The Sexist

Would Your Boyfriend Be “Pleased” By Your Surprise Fetus?


Sexist pet peeve: the persistent myth that women are all privately obsessed with producing tiny widdle babies. Working to debunk that assumption is a recent National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy study [PDF] which surveyed thousands of young Americans, aged 18 to 29, about their thoughts and perceptions about pregnancy. Guess which group is more likely to be "pleased" at an unplanned pregnancy? It's not the one with the silently weeping ovaries.

In order to gauge the "surprise fetus" reaction, NCPTUP researchers first isolated survey respondents who claimed it was "very important or somewhat important for them to avoid pregnancy right now." Then, researchers asked them how they would feel about an unplanned pregnancy:

If you found out today that (you were/your partner was) pregnant, how would you feel: Very upset, a little upset, a little pleased, very pleased, wouldn’t care.

Results: Staggeringly gendered! Forty-three percent of young men responded that they would be "a little pleased" or "very pleased" by the news; only 20 percent of women answered the same. Men also proved more comfortable with an unplanned pregnancy at an earlier age: Thirty-four percent of men 18-19 said they would be pleased. By the time they reach age 20-24, 42 percent of men said they would be pleased. And over 50 percent of men aged 25-29 would be pleased by the news. Remember: this is only among men who deemed it "important" that a pregnancy not occur at this junction.

Meanwhile, the percentage of women who would be "pleased" by an unplanned pregnancy stays steady at a low 16 percent all the way from age 18 to 24. By the time women reach the 25-29 age range, the percentage of "pleased" women soars to 29 percent. Despite the jump, women in their late 20s still lag behind their male counterparts by 22 percentage points. I don't know: Perhaps our joy is muted by the fact that unexpected pregnancies tend to put us ladies out a touch.

So, politely, what the fuck is going on? How many women out there are having sex under the assumption that their male partners are invested in teaming up to prevent pregnancy, only to discover that the guys are privately ecstatic about the idea? And could it happen to me? After all, my boyfriend falls into the Pleased By Surprise Fetus Danger Zone of age 25-29. Better safe than sorry:

me: Hey, would you agree that it's very important or somewhat important for us to avoid pregnancy right now?

him: What?

me: Don't worry, it's a theoretical question.

him: Christ. Very.

me: OK.

him: ??

me: If you found out today that I was pregnant, how would you feel: Very upset, a little upset, a little pleased, very pleased, wouldn’t care?

him: Hmm. Wouldnt care. I guess.

me: Just so you know, over half of men in your age range would be pleased or very pleased, even though they say it is important for them to not cause a pregnancy right now.

him: Oh, I would never have picked those.

Whew. I never thought I would register my boyfriend "not caring" about me getting pregnant as a small victory, but I'll take what I can get.

  • Shinobi

    My boyfriend and I call this the "Working Sperm" phenomenon. We think these guys are just excited to find out that their sperm works.

  • leah

    Curious. Does the level of involvement in the major life change have any impact? I mean, I might be less adverse to getting a root canal if I didn't have to actually have the procedure and then reaped the benefits of having had it. And painkillers.

  • Toysoldier

    Hess wrote: How many women out there are having sex under the assumption that their male partners are invested in teaming up to prevent pregnancy, only to discover that the guys are privately ecstatic about the idea?

    The response demonstrates a difference in a reaction to pregnancy. Taking the statistic out of context completely misrepresents the point the researchers made. In context:

    "The proportion of unmarried young adults who say they would like a baby right now if things in their lives were different is relatively high among those in their 20s and among all racial/ethnic groups—approaching
    or exceeding half of those surveyed in each group. Not surprisingly, the proportion of unmarried young adults who say they would like a baby right now if things were different in their lives is particularly high among those in cohabiting relationships (71% of men and 66% of women) and those in their late twenties (68% of men and 65% of women). Even among 18- and 19- year-olds, more than one-third of men and 45% of women say they would like a baby now under different circumstances. Across all subgroups, findings are relatively similar for men and women.

    Furthermore, even among those who say it is important to them to avoid pregnancy right now, nearly one-third say they would be at least a little pleased if they found out today that they or their partner were pregnant (Chart 28). The difference between men and women on this particular dimension is striking. The proportion of men who would be pleased about a pregnancy is more than twice that of women. The proportion also varies considerably by age and race/ethnicity. Surprisingly, there is little difference on this measure between those who are living together and those who are not. Across all subgroups, these findings of ambivalence may suggest a growing difficulty among many unmarried young adults in charting a path from the present to the future, as well as balancing family aspirations with other life goals."

