So, by now, you know what mpreg is. You’ve read a primer post on it, checked out some stories with the label, googled a few things, and you have it figured out.
Sometimes, the internet can kick back some weird stuff, though. Some of your search results have left you wondering. Or maybe you’re just an inquisitive mind. You see all these stories, and you’re wondering: is mpreg possible?
The answer is a bit more convoluted than you might think.
Does Mpreg Exist in Nature?
Before we dive into the specific situation with human beings, let’s look at the natural world. Surely, if mpreg is possible, there will be something out there that does it, right?
And you’d be right! Mpreg, as in a male animal getting pregnant, is something that happens in nature.
Now, it’s pretty rare. In fact, a handful of species rely on male pregnancy for reproduction.
Seahorses, and their close relatives pipefish and sea dragons, have a reproductive system where the males become pregnant.
How the heck does that work?
Instead of the male possessing a penis to penetrate the female, the female has an ovipositor. This functions much the same way a penis would: it’s a long appendage that penetrates and deposits gametes.
In the case of seahorses, pipefish, and sea dragons, though, the female does the penetration and deposits eggs.
The males possess pouches, which is where the female deposits the eggs. The male then releases sperm into the pouch to fertilize the eggs.
This is completely inverse of how humans and most other species handle things.
There are a few other species where the female penetrates the male, but it doesn’t result in pregnancy. For example, one species of insect has the female penetrate the male to retrieve sperm, which is a nutritious snack for the female. The females of this species don’t get pregnant; they lay the fertilized eggs instead.
Chimeras and Intersex Individuals
Aside from seahorses and their relatives, there are no species that use male pregnancy as a primary mode of reproduction.
Most other species do have chimeras or intersex individuals. In many cases, these individuals end up being infertile, which means they can’t perform either function.
In some cases, though, the individual functions as one sex or even both. We see this most often in birds. Part of the reason for that is plumage. Most birds have sexual dimorphism, so it’s easy to spot a “chimera,” because the bird will have both female-pattern feathers and male-pattern feathers.
Chimeras thus look like “half-and-half,” usually. In female birds, only one ovary works anyway, and males and females both possess a cloaca. Males often have a rudimentary penis, but birds mate through something called the “cloacal kiss”—where the mating partners rub their cloacas together for mere seconds to transfer sperm.
Given that birds are also pretty indiscriminate about mating, it’s not unimaginable that a male bird might mate with a chimera, who could then produce an egg. The chimera might also go on to mate with a female bird.
Chimeras are probably more common than we know, not just in birds.
What does this mean? Usually, it means that there’s a “mix up” with the DNA, which can cause all kinds of reproductive differences. Nature is far from perfect, which means diversity is the order of the day.
Is Mpreg Possible for Humans?
The next question is whether real-life mpreg can happen in human beings.
You might have guessed from our discussion of chimerism in animals means intersex conditions occur in humans as well. You’d be right: intersex people are born all the time. Many of them don’t know they’re intersex, for a variety of reasons.
Some intersex conditions are only apparent if you do DNA testing. Some are “hidden” during childhood and puberty reveals the condition. Other intersex people don’t know they are intersex because “reassignment” surgery is performed without their knowledge or consent.
Many intersex individuals say such surgery is harmful, forcing them into gendered social roles that don’t fit their conceptualization of themselves. Others say they should have the right to decide for themselves when they’re old enough. Many feel being intersex is a valid way to be and there is no need for surgery at any point in their lives.
There’s also the fact that surgery is usually performed simply to make the genitalia look “acceptable.” Doctors just basically snip it into whatever is “closest.” And what someone’s genitalia looks like at birth has very little bearing on what it looks like in adulthood or even how it functions.
So, there are a lot of good reasons not to perform surgery on literal babies. The current “trans panic” is totally fine with this kind of surgery, though; it doesn’t even talk about it as harmful, since it’s an attempt to create conformity.
Can Intersex People Do “Mpreg”?
Okay, so what does that have to do with mpreg?
Well, some intersex individuals don’t conform to the standard “male” and “female” roles. There are a few historical examples where a “man” with a penis who sired children was later revealed to also have a uterus.
Some intersex individuals, then, might present as “male” or “men,” but they may also have female sex organs or female sex traits. That means some intersex men can get pregnant and give birth.
Notably, though, intersex individuals may have trouble achieving reproductive success. Not everyone, of course—see our historical example—but many of the conditions are associated with reduced reproductive function.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible—which means that, yes, real-life mpreg is a potential thing.
Another Example of Mpreg in Real Life
Perhaps more common than the case of intersex individuals is that of trans men. Trans people are much more common than we’ve been led to believe, and they have existed since time immemorial. Many different cultures also have specific “third genders,” which have been attested for centuries.
I’ll use the term “trans men” here, since we’re interested in mpreg specifically. Trans men often can and do become pregnant.
Some people do not classify this as mpreg, because the m stands for “male,” not “man.” In a very strict biological sense, trans men can become pregnant precisely because they don’t have the XY chromosome combination. That, in turn, leads some people to believe they don’t “count” when we want to talk about mpreg in real life.
