The WRISK Project: Does oral sex prevent miscarriage?

The WRISK project is a fantastic initiative from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) - in collaboration with Heather Trickey at the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University & the Wellcome Trust - that's aiming to improve communication of risk messages relating to pregnancy:

Women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant receive many public health messages that are intended to guide their decision making.

For example, they receive advice about what to eat, drink, how much they should weigh, and what medications they should or shouldn’t take. These messages are intended to improve outcomes for babies and mothers.

However, there is growing concern that messages do not always fully reflect or explain the evidence base underpinning them, and that negotiating the risk landscape can sometimes feel confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering.

This may negatively affect women’s experiences of pregnancy and motherhood, and be exacerbated by a wider culture of parenting that tends to blame mothers for all less-than-ideal outcomes in their children.


And this set of crazy headlines - reporting the findings of a recently-published study that suggested that ‘Regularly swallowing your partner's semen could protect against miscarriage’ - couldn’t be more confusing, overwhelming, and disempowering.

Because what discussion of an incredibly painful topic such as pregnancy loss needs, is jokes about giving head…

And creating even more guilt and shame for women who are already likely to be blaming themselves for their losses, with manipulative pressure to perform sex acts.

Initially I assumed this was ‘just’ lazy, clickbait journalism, or an April fool - but it turned out to be a genuine study from researchers at the University of Leiden, published in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.

I took to Twitter and posted some incisive commentary on this story…

(Nah, of course I didn’t - I took to Twitter and posted a massive rant about what a load of emotionally manipulative bullshit it was)

…and asked fertility experts weigh in with their thoughts on the (in)validity of this study.

The team at the WRISK Project saw my thread (<cough> rant), and got in touch with me to ask me if I’d be up for writing a guest post about this tabloid frenzy - which I jokingly started referring to as #blowjobgate - for their blog.

Which I did.

And you can read the full piece here: The WRISK Project: Does oral sex prevent miscarriage?


The TL;DR version

If you can't be bothered to read the article, here's the TL;DR:

  • No, blowjobs do not prevent miscarriages

  • Swallowing semen is not a cure for pregnancy loss

  • This study is misogynistic garbage

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk


The response

The experts who weighed into the discussion on Twitter were universally critical of the study, and expressed serious concerns about the review process that led to this being published by a supposedly reputable journal (which you can read about in the full piece) .

I was absolutely terrified that as a non-scientist I was going to get something really, badly wrong - so the positive response to the article from the likes of BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health was incredibly gratifying:

I’m so angry that such bad science, causing so much pain and distress, was published in the first place - here’s hoping that they don’t get funding for a follow up study…