    In other words, most people want a family and as a result if an unwanted pregnancy occurs at least one-third of them would be pleased. Put another way, the conclusion is that men react differently to unwanted pregnancies compared to women, not that men are less invested in preventing unwanted pregnancies than women. Of course, one must also take into consideration that it is less acceptable for men to express displeasure about an unwanted pregnancy, so one should consider whether the men who responded are actually pleased or whether they are responding as is expected of them. What is more shocking is that anyone actually thinks the appropriate response a man should have to finding out his girlfriend is pregnant is displeasure or indifference.

    That said, it would be interesting to know the breakdown of the men and women who answered that they would be a little upset, very upset or would not care about an unwanted pregnancy, particularly the women. Those seem like important statistics, yet they are not reported in the study.

  • Em

    You know, I've noticed this personally. During a particular scare, I was freaking the hell out but my fiance was so zen about it. When it turned out to be just a scare, I was beyond relieved and he was sort of disappointed. Not that he would ever tamper with the sacred birth control, but still. Turns out he's not particularly ready to be a dad, but feels like he could be very quickly, whereas the thought of reproducing still makes me a little queasy.

    Maybe this is this way because as a woman, it's YOUR morning sickness, weight gain, pain and terror of childbirth. Not saying it's not an experience for a dude as well, but it's more of a vicarious than physical situation for them to be in.

  • Amanda Hess


    I'm planning on totally ignoring your larger argument, sorry about that. But you raise one of the more perplexing aspects of this study. Many young people reported that "they would like a baby right now if things in their lives were different." So ... young people would want different things "right now" if things in their lives were different? This seems to be a particularly useless finding. I would like a car right now if things in my life were different ... things that required me to use a car for transportation, and afforded me the excess cash to buy said car. I would want to eat a sandwich right now if things in my life were different ... like if I hadn't just eaten that bagel. I would like a baby right now if things in my life were different ... like I suddenly developed a strong interest in having a baby.

  • Susan B.

    To be fair, there's a difference between emotional reactions and reponsible, intellectual reactions. We could view it as a good sign that, those these guys do kind of want to have babies on an emotional level, they know that the timing and circumstances have to be right for such a serious commitment.

    Unfortunately, this'll give the pop-evolutionary psychologists something to go wild with. (Men want lots of offspring, women are choosier about mates, etc.)

  • LeftSidePositive

    I'm still trying to wrap my head around Toysoldier's claim that "it is less acceptable for a man to express displeasure about unwanted pregnancy." Say what??? We don't seem to have any shortage of fathers who up & left their significant others when the pregnancy test was positive. And, we sure as hell have a lot of groups who vilify and berate women who are displeased with their unwanted pregnancy.

    And, why would they respond "what is expected of them" on a random survey? It's not like the researchers were in cahoots with the girlfriend who would pretend to give them the news (try getting an IRB for that one!!).

  • Melissa

    "I’m still trying to wrap my head around Toysoldier’s claim that 'it is less acceptable for a man to express displeasure about unwanted pregnancy.'"

    Haha, yeah. Maybe that's the case where he lives. You know, in opposite-land.

  • DirkJohanson


    When a guy was displeased about an unwanted pregnancy, he was ripped to shreds by scores of women, including Amanda, right here on this blog:

  • Melissa

    The best example you can come up with is a case where the woman was pregnant with the baby of the man who raped her? Really?

  • DirkJohanson


    Not the best, just the first.



  • Melissa

    Ok. If you can think of a single valid way to illustrate a subculture in which men are expected to be more eager to have a baby, and considered more likely to be pleased at the idea of a pregnancy, I'll be all ears.

    Here in the United States of America, there's a perception (not necessarily a valid one, but it exists nonetheless) that women all love babies and want to be mothers, whereas men panic at the thought of fatherhood.

  • DirkJohanson

    Hey, Melissa, truth be told, I even panic at the thought of unclehood. I'm one of those eternal adolescents they keep talking about in the news. I'm 47, never been married, no kids.

    My brother had a kid a couple of years ago, and another last year. If something happens to him, my sister-in-law, her parents, her brother, her sister-in-law, my parents, and my 94 year-old grandmother, I might have to end up raising those kids.

    I'm only 9 heartbeats away from being a parent! That's a lot to worry about for a guy like me.

  • Melissa

    That's your right. It's also not remotely relevant to the point at hand.
    (And yeah, I get that you're trying to be funny, but it's early.)

