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Mary, the mother of Jesus (pictured), probably raised a few eyebrows when she announced her birth, despite being a virgin. Now, according to a new study, some U.S. women are claiming to be virgins–even after getting pregnant.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health examined data from about 8,000 participants in their study who reported their sexual history over a span of 19 years; over 5,000 of these subjects became pregnant and 45 of them, or 0.8 percent, did so without having intercourse. The women who claimed virginal pregnancies also state they received no fertility procedures such as in-vitro fertilization.

The study clinicians were led by Amy Herring, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at UNC, who discusses the self-described virginal moms in a university press release : “Actually, we weren’t looking for virgin births at all. While analyzing data for a separate project that examined correlates of virginity in adulthood, we were surprised to discover that a number of these individuals who stated they were virgins also reported pregnancies. Once we confirmed these were not programming errors, we became interested in understanding factors related to this type of response pattern.”

Dr. Herring also said that the women were never asked if they were virgins at any point during the study. She goes on to state, “It is important to note that these women did not report their experiences directly as virgin pregnancies,” she said. “They answered a series of questions on pregnancy history and on history of vaginal intercourse, from which virginity status at the time of pregnancy was derived.”

Interestingly, the younger study participants, averaging 19 years in age, claimed virginal births. The women in this category were also, for the most part, informed about pregnancy barrier methods such as condom use but were also less knowledgeable on how to use them. Of those who said they became pregnant as virgins, 31 percent also said they had signed chastity pledges; 15 percent of non-virgins who became pregnant said they had signed such pledges in which a girl vows not to have sex until she marries.

Dr. Herring is not aware of any human births that have been attributed to virginal women.

The researchers have surmised that there is room for error in the study and some of the women may have actually misunderstood the true meaning of virginity, or did not have a full understanding of the definition of sexual intercourse.

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