Sex, sex, sex-selection, and natural behaviors

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True Romance and Sex

Due to some personal reasons, I have been pondering romantic behaviors in humans for a while; it is quite spectacular how our ideas differ of what romance is, and how we define good sex. In Sweden there is a saying:

“taste is like the arse, divided”

We all have different preferences, some more exotic than others, and at a first glance, sex and romance may seem to vary a lot between individuals and cultures. I, for one, am not impressed by…mumblemumblemumble… However, when you take a step back and suddenly realize what the hell some animals are up to, we humans quickly appear quite vanilla. Forget lame roses and do it hardcore like the argonaut octopus: true romance is to fill up your arm with sperm, break it off and offer it to your date. I must confess, though, that I would be a bit weirded out by this, but it would indeed be a novel take on the dating game. No, just kidding – it is not a good idea. Don’t do it.

A particularly sexy example of a female argonaut octupus (image credit: Arthur Bartholomew).

A particularly sexy example of a female argonaut octopus (image credit: Arthur Bartholomew).

If you are fed up with boring Tinder threesomes, do it like the red-sided garter snake. The female releases a pheromone and attracts every male red-sided garter snake in the neighborhood. The female ends up in the middle of an enormous pile of male snakes; each attributed with two penises. The male snakes apparently go so nuts that they will enter any building located on top a mating pit. There have been a few incidences where families have come downstairs only to discover 500 snakes having an orgy in their kitchen.

(image credit: Nevit, Wikimedia Commons)

No, I would not want to disturb the red-sided-garter snakes mating ritual (Image credit: Nevit, Wikimedia Commons).

Well, it could be even worse I suppose. Many invertebrates practice so-called traumatic insemination. Yeah, I’m not sure what to add to that, but since I am a biologist and can blame all my weird fascinations on my job, I will explain it further: traumatic insemination is also called hypodermic insemination. Are you slowly starting to understand what is going on here? Hypo- (under) and dermic– (skin)… you know of hypo-dermic needles I suppose… Yes, exactly: the female gets stabbed in the gut by the male and then he injects his sperm. Homosexual, as well as interspecific (other species) traumatic inseminations, have been observed.

Who said that romance was dead?

Nature also has its own natural butt-plug. Some garter snake females are forced to defecate (poo) quickly before the male inserts the sperm since after he is done, he will insert a mating plug into the female to hinder any other males from fertilizing the eggs. Sometimes this does not work out as he had planned and mixed paternities do occur. Regarding the butt-plug: snakes are a bit peculiar since they do not have a butthole that is separated from the vagina, as is the case for humans (!), but they have a cloaca that like an “all-in-one” structure. Some reptiles even breath out of their “butthole”, but that is a different story. Birds also have cloacas, showing the close relationship between reptiles and birds. If you are interested in the relationship between the common chicken and a T-rex, read Thomas’ article about dinosaurs. I bet you will never look at your morning eggs the same way again.

Other types of natural butt plugs. Please note that carrots are not suitable for such activities (image credit: Spankart).

Other types of natural butt plugs. Please note that carrots are not suitable for such activities (image credit: Spankart).

Interestingly, mating plugs occur quite widely ranging from spiders to kangaroos and mice, but for those animal groups, they cannot truly be referred to as “butt-plugs”.

Many sexual (secondary) characteristics in the animal kingdom are just plainly ridiculous, like the feathers of the male peacock. For many years, debates were raging on how to explain these utterly pointless feathers that would reduce the fitness of the bird so immensely. If you don’t know what I mean, try to run a 100m dash dressed in a full Victorian women’s outfit, and I think that you might get my point.

The fancy peacock male (image credit: Haplochromis).

The fancy peacock male (image credit: Haplochromis).

Ronald Fisher, an English evolutionary biologist, wrote a book in the 1930ies that revolutionized the way we think about the peacock’s plume. The book was called The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection in which he presented several theories; of which one was the Fisherian runaway hypothesis. This hypothesis describes how traits and preferences can be genetically linked. If the peacock female prefers a male with a full plumage, only those with a large plumage will reproduce, eventually, the traits will be linked and the plumage will become larger and more spectacular with every generation. There is, however, a price to pay, and that is the reduced fitness of the male; his ridiculous feathers will make him slow and more prone to become dinner. Therefore, there will be an upper limit to how long the feathers will become.

Let’s take the example of the peacock and ponder the erroneous belief that

“survival of the fittest”


“survival of the biggest and the strongest.”

That is not how it works. For the peacock, it is rather:

“survival of the second most campest”.

[Tweet “The sexual behavior of some animals can be quite traumatizing.”]

Bonobo having a peaceful meal (image credit: Aaron Logan)

Bonobo having a peaceful meal, or what is it doing with the food?! (image credit: Aaron Logan)

I would like to end with a lovely story about the Bonobo chimpanzees, our close relatives who deal with rare events of aggression by a great variety of sexual behaviors of which penis-fencing is one of the more exotic ones (could you refer to this as cock-fighting?).
If anyone tells me one more time “that is not natural” with regard to homosexuality, I will suggest that they stick a butt-plug up their arse and jump into a pit of a few hundred crazy snakes with two penises each to have a close look at what natural sexual behaviors can be for other animals, then have an even closer look at our close relatives: the frivolous Bonobos…

The research for this article included Google searches such as: “How do snakes poo?”, “Natural butt plugs” and “snake sex” and I have only skimmed the surface on the weirdness of sex in the animal kingdom.

Science Safely!

– Dr. Anna

…thinks that “naturalistic” arguments can be BS


Arnqvist, Göran; Rowe, Locke (2005-07-05).Sexual Conflict (Monographs in Behavior and Ecology). Princeton, University Press. pp. 87–91. ISBN 978-0-691-12218-2.
Rossman, Douglas. The garter snakes: evolution and ecology. University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.
Reinhardt, Klaus; Ewan Harney; Richard Naylor; Stanislav Gorb; Michael T. Siva‐Jothy (2007). “Female‐Limited Polymorphism in the Copulatory Organ of a Traumatically Inseminating Insect”. American Naturalist 170 (6): 931–35. doi:10.1086/522844. PMID 18171174.
Dawkins, Richard (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. Longman, London. Published in Penguin Books 1988, 1991, and 2006. Chapter 8, Explosions and Spirals.
de Waal, Frans B. M. (March 1995). “Bonobo Sex and Society” (PDF). Scientific American 272 (3): 58–64.Bibcode:1995SciAm.272c..82W. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0395-82. PMID 7871411.

Posted in Animals, Biology, Evolution, The Biology of Disgusting and tagged , , , .

Dr. Anna

Dr. Anna Zakrisson is a multifaceted biologist with degrees from world-renowned institutions such as Cambridge University, U.K. and the Max-Planck Institute in Germany. She has published a range of high-ranking scientific papers and crossed oceans on research vessels. She runs The Imaginarium science blog and YouTube channel and speaks English, German and Swedish fluently.

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