  • Jordan

    Clearly the meme that women all want babies and tying down men is false, but that does not mean as Melissa and Amanda are saying that we are not invested in being partners with women in choosing when and if to have children.

    That is a leap to the other extreme.

    Toysoldier make this point perfectly. As a feminist I just don't understand this brand being pushed. We have spent so much time working to increase the importance of fatherhood in men. Not simply for heteronormative culturalization, but the understanding that people need as much help to raise a child as possible. Having a partner duck out is detrimental to the upbringing of a child. That so many men would want to keep an unexpected pregnancy are steps in the right direction to valuing parenting.

  • Cara

    THIS is the world in which Toy Soldier's claim is relevant. Men who have any feminist friends (which hopefully in 2010 is quite a few) should feel that its unacceptable to have the knee-jerk reaction in Fast Times at Ridgemont High to a sexual partners' pregnancy. And it's important to note this isnt the reaction they have to an unwanted pregnancy, it's the reaction they give a study when asked about a hypothetical unwanted pregnancy.

    I think, honestly, it may say more about the way that men and women feel differently about responsibility and how their lives will change with a pregnancy. It would be a leap, though, to assume that means they do less to be a partner in prevention. I didn't see any evidence that they have different prevention practices based on that.

  • Q!

    This is a good article. ToySoldier and Susan B. are on target. Stereotypes aside, this poll/survey shouldn't be taken as endorsement for unexpected pregnancy and men's reaction. However, it does shed at least a faint light on the fact that some cultural norms are winning out. Now, I'm still trying to interpret what "pleased" means. Happy that you may have a little one is one thing. Happy that you are ready for the commitment of fatherhood (or run the risk of paying Child Support) is something entirely different.

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  • Amanda Hess

    Two points on this:

    First, the study does suggest that young men are less invested in pregnancy prevention and more likely to believe pregnancy myths than women are ("29% of women and 42% of men say it is at least slightly likely they will have unprotected sex in the next three months"; "Perhaps not surprisingly, men seem to know less about pregnancy risk than women"). But more on this point tomorrow!

    Second, even if your partner is as invested as you are in preventing pregnancy, there's another option that comes between becoming unexpectedly pregnant and giving birth to a child: abortion. I imagine that the gap between the "pleased" men and "upset" women has a lot to do with that option.(Unfortunately, this study did not survey people about their attitudes toward abortion).

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  • Toysoldier


    The finding may be obvious, however, the researchers may have asked the question in an attempt to show one of the underlying reasons why people, particularly young people, engage in unprotected sex. One could argue that a person who wants to do something in the future or in the right circumstances may more likely engage in behaviors that would lead to doing that thing. In other words, young people who want children eventually may more likely to engage in unprotected sex. It could be an unconscious behavior, meaning that they willfully engage in unprotected sex without intentionally trying to cause pregnancy.

    As for the statistics you quoted in the above post, the actual breakdown is "17% of women and 19% of men surveyed freely admit it is either extremely or quite likely that they will have unprotected sex in the next three months. An additional 12% of women and 23% of men say it is slightly likely they will have unprotected sex in the near future. Put another way, 29% of women and 42% of men say it is at least slightly likely they will have unprotected sex in the next three months."

    The actual breakdown shows that the rate of women and men who with will not use protection is virtually equal. The difference lies in those who state they are slightly less likely to use protection. The breakdown suggests not necessarily a lack of male investment in pregnancy prevention, but rather that men will have sex, most likely at the spur of the moment, even if they do not have protection. Likewise, the actual breakdown of women and men who believe myths about pregnancy simply demonstrates men's lack of adequate knowledge about women's bodies and about the types of protection women use, However, when it comes to knowledge about the effectiveness of birth control pills and IUDs, both groups appear to be equally uninformed. Similarly, women are slightly more likely to believe they will become pregnant regardless of whether they use birth control.

    What the study shows is that people say one thing while doing another, and that people, particularly young people, are quite misinformed or uninformed about the actual risks associated with unwanted pregnancy.

  • Amanda Hess

    "What the study shows is that people say one thing while doing another, and that people, particularly young people, are quite misinformed or uninformed about the actual risks associated with unwanted pregnancy."

    I agree! However, young people are not equally uninformed, as you claim, about hormonal methods like birth control pills. According to the study, men and women are virtually equally uninformed about condoms. However, men are SIGNIFICANTLY more uninformed about birth control pills than women are. I agree that this can be partially attributed to "men’s lack of adequate knowledge about women’s bodies and about the types of protection women use," and that's something we need to focus on educating young men about.

