Penis Fencing? The 10 Weirdest Facts About Sex In the Animal Kingdom

by Liz Langley, Alternet

Here’s a glimpse at some of the world’s weirdest mating rituals.

Bonobo

Bonobo

If your friends ever give you a hard time because of your peculiar eating, just point them to Nicolas Cage. In 2010 the actor revealed that he choses his noms in a unique way. From the Guardian:

“I actually choose the way I eat according to the way animals have sex. I think fish are very dignified with sex. So are birds. But pigs, not so much. So I don’t eat pig meat or things like that. I eat fish and fowl.”

It’s an odd criteria. At any rate, none of the animals below will ever have to worry about ending up in Mr. Cage’s crockpot because they have some seriously strange nookie. Enjoy this glimpse into some of the weirdest sex in the animal kingdom.

1. I’ll  Melt With You

Some anglerfish live in the deepest, darkest depths of the ocean and if you looked like this, you might want to hide out down there too. They lure prey by means of a rod that juts out of their heads and attracts other fish, like a fishing lure. In some species, says Animal Planet, that lure contains luminescent bacteria, a light that tempts gullible creatures to their doom. What a stunning feat of evolution. And yet the mating ritual of the deep sea angler fish makes that look like a card trick.

The male anglerfish is tiny compared to the female. He’s born with only the most elemental of body systems, but he can find a female anywhere because she emits a pheromone trail that his keen olfactory organ is able to track. He latches onto her with his teeth which fuse to her body and then he begins to melt into her—disintegrating and integrating with her body, absorbing into her until all that’s left of him are his reproductive organs, which she can use to fertilize her eggs when she’s ready. It’s a codependent’s wet dream. In fact, in this Animal Planet animation of the process they say scientists used to think the little nubbins jutting out of the side of the deep sea anglerfish female were extra fins. Actually, they are male anglerfish, fused into her skin.

2. Urine like Flynn

Porcupines must take care before coitus Photo by John Pitcher/iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

Porcupines must take care before coitus
Photo by John Pitcher/iStockphoto/Thinkstock.

You’d think the quills—up to 30,000 of them—would make every act of porcupine sex like an Evel Knievel stunt. The weird thing is that the quills aren’t the weird thing.

First of all, the female is only sexually receptive 8-12 hours a year. Hours. A year. Tiny window. Like the one Luke Skywalker had to blow up the Death Star. And yet female porcupines have a 90% reproductive success rate, reports Slate’s Jason Bittel. Hard to believe, considering how it all begins. Both Bittel and Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope refer to porcupine expert Uldiz Roze, and Adams quotes directly from Roze’s book North American Porcupine:

“The male approaches on his hind legs and tail, grunting in a low tone. His penis springs erect. He then becomes a urine cannon, squirting high-pressure jets of urine at the female. Everything suggests the urine is fired by ejaculation, not released by normal bladder pressure….In less than a minute, a female may be thoroughly wetted from nose to tail.”

Bittel says this jet can shoot about 6 feet. Sometimes it just pisses her off to get pissed on. Sometimes, though, she evidently finds it sexy (women!). If she’s ready to accept the male, she lifts her tail and the male rests his hands on the un-quilled underside of said tail and gets down to one to five minutes of porcupette-producing business.

The porcupine penis, by the way, is naturally spiny. Scientists don’t know why and no female porcupine has voiced an opinion on the matter.

3. “Cuddle Puddle”

The fear of snakes is common and if you’re ophidiophobic you don’t want to know about breeding balls. That’s a pile of writhing, squirming, orgiastic snakes having group sex that would probably break world records.

Reed College in Portland, OR has a course paper that explains pretty nicely how male snakes swarm when female snakes awaken from hibernation. Some males even throw the others off the scent—quite literally—by emitting a female scent and luring some of the males away from the female. Scientists have theorized that the male snakes might then rush back to take advantages of the duped dudes’ absences. Or they might do it because snakes don’t generate their own heat and the “cuddle puddle” formed by all these snakes is to the advantage of the “she-male” who is at the center of it.

4. Yucking It Up

Whatever other things might rattle your nerves while you’re having sex—your parents coming home, the big leather swing breaking, whether this will show up on the Internet one day—at least you don’t have a reasonable concern that you might be killed in mid-coitus by a lion.

