How Long Does a Man's DNA Stay in a Woman?
What's the real deal regarding DNA sticking around in a woman's body long after vaginal sex? I discovered this interesting tidbit in a surprising way: reality TV. But is it true?
In my Sunday morning daze, I clicked "play" on a guilty pleasure: "Too Hot to Handle," season four, a reality TV show featuring horny singles who must live together without partaking in any carnal desires.
The intention is to connect and build a real emotional attachment. What's at stake? Money, of course. The more contestants kiss or have sex, the more money they lose.
Throughout the reality TV dating series, while not kissing, these sexy singles participate in workshops encouraging them to connect to their inner selves and curb their desire to hook up instead of settle down.
In one particular workshop, women were divided from men as they tapped into their "inner wisdom" by traversing their "yoni," or their womb.
Emotional center and DNA holder?
Matilda Carroll, an intimacy mentor who practices breathwork at the Embodied Awakening Academy, based in Australia, was the workshop leader in episode eight. She called the womb a "big sponge" and an "emotional center."
Sure, this seemed like any holistic, woo-woo workshop. It may not be for everyone, but it's not necessarily harmful.
But then Carroll, a shamanic medicine expert influencer, said something that caused a record scratch. She explained to these 20-something contestants, and the Netflix audience: "You actually absorb men's DNA into your yonis, which can actually stay in your body for up to 50 years."
Contestants, understandably, sat there with mouths agape, horror written on their faces. Every time semen enters your body, your womb absorbs it?
What is the source of the statement?
Is this a red flag of sex-shaming and stigmatizing these contestants for being horny and having a high body count? Or is there truth to this bombshell?
After some research, it appears Carroll misconstrued a 2012 study referencing microchimerism (Mc), or the presence of a small amount of genetically distinct cells in an individual that originated from another individual.
This is where Carroll got things wrong: DNA is typically transferred during pregnancy, blood transfusions and organ transplants. It's not transferred through semen, nor does the study mention this subject.
Mary Jo Podgurski, R.N.C., Ed.D., director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach, founder of the Academy for Adolescent Health and adjunct professor at Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, said she's very aware of this 2012 study published in PLOS One.
"Debunking misinformation is important, particularly when it is used to dehumanize or judge others," Podgurski said.
The study states: "The most likely source of male Mc in female brain is acquisition of fetal Mc from pregnancy with a male fetus. In women without sons, male DNA can also be acquired from an abortion or a miscarriage."
A 2016 study of Danish girls did mention that intercourse may be a possible source of male Mc, however, researchers did not further investigate this aspect.
The actual facts as to whether or not DNA stays in a woman's body
"If a woman orgasms, the cervix actually dips into the fornix, potentially into said pool. Sperm are highly motile and will swim up through the cervix, even without that orgasmic cervical dip, and into the uterus where fertilization, hopefully, occurs," Babb said.
"If pregnancy does not occur, the sperm dies and is eliminated by the normal immune system in a woman's body," Babb added.
Sperm—and DNA—doesn't live inside the body for years, as the reality show's workshop leader claimed.
"Sperm can live up to seven days after ejaculation," Babb said.
"With pregnancy, however, the placenta is composed mainly of paternal DNA, so in that instance, yes, some would remain in the body, even potentially after pregnancy ends," he explained.
How does a woman's body work?
Gigi Engle, A.C.S., C.S.E., a journalist and certified sex educator living in the United Kingdom, said the reality show's information is inaccurate.
"You do not 'hold on' to someone's DNA after sex," Engle said. "Our bodies are very good at removing foreign substances. The vagina is a very spark-hostile environment. It is designed to kill sperm, which means only the 'strongest' survive to fertilize an egg. If an egg isn't fertilized, your body clears the sperm and, at the end, you're done."
Podgurski added: "If, indeed, sexual intercourse caused lifelong male Mc in female brains, I would theorize that all women who have had [unprotected] sex with men would exhibit male Mc. This is not the case, and would represent a large proportion of the population. More research may prove interesting, but making a statement of fact based on the existing research is not prudent."
Using science to create judgment
"A lack of common awareness of the scientific method can lead to erroneous conclusions which can not only spread misinformation on social media but also result in judgment of others," Podgurski said.
Engle explained that this type of belief is a part of purity culture, which negatively impacts people by slut-shaming them or setting people up to think they are "dirty" or "bad."
While Carroll did some good in her workshop by encouraging the contestants to get in touch with their inner selves and work toward deeper connections in future relationships, her misinformation could have been left out.
"That's the real crux of this dangerous and incorrect information," Engle said. "Sex is a normal, human function, and no one is leaving some kind of imprint on you. Again, this is just slut-shaming purity culture wrapped up in crystal-studded packaging. Don't fall for it."
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