Yet trans men often fill the role. They operate similarly to the protagonists of mpreg stories, having wombs and ovaries and a regular cycle, much like the omegas of omegaverse fiction. We can seemingly accept “male omegas” in fiction—why can’t we get our heads around the idea that trans men would fit in the mpreg category?
In fact, some people argue that a lot of mpreg is simply wish-fulfillment written by either trans men or “eggs,” people who have not yet realized their trans identity.
So, trans men probably represent the closest thing we have to real-life mpreg in many different ways.
What about Cis Guys?
What about cisgender men? Is mpreg possible for them?
Some scientists have speculated that a cisgender man could be impregnated and carry to term. However, pregnancy is dangerous, and birth represents an even bigger risk for cisgender men than it does for the people whose bodies are literally “built” to do it.
Why? Scientists speculated that the placenta would need to attach to a major organ to receive an adequate blood supply. When it was time for birth, the placenta would detach, leading to massive hemorrhaging and possibly death.
This happens to folks with uteruses anyway, which is one reason childbirth is risky. The difference is the uterus is uniquely evolved to deal with this reality, such that when detachment occurs, the blood supply closes off, to limit the amount of blood loss. Other organs, like the stomach, don’t have the same adaptations, because they have different functions.
There are also concerns about hormone levels and other issues. In short, pregnancy and childbirth is difficult for those who are “evolved” to do it, let alone cisgender men who seemingly don’t have the proper equipment.
Would Mpreg with Cis Guys Be Ethical?
This raises questions about what is ethical when it comes to human reproduction. Even if we had the technology, would it be ethical to allow a cisgender man to become pregnant?
There are already plenty of debates about the ethics of cisgender women carrying certain pregnancies to term. One of the fundamentals in the pro-choice argument for abortion is that, in some cases, it simply isn’t ethical for mother or child to continue the pregnancy. Pregnancy can easily threaten the mother’s life. In other cases, the fetus may have a condition that means it will die immediately after birth or that it will live in agony until such a time.
Is it ethical to allow suffering? Is it ethical to knowingly place someone’s life in danger?
In the case of cisgender men, these questions are more apparent. Cisgender men would be at an even higher risk of death or other “complications,” which means we have to interrogate the idea even further. (By extension, we can conclude that it’s not ethical to force anyone to carry a pregnancy to full term—even if a cisgender man said he wanted it, it would be too risky and dangerous. If a cisgender woman says she doesn’t want it? We must assume that it’s unethical to force continuation.)
The Scifi Future of Pregnancy
At the current moment, mpreg is only possible if we count trans men and intersex people who identify as men.
While this is certainly mpreg and shouldn’t be discounted, the discussion around cisgender men is still speculative.
As we noted, there is a definite ethical dimension to answering that question. There’s also the question of whether any cisgender man would want to undergo pregnancy. There may be some, certainly—perhaps there are cis gay men who would prefer to carry a child versus finding a surrogate. Others would be quite opposed.
The Mechanics of IRL Mpreg
How might it work? Some scientists speculated about simply attaching the placenta to another major organ. There are certainly other considerations, and a plethora of drugs might be needed to regulate hormones and other changes that occur during pregnancy, such as a weakening of the immune system to prevent the mother and fetus from attacking each other.
Womb transplants are another proposed advancement. Currently, organ donation and transplantation is not an easy thing. It comes with a plethora of drugs as well, most of which lower the immune system to prevent the body from attacking transplanted tissue. It’s difficult to say how well the body would react to a womb transplant. Transplantation can be difficult and dangerous, sometimes leading to death, although we usually only transplant “vital” organs, like kidneys, lungs, or hearts. A womb isn’t exactly vital, so it may present something of a lower risk—although the risk of rejection and the need to take drugs with a bunch of nasty side-effects—like damaging your kidneys or causing cancer—could remain high.
The SciFi Solution: The Artificial Womb
And although we’re discussing the possibility of simply making it so anyone could get pregnant in a relatively conventional way, some solutions go a step further. Why does pregnancy need to be housed in the body? Why does anyone, male or female, man or woman, or any gender/sex, need to be pregnant?
There was a viral story about a “baby-growing lab,” where scientists had allegedly created a legion of artificial wombs, eliminating the need for anyone to get pregnant. (This was later shown to be a mere concept.) Ursula K. LeGuin speculated something similar in one of her own novels in the 1960s: men could “get pregnant” the same way women could, because reproduction was removed from the body, taking place in artificial wombs instead.
So, will real-life mpreg be possible in the future? Maybe. While new technology might make it possible for cisgender men and trans women to undergo “conventional pregnancies,” there are ethical questions we have to answer.
And our technology may trend in a different direction, taking us toward a different reality—more like the world LeGuin envisioned in her Earthsea novels, where anyone can get pregnant in a very particular sense.
In a word, then, mpreg in real life is something that can and does happen—but in the future, there may be many different ways that mpreg is possible.