Maybe you’ve just stumbled across the subgenre (kink, whatever we want to call it). Maybe you’ve been a fan for a while. Doesn’t really matter—mpreg exists, as we know.
But how did it even get started?
As it turns out, humans have a pretty long history of imagining dudes getting knocked up, actually.
Throw It Back to the Norse
Now, I say there’s a long history of male pregnancy in human culture. There’s considerable debate about whether it exists in much ancient literature.
In Ancient Greece, we have the deity Hermaphroditus, who is both male and female. (It’s where we get the word hermaphrodite.) There’s not really a lot of myth around this particular deity getting knocked up. Even if there were, Hermaphroditus is not male per se, but male and female. More a representation of intersex or nonbinary or trans folks, if anything.
It still suggests that people have known about a gender (or even sex) binary being bullshit for a long time. We can then look across other cultures to see this phenomenon as well. Some Indigenous Peoples in North America have well-documented histories of Two-Spirit people (which Europeans gave the derogatory name berdache). In India, there’s the hijras. There are the Thai kathoeys, who represent a valid third gender there.
All these groups have some fraught histories. But the point of the matter is that they’ve existed, historically, for a very long time. And third genders, gender non-conforming folks, trans folks, intersex folks are also represented within the realm of myth.
Okay, so where does that leave us with mpreg in particular?
One of the most obvious stories we have is the tale of Loki, the Norse trickster god.
Are the Loki Myths Actually Mpreg?
One tale goes that Loki, being a shapeshifter, was employed by the other gods to stop a giant from completing his work on time. (The gods would have to fulfill their end of the bargain if he managed to finish up on time. They didn’t want to, so hey! Sabotage.) Loki decided the best way to do this was to seduce the giant’s horse.
So Loki turned into a mare and led the giant’s horse off. Loki-as-a-mare banged the stallion and got knocked up. Eventually, Loki gives birth to the eight-legged horse Sleipnir.
There’s a technical problem in calling this story about Loki male pregnancy to a degree. Loki turns into a female horse. Biologically, he’s is sporting female goods at that point, which makes the pregnancy possible. Loki does not turn back until after he’s given birth to Sleipnir.
Now, because Loki isn’t in masculine/male form at the time, it could be argued this isn’t really mpreg. But in a lot of ways, it is, actually. Loki maintains a male identity throughout this ordeal, which would make Loki something akin to trans here.
At the very least, we can agree he’s doing some gender bending, which blurs the lines. We have a masculine deity occupying a female body. Is Loki thus female during this ordeal, or is he still male? In the case of the former, we might read Loki as a trans woman. In such case, this isn’t mpreg (it’s just plain old preg). Yet, since Loki maintains his male identity, he’d be akin a trans man here—so this is indeed mpreg.
Some Myth Variants Do Give Us Mpreg
All right, how about another tale involving Loki? The Norse sure liked to pick on this poor guy.
In this story, Loki is said to have eaten the heart of the giant Angrboda. By doing so, he became pregnant with three children: the wolf Fenrir, the world serpent Jormungandr, and Hel.
Now, there are two variants of this myth. In the first one, Loki and Angrboda beget the kids the normal way, and Angrboda gives birth. In the second variant, Loki eats her heart and does the childbearing himself. (It should be noted here that, while this version is sometimes accepted, the fragment we have is obscure and difficult to trace back to Angrboda. Some interpret it as the witch Gullveig. Others suggest Angrboda and Gullveig are one and the same. The poem itself makes no mention of whom the heart belonged to, just that Loki ate it.)
If we accept the variant where Loki eats the heart of a woman and begets a child (or three), we have a strong argument for mpreg here.
Of course, as noted, there are variants of the myth. The most accepted versions have Loki as father and Angrboda (or Gullveig) as mother. No one eats a heart. In some versions where Loki eats the heart, there is no mention of the children being born of this act. So this third variant is something of a rarity, although it’s common enough.
If we accept the third variant, though, then it’s a strong argument for mpreg. There’s no shapeshifting involved this time. Loki does not transform into a “female” form to seduce anyone, nor does he engage in sexual intercourse.
It’s Definitely Not a Good Thing
Of course, this myth suggests this is totally unnatural. Angrboda is a giant; Gullveig is a witch. Both are associated with the “monstrous.” And Loki’s act of eating the heart is similarly monstrous. In this third variant, the way he becomes impregnated is completely unnatural and abnormal. And the three children—Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel—are all monstrous, unnatural children destined to be involved in Ragnarok and ending the Aesir. Fenrir in particular will kill Odin and in turn be killed by another of the Aesir.
Thus we can see this story as suggesting this “unnatural” act is a threat to the world order. Thus, we might draw the conclusion here that men should not get pregnant, or that mpreg is unnatural and thus a threat. Remember that myth is a framework for understanding the world around us; thus, the story relating this suggests that we ought to understand such an act as monstrous and unnatural. That is just not the way nature works, nor is it intended to work that way.
But it is interesting that within the body of Norse mythology, we have essentially what amounts to mpreg. Much like we’ve been aware of sex/gender binaries being bullshit, we have also considered the possibility of dudes getting knocked up.
From Myth to Science Fiction
I’ve written before about how science is largely a framework for understanding the world around us. In that sense, it’s similar to mythology. Mythology may seem like “magical thinking” to us. But our ancestors used it to explain what they saw in the world around them.
So we can see that the existence of a god like Hermaphroditus could be a way of explaining intersex individuals.
One ancient writer even suggests that intersex people are the deity himself—coming “rarely” among humans. Other myths suggest Hermaphroditus asked the gods to transform the pool that transformed them into a place that would transform others if they wanted.
Similarly, we might see Loki’s gender-bending activities as a way of explaining genderqueer folks. The takeaway here might be that genderqueer people have existed among human populations for pretty much all of history.
