How Pregnancy Happens

As explained by cartoon genitals:

I think every anti-contraception “pro-lifer” needs to sit down and watch this — it never actually discusses contraception or emergency contraception (the “morning-after” pill), but anyone who can rub two braincells together will be able to figure out why contraception taken after sexual intercourse is able to prevent pregnancy without being abortion.

Plus, you know, talking genitals (and I kind of want a real-life version of that vulva coat).

Thanks to Trina for the link.



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37 comments for “How Pregnancy Happens

  1. Lisa
    April 4, 2008 at 1:16 am

    For some reason, when this came up on my RSS feed, this video was included instead of the one I think you intended. Entertaining, but not quite the same.

  2. April 4, 2008 at 1:49 am

    Bbbbbut it’s from that nasty Planned Parenthood and will give them abortion cooties!

  3. Meredith
    April 4, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Wow, I learned something–I had no idea actual pregnancy took that long to happen after intercourse!

  4. Pai
    April 4, 2008 at 3:47 am

    Meredith — And the ‘Pro-Lifers’ want more people who don’t know that, so they can keep claiming that EC are ‘abortion pills’ and working towardscillegalizing it. Kind of how they’ve slandered Late Term Abortion in order to chip away at repro rights by misinforming people about its true nature.

  5. April 4, 2008 at 7:36 am

    The only thing I didn’t like about this segment was the gender-role stereotypes of the penis and vulva. The penis was always up for sex, and it was up to the vulva to set limits.

  6. Thomas, TSID
    April 4, 2008 at 8:15 am

    Thank you Dr. C. I thought it was a great teaching tool, but yeah, stereotyped gatekeeper and thinking with the little heat.

  7. C.
    April 4, 2008 at 8:28 am

    I didn’t realize the coat was a vulva until I read the comments. And then my reaction was like. “And it’s a fur coat… and that would make her little belt a… oh.”

  8. April 4, 2008 at 8:51 am

    Remember where that belt buckle is, kids!! There will be a test later.

  9. Hawise
    April 4, 2008 at 9:14 am

    I had no idea actual pregnancy took that long to happen after intercourse!

    Not took that long- can take that long. It happens in the window of oppurtunity when live sperm is available to meet descending egg. Those little sperm cells are durable, mobile little suckers with much patience.

  10. LeggoMyMeggo
    April 4, 2008 at 9:58 am

    The caricature of the black couple makes me fairly uncomfortable… the woman’s hair is far too similar to the old “pickaninny” caricature. I mean, I’m glad PP is including people of color, but why couldn’t she have been as put-together as the other (white) women in the video? Even the blonde jumping up and down on the bed in her scanties (in front of a much older man– also a not-so-fabulous stereotype) had hair like she just stepped out of a salon, not like she just had sex.

  11. TheoGirl
    April 4, 2008 at 10:20 am

    Unfortunately, the video is based on pretty warped science. According to the American Pregnancy Association (NOT a pro-life organization) “sperm can live in the body for 3-5 days.” According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, sperm can live three days or more. Most other reputable sources say between 2 to 5 days, 5 days only in optimal conditions. So the video is a bit misleading on that count.

    As for when pregnancy begins, the science community had always defined it as beginning at fertilization, until the marketing of the intrauterine device in the 1970s, at which point the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology changed the definition to implantation. The then-president of ACOG argued that there was no medical evidence or changes to warrant this and that the only explanation could be the fact that changing the definition would allow the intrauterine device to be marketed as contraception, not abortion, thus increasing its popularity and sales.

    Finally, if you look at the Plan B website, there are three ways in which Plan B works. “Plan B® works like a birth control pill to prevent pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It is possible that Plan B® may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus (womb).” NOBODY (not even the craziest of us pro-lifers) argues that either of the first two methods are abortion, though some people are opposed to them on other grounds. Most DO argue that the third method is abortion, because we use the original scientific definition of when pregnancy begins, not the new one. I hope this at least clears up the pro-life position on this. Thanks.

  12. April 4, 2008 at 10:40 am

    Hell, at this point they’re calling sex ed “abortion”, so this sort of logic is not going to get through.