Spotted hyenas try to find the safest place to get it on for this very reason. At a certain point during their romantic encounters they experience a “copulatory lock,” in which the male’s penis swells in the female’s reproductive tract and he ejaculates: this lasts “some minutes,” and leaves the hyenas sitting ducks to predator, Kay E. Holekamp, behavioral researcher of spotted hyenas at the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, writes in the New York Times.

Holekamp says there’s another thing that makes mating difficult for the hyena. Males and females are so similar that even when looking right at their genitalia it isn’t that easy to distinguish them. The female’s clitoris, through which she pees, has sex and gives birth, is as big as a penis and only discernible by its shape: clitorises are blunt-tipped while penises are pointed.

“Even though the female’s organ is flaccid during copulation, its only opening points forward and downward, so the male must hop around behind the female while he squats behind her, thrusting blindly upward and backward, to achieve intromission. It’s actually very comical, although you can’t help feeling a bit bad that you are laughing when the male is clearly having such a tough time,” Holekamp writes.

Don’t feel bad, Kay. One imagines hyenas are used to the sound of laughing. They probably don’t take it personally.

5. Dying For Sex

We’ve all thought “I’ll die if I can’t have him/her.” When female ferrets say it, they mean business.

According to the Ferret Information Rescue Shelter & Trust Society (FIRST) of Vancouver, female ferrets (called jills) go into heat in their first spring and never go out of heat until they are “successfully mated.” If they don’t mate they can develop aplastic anemia.

According to All About Ferrets.com aplastic anemia comes from bone marrow suppression: elevated estrogen levels from this extended period of heat become toxic to the ferret’s bone marrow. The disease causes complete loss of red blood cells in the bone marrow with symptoms that include anemia, swollen vulva and hair loss.

Ferret owners can combat this by getting the female mated to a male who’s had a vasectomy, or by getting her a “jill jab,” a hormone injection that brings her out of heat.

Jeepers, they make ice cream for dogs and clothes for cats. Can no one invent a ferret Hitachi wand?

6. Penis Fencing

It looks like two scrunchies having a fight. Actually the flatworms in that NatGeo Wild “World’s Weirdest” video are quite pretty, but what they’re doing isn’t.

All flatworms are hermaphrodites and their mating routine is definitely more fighting than loving; in fact, it’s referred to as penis fencing. They try to jab each other using their penises as weapons. When one is successful it ejaculates the sperm, which the other absorbs, forcing it, rather miserably if the video is any indication, into motherhood.

Ever seen a scurnchie mope off into the sunset looking for groceries while the father flutters away without a care in the world? It’s damn depressing.

7. Star 69

Earthworms are both unassuming and icky at the same time, like those guys you see who are either really nice or they’re serial killers. The same goes for an earthworm’s sex life. On one hand they’re kind of cool. On the other the word “slime tube” comes up a little more often than is usually desirable.

Earthworms are simultaneous hermaphrodites, meaning they have the reproductive organs of both sexes, writes Josh Clark of How Stuff Works. Spiffy! Nothing like having options. To mate they get into what, for humans, would be a 69 position, then excrete enough mucous to form a “slime tube” around their bodies. Each ejaculates sperm that the other takes and then the pair goes their separate, slimy ways.

Slime tube part two happens when they get ready to lose their clitellum, a band each earthworm has around its body that excretes more slime. As it slides up, it passes over the egg sac, which sticks to it, then over the receptacle holding the paramour’s sperm which also sticks to it, and when eggs and sperm meet, voila!— fertilization takes place. The band comes off the top of the worm’s head like a T-shirt and it forms a little pod from which up to 20 little worms will emerge in two to three weeks.

With that kind of speed and numbers it’s not surprising, as Clark writes that vermicomposters say their worm populations can double in 60 to 90 days.

8. Very Oral Sex

Some crazy animal sex, like the swingers club that is the life of the bonobo, has become common  knowledge. Lots of people know that bonobos have sex with the same frequency the rest of us use Google. Another weird animal sex fact most of us know is that there are some insects and arachnids who eat their mates.

