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Decoding America's Virgin Births

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Dec 18, 2013 07:20 AM EST
pregnant woman
A pregnant woman in this file photo. (Photo : Creative Commons via Flickr/futurestreet)

A latest research by The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows about one percent of young women in the U.S. claiming that they became pregnant while still a virgin.

Many species such as sharks produce asexually and reproduction could be classified as a 'virgin birth' In them. However, such births have never been documented in humans, except during artificial insemination (or divine intervention).

Now researchers in a published research paper titled "Like a virgin (mother)" say that they have found young mothers claiming to have achieved this impossible feat.

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For the study, researchers analyzed data obtained from nearly 7,870 women enrolled in the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health). All participants in the confidential research were interviewed several times during the 14-year-long study period.

Of the 7,870 women in the study, 0.5 (45) percent consistently reported that they became pregnant while still virgins, according to a news release.

None of these women had undergone in-vitro fertilization.

"Our first thought was that we had made a programming error," Amy Herring, a professor of biostatistics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the researchers of the study, told LiveScience.

"We didn't ask the participants, specifically, if they gave birth as a virgin. Instead, they answered a series of questions on pregnancy history and a separate series of questions on vaginal intercourse," Herring added, according to Livescience. "Based on [these] two sets of questions, we derived the virginity status at the time of pregnancy."

The scientists found that the women who got pregnant did have sex but believed that it was 'immaculate conception because they were more likely to have signed chastity pledge and had lower levels of communication with their parents about sex and reproduction.

The study shows that scientists need to account for religious beliefs and memory when designing questionnaires about sensitive topics such as sexual health.

The study was published in the Christmas edition of BMJ. Each year, the journal publishes non-traditional science articles that show scientists' sense of humor. Other research papers that have featured in the journal include one that assessed whether James Bond suffers from alcohol-induced tremors while another showed an apple a day does keep the doctor away.

Researchers in the present study added that self-report of virgin birth wasn't limited to women.

"In fact, there were a few virgin fathers lurking around in the data as well," Herring told Livescience. "That's a little harder to wrap my head around."

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