  • Toysoldier

    Educating men is important, but comparatively speaking I think educating women about the actual effectiveness of birth control pills is more important since they are the ones who take the pills. It is far more troubling that a significant number of women actually believe that taking birth control pills put them at serious health risks than it is that men do not know how the pills work, especially since, according to the survey, those women may be less likely to take the pill or take it consistently as a result.

    I am more concerned about men lacking knowledge about proper condom use and women lacking knowledge about proper birth control pill use than either gender knowing less about the others' methods of pregnancy prevention.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Oh, look, Toysoldier is telling us YET AGAIN what our priorities should be.

    Look at the ridiculous sense of entitlement that brushes off the responsibility of birth control with "they are the ones who take the pills."

    And, yes, birth control pills are overall a very safe medication, but they are not for everyone, especially if you smoke or are at risk of blood clots, or have dangerous hypertension.

    Both genders need to know about birth control methods, whether they are applied to one body or another. This attitude that individuals shouldn't need to be involved in their partner's health is dangerous, not least because people are much more likely to be adherent to medication/behavior modification if they have a support system.

    But, it's nice to know that Toysoldier will tell us what women should be focused on, and why men shouldn't have to be focused on the same thing.

    Don't You Have More Important Things to Think About:

    As with the best of all these techniques, this step operates on several levels. First of all, it communicates to the Marginalised Person™ that you think the entire debate is trivial and below consideration, indicating you entirely disregard their feelings and emotions. Secondly, you disown responsibility for your part in the debate and anything that you’ve said that may have been discriminatory or offensive.

    Finally, you reinforce your Privilege® by suggesting that it is Privileged People’s® job to set the agenda for the Marginalised Group™. After all, how could they possibly know what issues they should prioritise for themselves, they’re far too inferior and stupid! You, with your objective, ractional Privileged® perspective, on the other hand, know exactly what is most important and it is definitely not confronting you with your own bigotry and ignorance!

  • Marshall


    It seems to me like you're jumping the gun in your response to Toy Soldier. He's not at all telling you that your argument is meaningless and stupid--he's just saying that it'd be better for women to know about how to use the pill and for men to learn how to use condoms.

    To use a potentially informative analogy, let's say I have asthma. I have a prescription for an inhaler that could save my life in the event of a particularly dangerous attack. In those circumstances, which is worse: that I am ignorant of how to use the medication that might save my life, or that my partner be ignorant of how to use said medication?

    Now, where the analogy breaks down is in the fact that it takes two people to make a baby. But a man knowing how to use the pill really doesn't help prevent unwanted pregnancies if his girlfriend / casual partner has no idea how it works. I can imagine it would be made that much worse by the man not knowing how to use a condom.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Marshall, I think it has more to do with the fact that I've heard his arguments before, and this follows a VERY longstanding pattern of him minimizing women's concerns, and saying we're not doing enough FOR MEN.

    Sarah, I wanted you to demonstrate that feminists actually do challenge anti-male ads. It is easy to say one is against something. Actually being against it is a different story and that is my point. If feminists regularly opposed such ads or supported campaigns like those launched by Glenn Sacks , one should have no problem finding examples. It appears, however, you cannot find any prominent or popular examples, and instead you fall back on sexist feminist rhetoric.

    LeftSidePositive, a one-sided compromise is an insult to one’s dignity, and that is how many men feel, i.e. that it is always their interests, hobbies and autonomy that must be compromised. As I said before, no one actually wants to address why so many men think that, especially when it is much easier to mock them. Regarding feminists groups addressing men’s issues, it is a matter of hypocrisy, not expectation. One cannot claim to oppose sexism yet in turn support or turn a blind eye to sexism against men.

  • LeftSidePositive

    And another one:

    Secondly, males and females have different sexual health needs. As a result of women being able to get pregnant, they face several health issues males do not. It is not burdening women to suggest that women and only women bear the responsibility for their own sexual health needs. And while I cannot be certain, I am fairly convinced that there are no women getting prostate examines on men’s behalf or getting tested for sperm counts or getting checked for testicular cancer.Those are burdens that do not fall to women, along with issues like erectile dysfunction, circumcision, ligament damage, etc.

    So I do not see how women are unfairly burdened.

    [and on the same thread]

    So while the vaccine may potentially address medical problems men can get, the medical problems themselves are rare and uncommon. To echo Richard’s point, if the evidence showed the vaccine provided equal or greater benefits for males it would support Hess’ point. However, according to the CDC the evidence does not, in which case there is simply the assertion that the vaccine is just as beneficial to males.

