Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Persistence of Sperm

Biology has a way of confounding our social expectations. And in some cases this leads to a curious variant of non-paternity event. Sensitive readers might want to skip on to the next post.

The particular incident I have in mind occurred among US military personnel and their families stationed in Germany. The Caucasian wife of a Caucasian army non-com gave birth to a child with obvious African-American heritage. Aha, we say, we know what went on here – an obvious case of marital infidelity, one of the classic sources of NPE. Well, yes and no. In this case, the mother had not had sex with anyone but her husband and there was no accident in an in vitro lab either.

Her husband, however, had been having an affair with the wife of an African-American soldier. She had had sex with her husband shortly before then having sex with her lover – who then went home and had sex with his wife. While we can marvel at the degree of lust and capacity of these individuals, the real standout here was sperm. The child in question was product of sperm from the second husband that had attached itself to the adulterer’s penis and then escaped into the first wife’s uterus.

The different ethnic origins of the people involved here made the outcome apparent, but the lesson is that pregnancies result from the joining of a sperm and an ovum – however that conjunction occurs. We can’t assume an NPE results from a wife’s infidelity – it could be the husband who brought home some persistent sperm. However it arrives, sperm may still be viable and result in a pregnancy. I recall a story that made the rounds when I was in college about a co-ed who claimed she had gotten pregnant after putting on a pair of her roommate's panties by mistake – well, perhaps I shouldn’t have been so skeptical!

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