But do you know why? Carl Zimmer, writing in the New York Times in 2006, says the reasons can vary among species faced with “different evolutionary pressures.” One study showed that in Chinese mantises, males were the main source of food for females to begin with.

Male redback spiders are a different and more suicidal story. A male redback spider starts mating with a female, then flips himself onto her fangs. She starts to cannibalize him and then he, kind of amazingly, starts the courting process all over again. After the second mating he will die. Researchers have found that the cannibalism gives the male time to plug the female’s sperm receptacle so no other male can mate with the female. Cannibalized males mate twice as long and have twice the reproductive success rate of non-cannibalized males. They do it for offspring!

Jennifer Welsh of LiveScience writes that hunger—for sex in males, for food in females—may drive preying mantis behavior with males more willing to take a risk with a hungry female if the males are sexually starved.

So there are just a few thoughts on why some species eat their mates. And you thought it was because their mates were filled with cheese.

9. That Warm, Vampiric Glow

From hot tubs to warming vibrators to fireplaces, heat is considered sexy. And the male of this species makes his own.

Sea lamprey sex isn’t that bizarre—in fact it’s a fairly straightforward matter, as Laura Poppick of LiveScience reports. Male vampire fish meets female vampire fish (they sustain themselves by parasitically attaching to other fish and sucking their blood); male attaches hideous suction cup mouth to female’s head, vigorous thrusting ensues, gametes are shot out into the world and land in a little depression mother vampire fish makes with her tail.

What’s new and interesting about it all, Poppick reports, is the discovery that a ridge of fat cells near the anterior dorsal fin of the male heats up when females approachs. It’s the first time heat-generating (thermogenic) tissue has been identified in a cold-blooded species.

Why they do it is unclear, but as Poppick writes, generating heat burns caloric energy and the varying degrees to which they heat up suggests that males tend to spend more energy on attractive females. Since they die after mating it’s energy nature would consider well spent.

10. Pigasm

Coming back full circle to Nick Cage’s dismissal of the pig as having undignified sex, here’s a tidbit about pig nookie. There’s a rumor afloat that pigs have 30-minute orgasms. While I couldn’t find anything to substantiate this, it does say in the Orgasm Answer Guide that male pigs do take five minutes to ejaculate. For comparison, rabbits take one second, and the “conscious perception of orgasm” in human males is 20 seconds or less.

Animals may not be able to rhapsodize in erotic novels and women’s magazines about orgasm, but scientists have concluded that sex is just as rewarding for animals as it is for humans. You know what that means? Male pigs are having climaxes that are 15 times better than human males.

Liz Langley is a freelance writer in Orlando, FLorida

10 Interesting Facts About Sperm

10 Interesting Facts About Sperm

Mr.spermCan you name another cell that’s been played in a movie by Woody Allen? 

Liz Langley, Alternet

Sperm may be sort of funny looking —  like tadpoles in a panic — but it’s a lot more complex and interesting than one might imagine. No other cell (to my knowledge) has been  played by Woody Allen, ridden  by Zoidberg on a Fantastic Voyage-type episode of Futurama or honored in a memorable movie musical by Monty Python. But how much do you know about these little wigglers on which the survival of your species depends? Well, you’re about to learn a little more.

1. Of course he did

Sperm was first discovered in 1677 by a Dutch microscope maker who used one thing of his own making to examine something else of his own making. LiveScience writes that Antony van Leeuwenhoek reported looking under a microscope and seeing tiny “animalcules” (an archaic term for tiny animals) in a sample of his own semen…semen, he made sure to note, which was an excess from actual sex and not just masturbation.

2. How sweet it isn’t

In a piece called Semen Physiology Anaya Mandal on News-Medical Net says that due to fructose that gets in the mix, semen “tastes slightly sweet.” Far be it for me to argue with a doctor but lemme just say there is a reason a company called Sweet Release went to the trouble of creating a product meant to make semen taste like apple pie: because it doesn’t already taste a thing like apple pie or anything else you’ll find for sale in a bakery. Dr. Mandal does say that the taste of semen can change according to a man’s diet and here you can see a BBC video of a taste test the esteemed news outlet did wherein men switched their diets to see if their wives could taste a difference.

