One of the most fascinating things about pregnancy, in general, is how people react to it. Some people find it a wonderful experience. Some long to experience it. And others find the entire idea disquieting.
That may be one reason that mpreg is even more fascinating. It, more often than not, veers into the realm of body horror.
Why Pregnancy Is Terrifying
Pregnancy is a weird, although entirely natural and normal, state. Essentially, you have another living creature inside of you. This creature is entirely dependent upon you for its survival.
In essence, the human fetus is parasitic. If this were anything but a human fetus, you’d call it a parasite. Much like a worm or other parasite, though, the fetus leeches off its parent, absorbing all its nutrients from the parent. This fuels its growth. We can say the same of parasitic worms, so the question isn’t one of behavior—it’s simply one of DNA.
Next is the knowledge or understanding that there is another sentient creature living inside you. We can largely ignore bacteria and gut flora microbes: they’re tiny and don’t really cause us too much trouble. We don’t see them or feel them, so it’s easy to forget about them in some sense.
Human fetuses, on the other hand, become quite large, and they move around as well. At a certain point, the parent begins to feel the fetus moving around inside them. Over time, this becomes more discernible motions, like hits or kicks. If you look at someone’s pregnant belly while the fetus is active, you can actually see these movements.
It’s uncanny and strange, certainly. Some people experience a good deal of discomfort, especially if the fetus decides to start kicking at internal organs or the rib cage.
Cognitive Dissonance around Reproduction
Then there is the fact that we all know this is how each of us began. It becomes somewhat mortifying to think about yourself in such a state. And it raises questions. What do we remember about our time in utero? Seemingly not much, although if you talk to toddlers, they might tell you that they hate certain songs that their parents played all the time. Or they might seem to “remember” other oddities.
Finally, there’s the myriad of changes the body undergoes to support pregnancy. The immune system has to be weak, otherwise the body attacks the fetus as a parasite. Skeletal structures must change to support the growing fetus, and so on.
In short: there’s something living inside you, changing your body without your consent, and all you can do is watch.
Mpreg Is a Male Horror Story
Pregnancy is often played as “body horror” in stories that focus on aliens or parasitic horrors or even demons. Yet it becomes even more horrific when it plays out on a cisgender male body.
The cisgender female body is expected to undergo and adapt to pregnancy. Thus, fewer people see it as “abnormal” or “scary.” In fact, most of our societal messaging about pregnancy is that it is a perfectly natural, normal state. If you fall in with certain circles, then you’ll get messaging about pregnancy. You might hear it’s a “blissful” state, that it will fulfill every “woman” and bring her in touch with her life’s purpose.
There is very little room in Western culture to discuss the other side of pregnancy. It’s simply not acceptable for women to view pregnancy as an abnormal or even terrifying state, unless there are demons or aliens. In those cases, cisgender female pregnancy can become horrifying. Often, though, the horror happens to outsiders. Someone watches the birth of a monster or the demon’s escape kills the mother. In most instances, the mother insists her baby is natural, normal—or even a perfect little angel.
When we map pregnancy onto the cisgender male body, though, it suddenly becomes a lot more acceptable to view pregnancy as something abnormal and scary.
Examples from Pop Culture
The best example of this is in Alien. The xenomorphs are focused almost solely on reproduction. As a parasitic species, they lay their eggs in a suitable host body. In the film, one of those host bodies belongs to a cisgender man. This is an mpreg scenario, where the man is later killed when the chest-burster explodes out of his chest cavity.
Thus, the man was raped and impregnated. That pregnancy was a horrifying prospect that ultimately killed him in the end.
Director Ridley Scott has discussed that scene as showing the horrors of rape and forced pregnancy upon cisgender women. Yet the way to make it seem “terrifying” to audiences was to make not only the rapist some alien creature but to make the “victim” into a man. Suddenly, the unnatural state of affairs is laid bare for all to see.
Pregnancy Is Dangerous
One of the realities the chest-burster and other mpreg horror stories allow us to engage with is that pregnancy is dangerous. Our dominant cultural narratives rarely allow us to discuss the real and present danger associated with pregnancy. As much as pregnancy is a “natural” state, it is not without its risks.
Many people don’t recognize this. Postpartum psychosis is dangerous, as is perinatal psychosis and depression, a fact that is being more and more recognized. And there are plenty of other things that can go wrong during pregnancy. A missed miscarriage, for example, can allow the dead fetus to rot inside the mother, eventually causing sepsis and death.
And that’s to say nothing of birth. But we rarely acknowledge this. We’re supposed to see pregnancy as some blissful thing in a cisgender woman’s life, something everyone should aspire to. After all, becoming wife and mother is a cisgender woman’s highest calling in life, clearly.
