The Curse of Women’s Urine

Science, technology, and life.
Jan. 7 2009 7:44 AM

The Curse of Women’s Urine

What is it with the Catholic Church and female anatomy?

The total opposition to abortion I can understand. The men in Rome believe that personhood begins at conception.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


The opposition to artificial contraception strikes me as completely wrongheaded but not necessarily a guy thing. They believe that sex must be open to life and that life must arise through sex.

The misunderstanding of morning-after pills in their latest instruction to Catholics? Well, that's a bit ignorant. But even the average woman isn't familiar with the research on LH surges, luteal dysfunction, and endometrial damage.

On all these issues, I'm willing to give the men in Rome the benefit of the doubt. But then I read this report from the Vatican newspaper, via Agence France Presse :

The contraceptive pill is polluting the environment and is in part responsible for male infertility, a report in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Saturday. The pill "has for some years had devastating effects on the environment by releasing tonnes of hormones into nature" through female urine, said Pedro Jose Maria Simon Castellvi, president of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations. ... "We have sufficient evidence to state that a non-negligible cause of male infertility in the West is the environmental pollution caused by the pill," he said, without elaborating further.

That's right: The new cause of male infertility is female urine. Specifically, the urine of women who are committing the sin of contraception .

Scientifically, the theory looks a bit wet. AFP continues:

The article was promptly dismissed by several organisations. "Once metabolised, the hormones contained in oral contraceptives no longer have any of the characteristic effects of feminine hormones," said Gianbenedetto Melis, vice-president of a contraceptive research association, quoted by the ANSA news agency. The hormones contained in the pill such as oestrogen "are present everywhere ... in plastic, in disinfectants, in meat that we eat," added Flavia Franconi, of the Society of Italian Pharmacology.

Perhaps it's a sign of the modern age that moralists feel obliged to associate their principles with health effects. Abortion isn't just murder; it causes breast cancer and psychological damage to women. Contraception isn't just a violation of God's will; it's an environmental toxin. But none of these health claims has turned out to be valid . And in this case, the claim is so perfectly consistent with the history of misogyny—blaming men's fertility problems on women's sins and fluids—that it risks not just scientific but moral discredit.

On the other hand, if it turns out to be true, I'll be really pissed.


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