  13. April 4, 2008 at 11:08 am

    Just to be clear, anti-abortion types oppose emergency contraception because they believe life begins when egg and sperm meet, and they know that “it’s possible that emergency contraceptive pills work after fertilization, making it impossible for the fertilized egg to implant in your uterus” (ec.princeton.edu). As far as they’re concerned, if you cause the zygote to be flushed away and destroyed, then you’re killing something with a soul. So yeah, according to this video, “pregnancy” happens after implantation. But the anti-abortion folks’ concern is not so much “ending a pregnancy” as it is “committing [what they consider] murder”; EC may not technically cause an abortion, but it may still do what’s allegedly bad about abortion.

  14. April 4, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Hot Tramp, as the video shows, if EC is taking within the first 48 hours, it’s not all that likely that sperm and egg have met. EC works by preventing ovulation. That’s why women need to take it so soon. Recent studies have shown no evidence that it prevents implantation, even if there has been fertilization.

  15. Lucy Gillam
    April 4, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    One thing I really did like was the information that pregnancy can happen without penetration. I got my first niece because that’s not particularly well known, and my roommate at the time flat-out refused to believe it. She thought my sister was lying.

  16. April 4, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    Unfortunately, the video is based on pretty warped science. According to the American Pregnancy Association (NOT a pro-life organization) “sperm can live in the body for 3-5 days.” According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, sperm can live three days or more. Most other reputable sources say between 2 to 5 days, 5 days only in optimal conditions. So the video is a bit misleading on that count.

    The longest any researcher has ever found sperm to live in the body is 12 days. That’s obviously highly unusual, but it happened. Organizations go with averages. This video was made by Planned Parenthood, and their goal is to keep people safe — they’re going to go with one of the longer averages so that women don’t, say, go off birth control a day after having sex because they think they can’t get pregnant.

    As for when pregnancy begins, the science community had always defined it as beginning at fertilization, until the marketing of the intrauterine device in the 1970s, at which point the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology changed the definition to implantation. The then-president of ACOG argued that there was no medical evidence or changes to warrant this and that the only explanation could be the fact that changing the definition would allow the intrauterine device to be marketed as contraception, not abortion, thus increasing its popularity and sales.

    Actually, the scientific community says that pregnancy begins at implantation specifically because more than half of all fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant. That’s the way nature works — most fertilized eggs never turn into babies. Further, there’s no way to tell if a woman is pregnant until the egg implants and starts releasing the hormones that stop menstruation and ovulation. So it simply doesn’t make any medical, scientific or biological sense to say that pregnancy starts at fertilization.

    Finally, if you look at the Plan B website, there are three ways in which Plan B works. “Plan B® works like a birth control pill to prevent pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It is possible that Plan B® may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus (womb).” NOBODY (not even the craziest of us pro-lifers) argues that either of the first two methods are abortion, though some people are opposed to them on other grounds. Most DO argue that the third method is abortion, because we use the original scientific definition of when pregnancy begins, not the new one. I hope this at least clears up the pro-life position on this. Thanks.

    Actually, no, you have your facts totally wrong. NO ONE thinks that disallowing a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus is “abortion” — other than crazy pro-lifers. No one in the medical community defines abortion like that. Only you guys.

    Finally, the most recent studies of birth control and Plan B have shown that they likely don’t prevent implantation — that is, if an egg gets fertilized, Plan B won’t stop it from implanting. There’s a tiny tiny chance (just because you can’t rule out everything) that Plan B does stop implantation, which is why it’s up on the website. But that isn’t “abortion” any more than a fertilized egg naturally not implanting is a miscarriage.

    Try again.

  17. lisa
    April 4, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    Oh man, I went as a vagina (ok, vulva) for Halloween one year. And my costume looked exactly like that!! My boyfriend went as a penis, but I like to think that my costume was far more successful.

  18. chad
    April 4, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    I don’t see why defining ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at fertilization would require us to say that there are lots and lots of miscarriages. If we define ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at fertilization, and we want to avoid saying that there are lots of extra miscarriages, then it seems that we should just define ‘miscarrage’ as the natural termination of a post-implantation pregnancy. So that doesn’t seem like a very good argument for defining ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at implantation.

  19. April 4, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    Shorter Chad: Why don’t we just re-define words according to ideology and convenience so they are practically meaningless!

  20. April 4, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I don’t see why defining ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at fertilization would require us to say that there are lots and lots of miscarriages. If we define ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at fertilization, and we want to avoid saying that there are lots of extra miscarriages, then it seems that we should just define ‘miscarrage’ as the natural termination of a post-implantation pregnancy. So that doesn’t seem like a very good argument for defining ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at implantation.