This would come in handy for the female of a species of Ulidid fly,  Euxesta bilimeki, which not only expels sperm after mating: they eat it. Science Daily reports on a study from the Instituto de Ecologia in Mexico reported on in the journal Behavior Ecology and Social Biology: 100% of the female flies expelled ejaculate after mating and 25% of those had no sperm left after this expulsion. The theory is that this allows females to choose which males they actually want to father their progeny since it seems they’re able to choose how much sperm to expel, all or just some. (Interestingly, the longer courtship the more likely she is to give all his sperm the heave-ho, leading researchers to think the females in these cases just give in to his advances rather than having to keep rejecting him and then just making sure he’s not the father of her fly babies.)

After experiments in which female flies were given varying diets to see if there was some nutritional reason they were eating the ejaculate, researchers think the reason might be because it provides fluids, since this breed of flies live in very arid areas. Maybe it just tastes like apple pie.

3. Little sneakers

Another way of taste-testing sperm, as a Korean diner discovered to the world’s horror, is by eating squid that is parboiled and undercooked. The squid sperm that tried to inseminate a woman’s mouth was an Internet sensation not long ago. How such a thing could happen is explained by squid expert Danna Staaf on the above link to io9, but it starts with the fact that the sperm delivery system of the squid is very different from that of humans. In several species, including squid, butterflies, scorpions, octopi and others, sperm doesn’t travel in semen but in spermatophores or sperm packets; kind of needle-like vessels that are deposited in the female reproductive tract. Staaf calls this squiddy structure “definitely the world’s most complicated sperm,”in this video explaining exactly how spermatophores work.

On io9 Staaf described the process, starting with the spermatophore cap popping off and the ejaculatory apparatus (every spermatophore has one) popping out and everting itself — turning itself inside out — pulling the sperm mass with it. But the peculiarity of squid insemination doesn’t end there. In the species known as Bleeker’s squid there are two types of male squid — sneakers and consorts, which are kind of the Goofus and Gallant of the cephalopod world. Consorts, reports io9’s Joseph Bennington Castro, are larger, more attention-getting of the two, attracting females by “flashing bright colors across their bodies,” depositing the spermatophores in the female oviduct and then guarding her until the eggs are deposited.

Sneakers are not so, well…gallant. They sneak in between a mating pair and chuck a spermatophore in the female’s external sperm storage unit so that when the eggs come forward “through her oviduct to a spot near her mouth,” the eggs that don’t get fertilized by the spermatophores of the consort — who has put in all this courtship time — will be fertilized by the spermatophores of the sneaker who didn’t do jack. Castro reports that Japanese researchers have found that sneaker sperm are bigger and travel in swarms; they will cluster not only with other sneaker sperm but but with consort sperm and even sperm from a breed of starfish. Figuring they might be attracted to a chemical being released by the other sperm, like CO2, the researchers did experiments in which they released C02 bubble into a tube and found that sneaker sperm “swarmed around it,” while consort sperm did not. Why C02 attracts the sneaker sperm is uncertain but one theory is that eggs may release C02.

Bottom line: squids should probably have their own soap opera, Tentacle Hospital or something. I’d watch it.

4. Animal Adaptations

So squid sperm is pretty fascinating but lots of other animals have intriguing sperm and insemination habits as well.

Jennifer Welsh of LiveScience reports that the mallard duck has sperm that can kill bacteria and the brighter the bill the stronger the antibacterial effect, thus enabling females to avoid a sexually transmitted pathogen and identify males with better sperm,”

says Melissah Rowe of the University of Oslo.

*  Science Magazine reports that moss shoots attract insects — springtails and mites — which then carry moss sperm and help fertilization like insects pollinating flowers.

Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic reports that some sea creatures like jellyfish, barnacles and sponges do what is known as “spermcasting,” sending their sperm out into the water for females to take, in other words, when it’s time, they just go out and pick up some fertilizer.

* The barnacle, Dell’Amore writes, is a special case: it has the biggest penis in the animal kingdom relative to its size and because it can’t move once it’s glued itself somewhere it uses its super-long wiener and “random penis movements” to seek out partners and deposit sperm in their mantle cavity (don’t we all know a guy like that?). If you think that’s nasty and wish to tell a barnacle to go fertilize itself, well, they already do. “Most barnacles are hermaphrodites though they tend to lean toward one gender,” Dell’Amore writes, but they are capable of self-fertilization.

