I have now read two books from the 1800s in which single young men flirt with married pregnant women. (The first was Anna Karenina, in which Veslovsky flirts with Kitty Levin. The second was Middlemarch, in which Captain Lydgate flirts with Rosamond Lydgate.) The first time I encountered this, I just thought it was strange. When I saw it a second time, I started to wonder if there was a cultural value I was missing. (Without offering a personal reflection, I'll observe that the tone of this Wikipedia article suggests that attraction to pregnant women is a fringe thing in the present-day English-speaking world.) But historically, were pregnant women widely regarded as particularly attractive—to the point where it became a literary trope?

  • The wiki article mostly seems to mention it from the angle of it appearing in celebrity news though - in which case yes, it likely was novel. Whether it was a novel fetish then is quite doubtful. There's an audience for just about any fetish you can think of out there, and even the more unusual ones are nothing new. Jul 24, 2017 at 16:17
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    I recall reading this in a book and being puzzled, until I realized that dalliances with pregnant women never result in bastards. Thus pregnant women are attractive to a certain type of man.
    – MCW
    Jul 24, 2017 at 16:40
  • There's a certain (weird) logic to it, yes. As my wife points out, you know that a pregnant woman is sexually active. It's just strange to think of that as being a widely-held belief that you could call upon in a novel.
    – adam.baker
    Jul 26, 2017 at 6:41
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    In the days before reliable and legal contraception, married women were pregnant or nursing all the time. A woman who was neither was probably barren.
    – RedSonja
    Sep 27, 2017 at 12:27

1 Answer 1


Pregnancy was a far bigger deal in the 19th century, when a woman's primary function was to produce children. Going back to Biblical times, the greatest fear for a woman was to be "barren." This was, of course, before the modern "DINK" phenomenon (dual income, no kids). A woman who was pregnant was then a "proven performer."

In her book, "Undercover Sex Signals," dating coach Leil Lowndes opines that we are in evolutionary terms only one step away from cave men. The logical followup conclusion is that good "caveman" traits, brute strength for men, fecundity for women, are highly attractive traits, even in relatively modern times, especially "early" modern times.

  • Yes, but evolutionary speaking, you want to mate with someone who will propagate your genes, and if she's already pregnant the pregnancy is a negative, not a positive. Sep 27, 2017 at 11:40
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    @mickeyf: The whole point is that you wait until after her pregnancy. Which is what kings, nobles, and rich young men did. A "proven performer" is much more desirable in this context than a childless, and presumably "barren" woman. Also, we are talking about attraction in terms of "potential," not "consummation." Many women find married men, particularly with children, more attractive for this reason.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 27, 2017 at 11:45
  • FWIW Leil Lowndes' ideas don't match ethological observations. Female humans, like their chimp and bonobo counterparts, actually lean towards less violent males as their mating partners in practice - because of their greater grooming and childrearing abilities. You can sometimes observe this in field studies when an alpha tries to mate with [cough... rape] a bonobo female in heat, for instance: the female runs towards another alpha so as to get the two to fight - and then sneaks behind a bush to mate with her preferred mating partner. Sep 27, 2017 at 14:02
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    "kings, nobles, and rich young men" are a minority. Most of us are just cavemen. And "wait"? Nobody wants to wait. ;-) The stumbling block here may be the specific meaning of "attractive". Kings and nobles chose their child bearers for political reasons. Sep 27, 2017 at 14:09
  • @mickeyf: Kings and nobles chose their legitimate child bearers for political reasons, and their "other" childbearers for primal reasons. In the context of novels, the reference is to affairs, not marriages.
    – Tom Au
    Sep 27, 2017 at 17:36

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