    Um… really? Do you really not understand why that makes no sense?

    Miscarriage is a natural abortion; that is, a natural termination of a pregnancy. If “pregnancy” begins at fertilization, and half of fertilized eggs don’t implant and are flushed out, then those pregnancies are effectively terminated. How could that not be a miscarriage?

  21. Ashley
    April 4, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    “Further, there’s no way to tell if a woman is pregnant until the egg implants and starts releasing the hormones that stop menstruation and ovulation. So it simply doesn’t make any medical, scientific or biological sense to say that pregnancy starts at fertilization.”

    There’s actually some confusion about this. Pregnancies that end very early are called “chemical pregnancies.” Often there’s enough HCG to trigger a faint positive on a sensitive pregnancy test, and your period is a couple of days late. However, what’s uncertain is if and how much the blast implants in a chemical pregnancy.

    For the record, these are by far the most common forms of miscarriage, and most women don’t know when they have it (unless they’re obsessive and test early).

  22. chad
    April 4, 2008 at 2:08 pm

    Jill, I thought the argument was this: we don’t want miscarriage statistics to explode, so we have a good practical reason for defining the terms so that these statistics do not explode, and to do that we have to define ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at implantation. So I said that there is an alternative way of defining the terms that avoids the explosion of statistics and that is consistent with the other definition of pregnancy. Now you come back with the idea that there is a definition of ‘miscarriage’ written in stone somewhere. I guess I don’t buy that.

  23. Mnemosyne
    April 4, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    Now you come back with the idea that there is a definition of ‘miscarriage’ written in stone somewhere. I guess I don’t buy that.

    You know, I realize that there are people out there who think that can discount medical science just because they don’t believe it, but geez. Saying “I don’t think that an egg not implanting counts as a miscarriage” is about as logical as saying “I don’t think that aspirin works to relieve headaches.”

    Whether you “buy it” or not, that’s what it is, and no amount of rhetorical tap dancing will magically make it so if you just clap your hands hard enough and wish for magical fairies to fix it for you.

  24. chad
    April 4, 2008 at 2:18 pm

    Saying “I don’t think that an egg not implanting counts as a miscarriage” is about as logical as saying “I don’t think that aspirin works to relieve headaches.”

    This is confused. Jill is the one who denies that failure of implantation is a miscarriage. I actually don’t have a problem with saying that, if you define ‘miscarriage’ in a certain way, although that was not my point.

  25. April 4, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Jill, I thought the argument was this: we don’t want miscarriage statistics to explode, so we have a good practical reason for defining the terms so that these statistics do not explode, and to do that we have to define ‘pregnancy’ as beginning at implantation.

    Then the problem is that you don’t understand.

    My point isn’t that pregnancy is defined so that certain statistics won’t change. The point is that it’s defined according to scientific knowledge and understanding. As scientific knowledge and understanding has evolved, the definition as to when exactly pregnancy starts has also evolved to be more exact and more accurate. It hasn’t been re-defined for statistical convenience.

  26. chad
    April 4, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Then the problem is that you don’t understand.

    Great, then we agree that the “statistical convenience” argument doesn’t work? That was my point. Sorry I mistakenly attributed that argument to you.

    As scientific knowledge and understanding has evolved, the definition as to when exactly pregnancy starts has also evolved to be more exact and more accurate

    I don’t understand what you are getting at here. Can you say it more explicitly? More exact and accurate about what?

  27. April 4, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    This is a great discussion and I’m late joining in, but I have to say something that bugs me. The man is a walking penis. He’s an idiot. A stereotype. The woman is a woman with a vagina coat who is teaching the idiot man about sex. I think the video is well-done, but I think portraying men in this way also justifies men’s lack of responsibility/knowledge about sex.

    There are a lot of loser men out there who don’t bother understanding the intricacies of sex beyond his role. I think that if the man in this cartoon was portrayed as empathetic, understanding, and eager to learn about the affects of his “role,” the video would serve as a better model for behavior.

    Maybe not. I just see the clueless, idiot jock persona more and more these days, especially on television and advertising. One the one hand, these portraits reflect society, but on the other, they reinforce harmful stereotypes.

