Unorthodox measures to improve assisted conception

Bill Eberhard has been a prolific and very influential scientist publishing widely on anything to do with sexual evolution. His books Sexual Selection and Animal Genitalia and Female Control have been cited by other authors (usually a good proxy for academic impact) thousands of times. But one of his articles has, in the more than twenty years since it was published, received no attention whatsoever. In 1991, he wrote a short paper for the journal Medical Hypotheses in which he argued that artificial insemination effectivity in women could be improved if the pipette used were, well, dildo-shaped and applied with gusto, rather than clinical sobriety. Granted, he does not say it in so many words, but statements like, “the male genitalia of humans perform complex movements and change form during ejaculation. It seems unlikely that such complex and consistent behavior is bereft of reproductive significance” leave little to the imagination. What Eberhard basically says is, if artificial insemination were accompanied with the kind of stimulation that comes with regular intercourse, chances are that it will be more successful.

Eberhard has good reasons to think so. In livestock, assisted pregnancy procedures routinely make use of such erotic aids. Swine insemination uses a boar penis shaped pipette–to good effect. Likewise, lab mice are often artificially inseminated while undergoing simulated mating with a vaginal tampon or an artificial mouse penis. And in rats, bigger litters are produced after artificial insemination if a (small-sized) vibrator is applied to the female during the insemination procedure. All this suggests that the penis and its movements perform an “internal courtship,” which, if it pleases the female, results in her absorbing, storing, and/or using more sperm. And why not give this a try in human assisted conception as well?

More recently, another curious scientific paper shows benefits from a whole different kind of theatre. In a 2011 article in the journal Fertility and Sterility with the intriguing title, “The effect of medical clowning on pregnancy rates after in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer”, a team of Isreali authors show that IVF was 16% more effective in a group of women who had witnessed a medical clown performing shortly after their IVF treatment. As the medical researchers write, “Each patient in [this] group was visited by a professional medical clown immediately after [embryo transfer], while lying in bed. This encounter lasted 12–15 minutes and included a routine developed by the principal investigators (SF and AS) as suitable for such patients. The routine included jokes, tricks, and magic and was performed on a one-to-one basis with the clown dressed as a ‘‘chef de cuisine.’’ The same clown performed the same routine at all visits.” The clown in question was Mr. Shlomi Algussi, who may be seen performing in this video:

We assume the encounters were monitored by the researchers, so that the 16% extra conception rate cannot be due to some unauthorized “tricks” on the part of the clown.

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