The false claim circulated on social media platforms in South Korea. ( AFP / ANTHONY WALLACE)

South Korean posts falsely claim infertility test can 'reveal woman's sexual history'

An article circulating on Facebook in South Korea claims a type of infertility test can reveal how many sexual partners a woman has had. But medical experts told AFP there is currently no test that can show how many sexual partners a person has had. They said the infertility test cited in the posts -- which detects the presence of anti-sperm antibodies inside a person -- can only be used to investigate the causes of infertility.

"The test that shows you have many men your girlfriend slept with," reads a Korean-language Facebook post shared on September 4.

The post links to an article on tabloid news site Adsensima about a man whose wife allegedly took an anti-sperm antibody test after struggling to get pregnant.

Anti-sperm antibodies (ASAs) are proteins that mistakenly identify sperm as harmful invaders and attempt to eliminate them.

They are more common in men -- usually caused by testicular injury -- but can also occur in women, although it is not clear why.

The article quotes the unidentified man as saying: "The doctor said there were 14 types of anti-sperm antibodies in her body. When I asked what that meant, they said each type of antibody corresponded to a different sperm."

The article says the man searched for the infertility test online and found it shows "how many men a woman has had sex with and for how long".

"In short, it's a test that can destroy a family," the article adds.

Screenshot of a Facebook post sharing the article, taken on September 8, 2022

While South Korea is the world's 12th-largest economy and a leading technological power, it remains a male-dominated society with a poor record on women's rights, AFP has reported.

Online misogyny is rampant in the country of around 51 million, where companies accused of endorsing "extreme feminism" have faced boycotts and issued public apologies.

The article and screenshots of it also circulated on Facebook here, here and here.

Some social media users appeared to be misled by the claim.

"Don't do it, you'll be shocked," one comment read.

"In the end, this test is a Pandora's box," another said.

But medical experts told AFP the claim in the posts was false.

Infertility test

Professor Park Hyun-jun, a urology expert at Pusan National University, said that anti-sperm antibody (ASA) tests are only used to investigate the causes of infertility.

"While the presence of ASAs is indicative of multiple factors, including possible sexual activity, the test cannot be used to determine the number of past sexual experiences," he told AFP.

Health experts at Meedan's Health Desk, an organisation that tackles health misinformation, said that the presence of ASAs was not linked to a person's sexual history.

"ASA testing is usually only performed during an evaluation for a person or a couple with unexplained infertility," it said in an article published on September 29. "ASAs can not indicate whether or not someone has had sex before."

In a follow-up response, Meedan's Health Desk said, "ASAs can develop as a result of sexual activity, but there is not a reliable way to indicate sexual activity because not all ASAs develop as a result of sexual activity and not all sexual activity leads to ASAs."

Scientists are still researching why some women develop anti-sperm antibodies, but it is thought they could result from infections, trauma or injury, or sperm entering the digestive tract from anal or oral sex.

Antibody types

The claim that different types of anti-sperm antibodies represent different types of sperm is also baseless.

There are only five types of antibodies, and ASAs usually belong to two of them.

"Antisperm antibodies (ASAs) usually belong to two different immunoglobulin groups (IgA and IgG)," Meedan said, referring to antibodies found on the surface of white blood cells and the blood and lymph systems.

Park also pointed out that there were "only two types [of ASAs] -- IgG and IgA."

There is currently no test that accurately shows the number of sexual partners a person has had.

"There is no test or method available that can be used to accurately determine the number of a person's past sexual partners," said health experts at Meedan. "In fact, no physical examination would be able to evaluate whether any human being -- man or woman -- has even had sex or not."

South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo previously debunked a similar claim on ASA tests.

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