  28. floyd
    April 4, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    Chad – try thinking of it this way – what does a pregnancy test actually test? It tests for hormones that, among other things, prevent menstruation. These hormones are released upon implantation. Until the fertilized egg implants, there is no way to know whether or not a fertilize egg is floating about in a woman’s body . Defining pregnancy at conception is unscientific because there is no way to test for it. Science is taking cues from the body – nothing changes when semen enters the a woman’s reproductive organs, nothing changes when a egg is released, nothing changes when it is fertilized, nothing changes as it initially divides, but implantation -BAM! Hormones! Therefore, pregnancy is defined by the body’s actions; it’s not an arbitrary, abortion-lovin’, statiscal-tweakin’ distinction, but an actual, honest to goodness, biologically accurate and scientifically-proven one.

    If you want more info, may I suggest Woman: An Intimate Geography by Natalie Angier.

  29. floyd
    April 4, 2008 at 3:12 pm

    Pardon my terrible spelling and inability to proofread.

  30. Mnemosyne
    April 4, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    This is a great discussion and I’m late joining in, but I have to say something that bugs me. The man is a walking penis. He’s an idiot. A stereotype.

    That came up the first time this video made the rounds and, yeah, it’s pretty annoying. Way to play into the Women as Gatekeepers, Man=Penis, and all the other assorted sexist stereotypes, Planned Parenthood!

  31. April 4, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Astraea, it may be unlikely, but not impossible. The video is talking about the MAXIMUM time to fertilization, not the usual or possible time to fertilization. Religious fundamentalists will oppose anything that might intentionally destroy a zygote, and EC might intentionally destroy a zygote.

  32. mustelid
    April 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    One more vote for “annoying stereotypes detracted from an otherwise nifty video”. Nifty factoid: in bygone centuries, some previous pope ruled pregnancy didn’t start until “quickening”, or until the fetus’ movements could be felt by the nother and others. Science has advanced considerably since then, and w/ what we now know, it isn’t a pregnancy till the blastocyte implants and thereby has a real chance of developing into…embryoness? fetushood? Pick your term. Anyways, the point is, women are not killing teh baybeez by taking EC or the Pill. I’m sure Chad will feel free to miss the point once again…

  33. chad
    April 4, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Floyd, Jill gave two arguments–one involving the point that “more than half of all fertilized eggs naturally don’t implant” and the other involving the point you are making, that there is no convenient way to detect anything until implantation. I was only criticizing the former argument.

    I guess I’m also skeptical of the latter argument, though. If I defined ‘pregnant’ to begin at fertilization, I’d have to admit that we couldn’t conveniently tell whether someone was pregnant for a several days. So what? There is not in general a tendency to define medical terms so that it is easy to tell whether they apply. I mean, surely there are lots of medical conditions that do not show any symptoms for several days, right?

    Look, I’m making people mad unnecessarily, becuase I agree that life does not begin at fertlization and I agree that the evidence suggests that EC etc. do not flush out fertlized eggs. I just think that this terminological stuff is not very persuasive, and I find it a little irritating.

  34. Mnemosyne
    April 4, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    If I defined ‘pregnant’ to begin at fertilization, I’d have to admit that we couldn’t conveniently tell whether someone was pregnant for several days.

    Yes, and the reason for that is that it’s quite common for fertilized eggs to fail to implant. So by the time you figured out that an egg had been fertilized, there’s a 50 percent chance that it would have already been rejected and flushed out by the body, which puts you back at Square One.

    The reason we’re splitting hairs about this is that there are people out there who are actively working to get the birth control pill and Plan B banned on the grounds that it causes abortions. They are actively pushing the incorrect notion that pregnancy begins at fertilization and the only reason fertilization fails is by direct human intervention.

    Treating something that fails 50 percent of the time as an inevitable event is what’s making us crazy here. Would we talk about the great success of our space program if half of the astronauts we sent into space died upon re-entry (if not before)?

  35. April 4, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Hot Topic, the thing is the pro lifers aren’t really arguing in good faith. If they really cared, they would make sure women could take EC right away when there’s almost no chance that there has been fertilization. instead they put up barriers that lead to delaying access to EC for many women.

    All they’re really doing with the life begins at fertilization crap is moving the goalposts to define things however they need to to prevent women from having control over whether or not she has a child other than through abstinence.

    And unrelated, but ugh, I was trying to find sites about “chemical pregnancy” and now I’m just annoyed. So many of them have to say how unfortunate it is that 50% of fertilized eggs never implant/lead to actual pregnancy. I can understand this on sites for people trying to get pregnant, but I saw it on a couple sites just presenting pregnancy information.

    I say that really depends on your point of view.

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