual therapist, and the other as a urologist/sexologist. The latter started by saying that the discovery is not that surprising, because every human interaction “leaves some genetics” (quoted exactly as stated). So, according to this "expert" it all boils down to this:

So how can she accept this genetics? Well, there are two ways -- she can get pregnant and then that genetics will be mixed with her blood. The other way is that she can experience a psychological transformation -- for better or worse, depending on what the man provides to her.

Vukotić then declared that this is a “devastating discovery” for many women who might have men they wish to forget. One “expert” emphasized:

“This shows how much sexual contact means to a woman, because, unlike men, women are far more oriented towards a contact with a man than with themselves. Men [...] have computers and everything, they satisfy their urges. For a woman [sexual contact] means more [...] it’s harder for them to forget those contacts than it is for men.”

Screenshot of Novo Jutro - Irina I Zika - Prof. Dr Aleksandar Milosevic, Josif Fidanovski - 12.02.2019

The other guest (the therapist) advised caution in dealing with what he called unconfirmed information, but nonetheless concluded that this is “not too far from the truth”, because “we know that mind is matter and [...] every thought is materialized; human contact stays inscribed in [us in] some way.” The highlights from the talk show were later published in an article titled “YOU NEVER FORGET AN OLD LOVE? A woman retains part of DNA of every men she has sex with (VIDEO)

This dumpster fire of pseudoscientific nonsense was just the latest instalment of a story which has been around since mid-2017, with headlines such as “THEY STAY INSIDE FOREVER” (Kurir, Serbia); “Scientists in shock” (Avaz, Bosnia and Herzegovina); "Study: Women carry inside them the DNA of every men they've had sex with" (Atma, Croatia), etc. The story was first published on Webtribune, an anonymous web portal from Serbia, on June 24th, 2017.

WHAT ARE THE FACTS?

The text from “Webtribune” was a translation of the article published on the infamous fake news website YourNewsWire the day before. It was re-published almost verbatim, with just one sentence added:

“As it turns out, the female brain is even more mysterious than we thought.”

In the original story, YourNewsWire (YNW) wrote about a study “Male Microchimerism in the Human Female Brain”, in which an autopsy was performed on the brains of 59 women who died between the ages of 32 and 101. The scientists found male DNA in 63% of the samples. As explained in the research summary, the most likely source of the DNA was a pregnancy with a male fetus -- an already known phenomenon called “fetal microchimerism”. However, the pregnancy history of all the women whose brains were tested was unknown, so the researchers noted that other possible sources of male DNA could have been “a recognized or vanished male twin, an older male sibling, or non-irradiated blood transfusion”.

The fact that sexual intercourse was not among the listed possibilities was interpreted by YNW as an attempt to hide the “politically incorrect” (?) truth:

Because when they autopsied the brains of women who had never even been pregnant, let alone with a male child, they STILL found male DNA cells prevalent in the female brain. At this point the scientists didn’t know what the hell was going on.

Confused, they did their best to hide the evidence until they could understand and explain it. They buried it in numerous sub studies and articles, but if you sift through them all you will find one damning statement, one line that gives the game away and explains exactly where these male DNA cells come from.

YNW article was quickly debunked by Snopes, where it was noted that two other studies, from 2005 and 2015, have indeed found male cells in women with no known pregnancies. The first was done on 100 women; the second on 154 girls aged 10-15. In both cases, male cells were found in 21% of the subjects. The 2015 study concluded that “girls were more likely to test positive for male microchimerism if their mothers previously had received a transfusion, had given birth to a son or had had a spontaneous abortion”, and that it “may originate from an older brother either full born or from a discontinued pregnancy or from transfusion during pregnancy”. Finally, we find one brief mention of sexual intercourse: “We speculate that sexual intercourse may be important, but other sources of male cells likely exist in young girls.

The possibility that sexual intercourse is a “source” of male DNA was mentioned as an unverified speculation in the other study as well and there have been no further studies which would confirm it. However, this was the erroneous explanation that YNW’s “Baxter Dmitry” liked the best. He even lined it up with a truly "mind-blowing" conclusion:

This has very important ramifications for women. Every male you absorb spermatozoa from becomes a living part of you for life. The women autopsied in this study were elderly. Some had been carrying the living male DNA inside them for well over 50 years.

Sperm is alive. It is living cells. When it is injected into you it swims and swims until it crashes headlong into a wall, and then it attaches and burrows into your flesh. If it’s in your mouth it swims and climbs into your nasal passages, inner ear, and behind your eyes. Then it digs in. It enters your bloodstream and collects in your brain and spine.

Like something out of a scifi movie, it becomes a part of you and you can’t get rid of it.

We are only now beginning to understand the full power and ramifications of sexual intercourse.

After these wild claims spread online, several questions about “DNA leftovers from sex” were soon asked on Quora. These are the main points provided in the answer given by Dr. Suzanne Sadedin, an evolutionary biologist:

Now, think about sperm. They’re haploid; they can’t function like normal human cells. They’re highly specialized, having evolved solely to compete to get to the egg. They don’t survive more than a few days, even in the oviduct, which evolved to store them. And most importantly, they can’t divide. So no, women don’t retain men’s sperm for life. That’s just silly.

[...]

It’s remotely possible that women might sometimes retain some non-sperm cells from male partners, since that’s never been studied and biology is weird. But there’s currently no reason to think it’s true, and many reasons to think it’s not. For starters, the female reproductive tract is actually a horribly unfriendly place to start a new cell colony. If it weren’t, you’d have embryos growing all over the place, and an ectopic pregnancy is really bad news.

Sadedin described the source of the claim as an “absurd clickbait article on YourNewsWire which I won’t give more oxygen to by linking.” That’s clearly what it is -- an absurd “mash up” of incorrectly presented results of various scientific studies, which leapfrogged from "male DNA found in 21% of studied women", to a conclusion that every sperm entering your body stays there forever, despite the complete absence of evidence and the fact that it actually contradicts existing scientific knowledge.   

CONCLUSION

The story of the never-leaving sperm is not just a textbook case of pseudoscience and fake news. It’s also a play on the infamous “lock and key” trope, which shames women who have multiple sexual partners and praise those who are monogamous -- for the men, of course, the opposite is implied. In this case, the idea that women are “genetically marked” by every man they’ve had sex with is used to justify the same double standard with biological determinism.

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