In 2011, a woman shopping at the Sunflower Market in Albuquerque, New Mexico was offered a yogurt sample by Anthony Garcia, a grocery store employee. When she tasted the sample, she noticed it tasted strange, and spit it out on the floor. After testing her spit against a DNA sample, police later confirmed that the yogurt was tainted with semen — specifically, that of Garcia, who had ejaculated inside the samples and handed them out to unsuspecting shoppers.
The case was covered by tabloids across the country, in large part because of how nauseating Garcia’s crime was. (He later pleaded guilty to tampering with food and was sentenced to two years in prison.) It also led people to wonder exactly why Garcia would do such a thing. “Obviously there is something sexually disordered there with the huge level of non-consent involved,” says Dr. David Ley, a clinical psychologist who specializes in issues related to human sexuality. But the strange case of Anthony Garcia also points to something that is arguably more universal, if not just as taboo, which Ley summarizes as “this very strange identification that some men have with their sperm.” A male friend on GChat put it somewhat less clinically: “Some men just want to watch the world burn — and some men just want to cum all over it.”
When taken to a criminal extent, nowhere was this impulse more apparent than in a recent New York Times report on fertility doctors impregnating unwitting female patients with their own sperm, rather than that of a donor. Due to the relative lack of regulation in the fertility industry, it wasn’t until the advent of DNA tests that many children of these patients discovered their true parentage, resulting in many patients feeling traumatized and violated; one Texas legislator aiming to introduce a bill prohibiting fertility fraud likened the actions of these men to rape.
The piece provided shocking detail on how specialists were able to get away with doing this for years, often fathering dozens of children in the process. Yet it focused relatively little on why men would actually be driven to impregnate dozens of women with their own sperm, totally without their patients’ consent. While one law professor quoted in the piece said that some of these cases of medical malfeasance could be attributed to financial incentive, with doctors hoping to increase the odds of successful implantation with their own sperm, she said many of the doctors likely “had power reasons for doing this — mental health issues, narcissistic issues.”
These motives are underscored by the fact that the fertility specialists in the piece are far from alone in hatching such plans. Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier accused of sex trafficking who took his own life in prison earlier this month, allegedly had a scheme to “use his New Mexico ranch as a base where women would be inseminated with his sperm and would give birth to his babies” as a way to “strengthen” the gene pool, as the New York Times reported in July. While there is no indication that the plan would have been illegal or nonconsensual, those who spoke with Epstein about it found it “far-fetched and disturbing” due to its roots in eugenics, the racist (and thoroughly debunked) belief that the human race can be improved by selectively breeding various desirable traits. Testimony from a former sex slave during the trial of Keith Raniere, the leader of the alleged “sex cult” NXIVM, also revealed that Raniere had similar plans to spread his DNA, at one point growing enraged when one NXIVM member trying to conceive with her partner refused to use his sperm.
In the case of these men, the roots of this desire are fairly obvious: if you’re a wealthy, powerful megalomaniac, there’s arguably no greater testament to your own narcissism than wanting to systematically populate the world with dozens of replicas of you. But to a degree, the desire to “spread one’s seed” is rooted in biology, and is arguably as old as time. And throughout history, many high-powered men have fathered hundreds, if not thousands, of children. According to DNA research, one Sixteenth Century Qing dynasty ruler may have as many as 1.5 million male descendants in modern-day China, while an estimated one in 200 men alive today are reportedly descended from Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan (a 2003 National Geographic story on these findings refers to Genghis Khan as a “prolific lover” — questionable phrasing, given that most of these pregnancies were likely the result of rape). Given this history, it could be argued that the desire to spread one’s DNA is hard-wired. “Many men want to spread their seed. Where it gets interesting is the way these guys wrap some of their identity and power up in this idea of putting their seed in other people,” says Ley, the clinical psychologist.
Another way to look at it is that the desire to “spread one’s seed” is not so much inherently biological, but a natural extension of a patriarchal culture that has traditionally upheld male virility and sexual aggression above all else, posits sex therapist and Harvey Institute cofounder Douglas Braun-Harvey. Procreation is “a way men have been able to have power for thousands of years on this planet. The patriarchy, the male line — it’s steeped in culture and history and civilization,” he tells Rolling Stone. “Human behavior inevitably becomes eroticized. We have these fetishes because patriarchy exists.”
For the vast majority of men in the modern world, the fantasy of impregnating multiple women is just that — a fantasy. On Pornhub there’s a wealth of videos catering to it with titles like “Cum in me it’s OK” and even less sexually explicit content like “Real impregnation video!” The (extremely NSFW) subreddit r/breeding also hosts more than 144,000 members, which is predominantly comprised of links to favorite videos and close-up shots of “creampies,” or up-close ejaculation shots. Interestingly, the breeding fetish is not limited to heterosexual men: many who post on r/breeding are women, and Ley says it is not uncommon for gay men to use the term as well.
For some men, the erotic charge of the impregnation fantasy simply stems from the taboo of unprotected sex, or the thrill of exchanging bodily fluids; for others, who harbor fantasies of, say, poking holes in condoms, or lying to their partners that they’ve had vasectomies and ejaculating inside them, it’s precisely the nonconsensual aspect that turns them on. But Ley says he cannot stress enough that there is a world of difference between those who fantasize about nonconsensual impregnation, and those who actually do it, with the vast majority of people falling into the former category. “There are many people who have desires to engage in nonconsensual behavior but they have the personal characteristics that hold them back from engaging in that. It’s empathy, social connection, accountability, and ethics,” he says.
And as is the case with all sexual abusers, Ley says, those lacking such traits are more likely to allow these desires to graduate into action. Such acts have less to do with sexual gratification and more to do with “selfishness or narcissism or low empathy, low conscientiousness, some kind of antisocial traits in terms of following the rules or keeping to agreements,” says Ley. These are the sorts of traits that drive men to commit acts like stealthing, a term used to describe men who remove condoms during sex without informing their partners. Like other forms of sexual abuse, stealthing isn’t really about sex; the men who do it are getting off on the power and control that comes from violating fundamental tenets of consent.
Even though his impregnation scheme appeared to be neither illegal nor involving young girls and women, a similar case could be made for Epstein. While Braun-Harvey cautions against applying an armchair diagnosis to the now-deceased convicted sex offender, he says that in light of the other horrific allegations against him, it would be impossible not to view such a scheme as connected to a larger pattern of predatory behavior. “When you’ve got someone who’s been convicted of predatory behavior, most of their sexual activity that might seem ancillary is connected to nonconsensual sexual activity that is predatory,” he tells Rolling Stone. When viewed through this lens of mass impregnation as a form of exercising ultimate power and control, Epstein’s desire to host a breeding farm on a ranch in New Mexico is even more dark and disturbing.
Braun-Harvey says that abusers tend to organize the entirety of their sexual lives around being able to procure new victims and perpetuate their abuse, and if there’s one thing that both the Epstein and fertility fraud stories have in common, it’s that these men were able to do this undetected for so long. Propped up by wealth, power, and authority, both Epstein and the fertility specialists were able to target dozens of girls and women and commit abuse for years without attracting notice. “We’ve created this culture around wealth and power such that these individuals — predominantly, males — can get away with almost anything and then we’re surprised when they engage in these acts,” says Ley. And it’s only until someone actually gets hurt — or, at the very least, takes the wrong supermarket sample — that the extent of such abuse comes to light.