There’s nothing like music to get you in the mood. And I’m not saying I’m a groupie, though I may be sleeping with a man in a band. But that’s irrelevant. What is relevant is that his band’s name is Sperm Whales and Harmony. In my opinion, calling a species “sperm whales” is the animal kingdom equivalent of naming your child Hugh Johnson or Kitty Longa. So, I felt the need to investigate this species. What I found was that their name does relate to their physical qualities; sperm whales usually have around six feet of penis. Actually, whales (of all types) hold the record for largest penises in the animal kingdom. And, unsurprisingly, the females of the species are notoriously friendly and cheery.
All of this got me wanting to learn more about animal sex, so I spent many painstaking hours on the internet watching panda porn and analyzing anatomical drawings of giraffes’ birth canals. What I found probably won’t shock you (especially if you watched MTV in 2000), namely that “you and me baby ain’t nothin’ but mammals.”
Some animals’ mating rituals seem well within the range of human behavior. The male grasshopper has around 400 mating songs, each with a distinct meaning. Essentially, he’s his own smooth jazz record label.
The male manakin does a dance very similar to Michael Jackson’s moonwalk — most likely because everyone knows that Jacko is dead sexy.
Penguins like to have a little privacy for doing the deed, so they often sneak away from the party to find a secluded spot.
And my favorite eerily human practice is that male macaques play with fruit to get to look at the back end of a female macaque.
Looks like their sex industry is about as prosperous as ours.
There are also animal mating rituals that resemble the habits of smaller groups of humans. For instance, there is evidence of animal homosexuality. Two male geese will court each other, and the only way the female can become fertilized is to sneak between the males and then quickly run away. It is estimated that 8 to 14 percent of Californian sea gulls are lesbians. They go through the motions of courting but lay sterile eggs.
There are even transgendered animals. Some male red-sided garter snakes will release pheromones similar to those of the female of the species to attract other males. Scientists believe that they do this for warmth and protection. My opinion is that they do it for some hot, sweaty male-on-male action.
And there are animal mating rituals that resemble certain human fetishes. Sea hares form a hermaphroditic circle and have large, daylong orgies. White-fronted parrots and hippopotami both do things too disgusting to recount in this fine publication. Let’s just say that I have four words for you: two animals, one cup. Cichlid males fertilize eggs by tricking the females and ejaculating into their mouths. Bedbugs are into sadomasochism. They mate using a process called “traumatic insemination” wherein the male uses his sharp sex organ to impale and subsequently inseminate the female.
Of course, some animals do things a little differently than those of us with opposable thumbs. Many people have heard that female praying mantises rip the head off their mate during sex and eat it, but few have heard that the fly Serromyia femorata participate in a form of “kissing” during mating; at the end, though, the female sucks out the contents of the male’s body through his mouth. Male lynx spiders wrap the female in silk threads, distract her with a feast of insects and then mount her, unawares, while she eats.
Well, actually, that one doesn’t sound too far off from senior prom.
So what’s the point of all of this? What do a bunch of silly facts about the animal kingdom’s sex life mean to you? Well, a few things. For one, it’s a reminder that mating is the most natural process in the world. There is no reason to ever be ashamed at the fact that you are a sexual being. Secondly, there is a wide variation of sexual practices among animals. As humans, we are not stuck with one ritual or another, but are free to choose how to get down, which is also okay. Sex does not have to be just a man and a woman on a bed with the lights off in the missionary position. That is a societal — not a natural — construct.
So, this mating season, I implore you to go out into the world confident about your urges. If you want to try something new, don’t be embarrassed. Lord knows some obscure Australian marsupial has probably done it already.
Maya Horowitz is the sex columnist. She likes to do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.