Myth is a framework for understanding our world and science is a sort of narrative paradigm in a similar vein. It thus follows that we also use “science” as a framework to explore and explain these ideas.
Science Fiction Reimagines the World (and Social Realities)
We move to speculative fiction to explore these ideas more thoroughly. The idea that intersex people exist or that trans men can give birth is not new. And thus we can see that we have—and have likely always had—“real life” mpreg. Science has also speculated on whether a cisgender man could get pregnant and carry a child to term; current consensus on that is that it would be possible, but not feasible.
Within the realm of fiction, we’re free to explore scientific possibility. That’s where we begin to see arguments about artificial wombs, the breakdown of gender, and more. Even the popular alpha/beta/omega system creates a scientific basis for the exploration of sex and gender.
Many of the writers who explore these issues are cisgender women. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness depicts a society where anyone can experience pregnancy, decoupling reproductive function from identity. Octavia E. Butler explores similar themes.
What’s the point of exploring something assumed to be inherently female by mapping it to a male body? In doing so, we begin to critically reflect on what it means to be male or female, man or woman.
Mpreg is thus explored in both “serious” fiction and in kink fic. It’s often anchored to shapeshifters—like Loki—or to scientific advances. Sometimes it’s magic that allows mpreg to take place; we can attribute Loki’s childbearing to the supernatural. Shifter fic might ask us to consider various ways of looking at sex and gender from the animal kingdom.
A Look at the Lighter Side of Taboo
Yet mpreg is not the sole domain of kink fic or speculative fiction. It shows up in other places—often treated as comedic. Take, for example, the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Junior. It was widely panned, but the central premise is that a scientist accidentally gets himself knocked up. Obviously, this is a way of playing with hyper-masculinity versus something so often deemed to be inherently feminine. This is “taboo,” a crossing-of-lines that we’re asked to see as funny or strange. The “comedy” often comes from the idea masculinity somehow prevents men from being “good mothers” (or, more accurately, good parents). The idea is that a man cannot be maternal; he lacks the requisites for it. Yet there is a question there—could a man be maternal, if given the opportunity?
As I noted above, science’s current consensus is yes. And male humans are most certainly capable of providing emotional support to their offspring, much the way we expect female humans to be maternal. In short, men can totally adopt a maternal role; society tells them they can’t.
The Sinister Side of the Joke
The idea they can’t supposedly hinges on biology. The person who carried the child is assumed to have a stronger connection to the child. The infant, psychologists tell us, has difficulty separating itself from its mother, because it started off totally dependent. It takes time to develop a separate sense of “self.”
We so often assume male animals are thus incapable of having that deep, deep bond. And, the converse is true: we assume maternal care springs forth naturally from having carried the child. And it’s true that female mammals do invest more “resources” in a single offspring for that reason.
But it also allows us to suggest male humans in particular don’t care for their children in the same way. It suggests their “caring” is different and shallower, because they don’t have the same maternal bond. And that is then used to give us stereotypes like the “completely incompetent father” and Babysitter Dad. Those then contrast against the hyper-competent mother. She knows immediately and instinctively what to do; Dad has no idea. Somehow, having a womb gives her this innate knowledge about how to care for an infant.
That’s a big problem! It makes it difficult for mothers who don’t know what they’re doing to ask for help. And men often feel shuttered out of childcare, even though they crave deep bonds with their children.
So mpreg is a way of exploring the question: is a male capable of this? Can men mother?
Society’s answer is that no, men cannot mother. So we see a man who is out of his depth, coming up against “the feminine” at every turn.
Even Cartoons Get in on the Act
But the truth is, we’re fascinated by the idea. That’s why we see it pop up, even in unexpected places. I distinctly remember watching a Ren and Stimpy episode where Ren campaigns to become the new fairy king. He doesn’t realize that entails being made into something like a queen termite. Ren campaigns to take the job because he’s sick of how things are run. But it turns out their “ruler” isn’t actually doing any governing.
Fairies are also the target of mpreg in Fairly OddParents. Here, fairy reproduction is still centered on a heterosexual couple in Wanda and Cosmo. But, as Timmy learns, fairies reverse the role of who carries the child; when Wanda and Cosmo have baby Poof, it’s Cosmo who does the pregnancy shtick. This is played for laughs, as Cosmo is a “sitcom male”: dumb as a sack of bricks, outlandish, childish, and requiring Wanda’s worrying and good sense to keep him in line. Wanda is a stereotypical “mother” to a degree, but Cosmo takes on the “mothering” role with Poof. This raises all kinds of questions: why do female fairies like Wanda have breasts, for example? Obviously, this is a kids’ show, so the ins and outs of the scenario aren’t ever explored. Mpreg for fairies is simply presented as fact.
Yet that it’s canonical in a kids’ show again points back to our fascination with the very idea. Why wouldn’t fairy reproduction be different than human reproduction? Cosmo is a prime example of what we call “seahorse biology,” a trope often invoked by writers to justify mpreg.
So, Can We Trace Out a History for Mpreg?
Not really. Unlike omegaverse, there’s not necessarily a lineage or a genesis for mpreg. It seems to have existed since time immemorial. (I mean, we can even see Zeus giving birth to Athena—who springs fully formed from his forehead—as a kind of mpreg.) That means mpreg is one of those universals, something that intrigues us, that seems taboo, that we explore hesitantly. It’s often associated with magic or the supernatural. In other cases, it’s played as a joke—and almost always, it’s an inversion of nature, something considered unnatural.
That is, until it ends up in the hands of women and/or queer writers, who seem more willing to explore possibility—perhaps because they are more willing to ponder beyond the “norms” society tells us exists. And perhaps that’s because their entire experience already exists, to varying degrees, outside the realm of “normal.”