    That said, how the Gardasil vaccine constitutes an unfair burden to women remains unclear.


    However, even giving Hess the benefit of doubt, why focus on HPV? Prostate cancer effects 1 in 6 of men. HIV/AIDS effects thousands of men in the United States, as does herpes and hep B. Many men experience erectile dysfunction. Why pick the one instance in which feminists advocate vaccinating men specifically to lower women’s risks for contracting a virus? Why not pick a more problematic sexual health concern for men and perhaps link to organizations like The Prostate Cancer Foundation and help raise awareness about a very serious sexual health problem men face?

    and the utterly inexcusable

    So the focus on HPV rather than on HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes and Syphilis, all of which present far more potential health risks for men, seems odd if the concern is actually about men’s reproductive health needs rather than a perceived inequity regarding a vaccine for a virus that rarely results in health risks for men.

    It just seems more prudent and important to focus on diseases that impact men more.

  • LeftSidePositive

    And yet another:

    While I understand the feminist need to paint sexual violence as only male-on-female, it would still be best to present an accurate representation of the rate of sexual violence against males rather than framing male victimization as negligible and irrelevant.

    Succinctly put, it is not necessary to downplay sexual violence against males in order to discussion sexual violence against females.

    I think the reason feminists balk at this concept is because it not only means that their overbroad definition of rape will become more reasonable, it also means there is the possibility women could be considered rapists as a result of following this logic, and as Justine demonstrates above feminists do not think it is possible for any female to sexually assault or rape men or boys.

    (for the record, Justine actually said "That’s obvious John…either partner can choose to stop at anytime…women are smaller though, and can easily be made submissive. My boyfriend can easily crush me…there’s absolutely no way I could force him to have sex unless he was unconscious or highly drugged." and responded "Toysoldier: I did not demonstrate that, I demonstrated that women are smaller in GENERAL and that anyone who is made to feel powerless can be raped.")

    As for the other comments, considering the nature of my experiences, I am quite familiar with the feminist position on male consent and sexual violence against males, and I would not ally with anyone harboring such dangeous views.

    I think I'll stop get the general idea. As you can see, my patience is pretty thin at this point.

  • Emily H.

    Surprised that anyone, at all, would profess to be "very pleased" about a pregnancy that they also thought it was very important to prevent... the mysteries of human psychology never cease. I do think, though, that in many social circles it's considered more admirable for men to be excited/happy about an unexpected baby, rather than upset and resentful. (I might be agreeing with Toysoldier here, but I don't know/care because I didn't read his comment.) A guy would probably rather think of himself rising to the occasion, gallantly helping his lady friend, & becoming a great dad, rather than rejecting the baby. Just think of in "Knocked Up," where the protagonist becomes admirable because he learns to love is situation & he's psyched to become a father. Sure, there are many cases in real life where a guy hates kids & abandons his pregnant girlfriend; but most educated, middle-class guys probably wouldn't want to see themselves in that "cad" role. So they emphasize the positive in guessing how they'd respond. Whereas the women most likely have a more realistic reaction, since they'd be the one to get all big & hormonal, & possibly do most of the child-rearing.

    Also, I think it's a big flaw that this study doesn't distinguish between "a little upset, because having a child wouldn't be that bad" and "a little upset, because I'd definitely have an abortion." Those are pretty different reactions.

  • Emily H.

    Learns to love HIS situation, not "is."

  • gina

    I'd just like to say, I'm pleased to learn I'm not the only woman who would be very disturbed to learn about an unwanted pregnancy. Personally, any pregancy would be unwanted and I can't imagine my opnion changing, but until that (farfetched) possibly does, I'm also happy to know my partner would be equally very disturbed and not secretly happy he has produced spawn.

  • Wild Rebel

    Yes, God forbid the lowly man would have his own expectations and we'd care what the man thinks in this situation.

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  • Jenn

    If you want my honest oppinion. I don't think the guys are being honest with themselves when they answered the question. My daughter's father kept talking about how happy he would be to be a father and was so excited about my pregnancy at first, but when my stomach started growing, he never went to a prenatal appointment, didn't show up to the delivery, and now he calls once in a bluemoon when it's convienent but doesn't spend time with his daughter. My daughter is almost 3 years old and doesn't even know who her dad is. He likes to post pics on his site talking about he misses her and likes to brag that he's a father, but he doesn't act like one at all.