Stories about women giving birth to monstrous creatures or dying in childbirth litter folklore. The tension between pregnancy as a necessary state for human reproduction and pregnancy as abnormality, as terror, has existed for as long as humans have told stories.
The Horrifying Feminine
The real reason mpreg is body horror, however, is that it maps the feminine onto a cisgender male body. This is presented as somehow terrifying, that masculinity is usurped and corrupted.
This is also where we find transmisogyny and transphobia rooted. There is an inherent fear in Western culture about “men” being “turned into” women.
This rhetoric is everywhere. Men call each other “pussies” or imply they’ve “gone soft” when they want to insult each other. “You hit like a girl” and other phrases that imply a man is feminine are insulting. Slurs against gay men similarly invoke the feminine.
This fear goes back a long way, to at least the Victorian era. There were concerns that modern technology was turning men “effeminate.” Men were no longer men, but women who dressed in frilly clothes and concerned themselves with appearances, social manners, and other “feminine” sorts of preoccupations.
If you ever wondered why men abandoned elaborate powdered wigs and colorful dress at the end of the eighteenth century, now you know.
The Need for Manly Men and War
Why the fear around this? This is the height of the imperialist era, and there were plenty of wars. The War of 1812 involved the US, Canada, and the UK, while the Napoleonic Wars raged across the continent. There were also the Opium Wars and various confrontations between colonized peoples and colonizers, not to mention clashes between various colonial powers vying for supremacy.
In short, there was a dire need for a lot of soldiers. The effeminate, soft men created by modern European society simply wouldn’t be able to hack it on the battlefield.
These concerns continued well into the twentieth century. There was the Boer War, the Crimean War, followed by World War I and World War II, and then the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the ongoing Cold War. Conflicts between former colonial powers and former colonies created “hot spots.” In the latter part of the century, we have the Gulf War, among others. Into the twenty-first century, we see the war machine continuing. There’s been a twenty-year conflict called the Iraq War; Russia is waging war against Ukraine; and Israel has just declared war against Palestine.
It is little wonder that we’re hearing more concern about masculinity and “real men.”
Pregnancy Is the Ultimate Effeminacy
Mpreg represents the pinnacle of terror for masculinity, because pregnancy is the ultimate form of feminization. Only female bodies are purported to carry pregnancies, to give birth to children. Only female bodies are violated by male bodies, through both voluntary penetration and rape, to create children.
Mpreg, then, is a horrifying scenario where the sanctity of a cisgender male’s body is violated. The act of carrying the pregnancy strips him of his masculinity, feminizing him far beyond any other act.
Remember that pregnancy is supposed to result in a “strong bond” between mother and child. Western culture posits that women will always feel closer to their children than men do, because they carried their children within their bodies. This is the root of the supposed “maternal instinct.” Women will thus always be soft towards their children, because those children were once literally housed in their bodies. Maternal care is the only reason the fetus survives. (Within this logic, death of the fetus is indicative of pathology in the mother.)
Thus, if a man were to carry a pregnancy to term, he would necessarily be “soft” toward his children. He would exhibit the same “maternal instincts” as cisgender women are believed to have.
In short, mpreg makes men into women.
This leaves aside discussions of what biology would imply. Instead, it simply plays with notions of gender: women have babies, and men don’t. Thus, if a man has a baby, he must necessarily be made into “a woman.”
As noted, this is horrifying to masculinity, because masculinity is largely predicated on its inversion to the feminine. The feminine is soft, emotional, kind, and caring. Masculinity is none of those things.
The Violation of Bodily Autonomy
The violation of masculinity isn’t quite “body horror.” It’s more a mental form of anguish for a man attached to his masculinity. Yet, as we established, pregnancy changes the body, often without the “consent” of the pregnant person. Thus, pregnancy is a violation of an individual’s bodily autonomy.
This is true whether the person is male or female, man or woman. We just tend to ignore it more when it comes to cisgender women. The reason? Historically, women weren’t “people,” so violating them didn’t carry the same implications.
For men, though, their bodily autonomy is sacrosanct. Most men never have to think about what it would mean to be forced to unwillingly share their body with a parasite. To them, this is unfathomable, because men are persons and thus they are guaranteed the right to their own bodies.
Women have no such guarantees. Mpreg implies the violation of men’s rights to their own bodies, which, in turn, is what makes it so horrifying.
Pregnancy thus moves from being a “female” concern, one women aren’t allowed to express ambivalence or even fear of, to a “male” worry about effeminacy and the violation of their own bodies.
In short, in mpreg, pregnancy can finally be as horrifying as it truly is.