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One of the most vibrant debates in biology through the ages has been the debate surrounding the question of male and female agency in human reproduction. It was common in the ancient biology texts to treat the female as a passive recipient of the male seed; thus, she was responsible for nurturing, but not creating, the new life. This idea was reflected, for example, in Aristotle’s“one-seed” model of conception,which suggested that the male seed provided the form and motive for conception and the female was only necessary because she provided the matter . In the “two-seed” model, by contrast, both male and female were seen as contributing to conception, with each sex producing its own kind of seed. This model was espoused by Hippocrates and Galen. Hippocrates offered as evidence for the two-seed model the fact that both males and females experience pleasure during intercourse. Although the latter view seems to grant females a more important role in reproduction, it has also led, over the centuries, to the overassigning of agency to females in the case of unwanted pregnancies. In fact, throughout the many decades of history during which ancient ideas about biology remained authoritative , several key medical and legal texts used the so-called two-seed model to deny that rape could result in pregnancy. For instance, Hippocrates asserted that women and men could both expel sperm, so if a woman did not want pregnancy to occur,she could choose to rid herself of the male seed.Galen expressed a related but even more problematic idea that female orgasm was necessary in order for intercourse to result in conception. In these ways of thinking, the female body was in some ways revered for its mystical powers, but it was also seen as more mysterious than the male body in that it was thought to possess a power over reproduction that came from an unknown source. As we have seen Topology of Sex Difference | A Long History of Men Saying Outrageous Things About Women’s Reproductive Organs 5 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 100 19094-Koerber_FromHysteria.indd 100 1/15/18 4:41 PM 1/15/18 4:41 PM topology of sex difference 101 in previous chapters, ancient ideas like these continued to have credibility in scientific texts well into the nineteenth century, existing alongside the facts that emerged from new forms of scientific activity such as dissection. More importantly , on the question of rape and reproduction, these ancient ideas about the biology of human reproduction gained added authority because they were instantiated in legal documents. As late as 1814, for instance, Samuel Farr’s Elements of Medical Jurisprudence echoed Galen’s earlier observations about the necessity of female orgasm in conception. Specifically, Farr’s legal text claimed that if the woman does not experience“lust or enjoyment”during the sexual act, then“no conception can probably take place.” Of course, from today’s perspectives, these ideas seem like quaint and curious relics from a prescientific past. At the same time, however, we also get occasional reminders that these ideas might not be as ancient and forgotten as we would like to believe. For instance, in 2012, Missouri congressman Todd Akin caught the attention of audiences around the world with his public comment that rape was not likely to result in pregnancy because“from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” And Akin is not the first modern public figure who has made remarks like this about the female body. Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff traces a series of comments along similar lines to the 1980s, documenting how such arguments have for several decades been used to deny the necessity of exceptions for rape in antiabortion legislation. Examples that Kliff reports include Stephen Freind’s 1988 remark that during rape,“a woman secretes a certain secretion, which has the tendency to kill sperm,” and a North Carolina legislator’s claim that“the facts show that [for] people who are raped— truly raped—the juices don’t flow.” The tendency in recent decades when public figures make remarks like these about the mystical powers that reside in women’s bodies has been for news stories to cite medical experts who make reference to scientific facts in order to refute the outlandish remarks. Obviously, so the narrative unfolds in...


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