* The grossest animal kingdom sperm transfer has to be the province of bed bugs. The male of the species has a saber-like penis which he uses to stab the female in the abdomen, releasing sperm into her bloodstream — her reproductive system is used exclusively for egg-laying says this PBS Gross Science Video. It’s known as “traumatic” insemination, writes Alasdair Wilkins of io9 and all seems slightly less horrid when Isabella Rossellini puts on a bed bug costume and acts it out for you.

5. Glow-in-the-dark sperm

Back in the ’80s glow-in-the-dark condoms, as in this scene from Skin Deep, were revolutionary. Now it’s the sperm that glow-in-the-dark and help provide researchers with a whole new way to research what the little swimmers are up to. In 2010 Christine Dell’Amore of National Geographic reported on a study in which germline stem cells of mice were “genetically engineered to be fluorescent” and tagged certain cells within those cells with color to watch their development. The quick process scientist once thought sperm development to be was just not the case: sometimes the stem cells go through several cell divisions, sometimes not, sometimes they start to become a sperm cell and then revert back to being a stem cell.

I would: too much competition to potentially just end up in a Kleenex. That’s not entirely a joke. Even if you were a sperm who got to go on the grand quest for fertilization, study co-author Robert Braun called the fertilization process “surprisingly inefficient,” and says the reason for the enormous amount of sperm is that there has to be a “large initial payload [for those] few cells to make it to the final destination.” And yet the process is efficient enough to make contraception an  important factor in our lives. Studying sperm on this level could lead to advances in male birth control, like thwarting germline from becoming sperm in the first place.

6. Build a better swimmer

If you’re trying to facilitate pregnancy rather than prevent it, here are a few things you should know about giving your boys a boost:

* The Pharmacy Times reports that a study published in the Journal of Human Reproduction says that spending time in a sauna can lower a man’s sperm count and keep it down for as long as six months. It’s called “scrotal hyperthermia.” In the study 10 Finnish men had two 15-minute sauna treatments a week for three months which raised their scrotal temperature by 3 degrees Celsius and impaired both sperm count and motility. Temperature clearly affects sperm health with slightly cooler being better, hence the scrotum being on the outside the body.  So it’s not surprising that in a study reported on by Stefan Sirucek of NatGeo on a report from Israel’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev that sperm motility and structure is strongest in the winter (though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try in all the other months….again and again and again).

* Exercise is better for sperm than TV marathons are: Drew Armstrong of Bloomberg reported on a study by Harvard researchers saying that young men who exercised frequently had 73% more sperm than non-exercisers and the sperm counts of those who watched 20 or more hours of TV per week were “almost halved.”

* Nuts are good for your nuts. Shawn Radcliffe of Men’s Fitness reports on a study from the University of California saying that men who ate about two and a half servings of walnuts a day saw an increase in sperm health — motility, shape and size — after 12 weeks. Sperm benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids (let’s call ‘em daddy acids) also found in fish oil and other foods.

7. Because what a man really wants is to stick his penis into a huge machine….

Never having had to produce a sperm sample for any medical or commercial purpose I have no idea what it’s like. Maybe, if I had a choice between masturbating the boring old organic way and leaving the job to a torso-high, pulsating machine I would choose the latter.

Bella Battle of the UK Sun reports that a hospital in China is using just such a machine to collect sperm samples from infertile men for testing. At the time of the story (September 2012) about 10 men a day had been using the machine for about six months (presumably not the same 10 men, coming back in disguise to give it another shot because they dug it) according to Doctor Zhu Guoxin, director of the urology department at Zhengzhou Central Hospital. Users can “adjust the machine’s frequency, speed, force and temperature,” Battle writes, and they have to wear condoms.

Still…new awful job: cleaning out the Sperm Extractor. And now, because you’ve been very good, here’s a video. Maybe they’ll get one at your gym.

8. Spermallergic?

Having a bad reaction to the semen of the one you love can’t be a fun experience, but there is such a thing as being allergic to semen and to the semen of a specific person. ABC News’ Susan Donaldson James describes a North Carolina couple’s quandary with seminal plasma hypersensitivity. Some symptoms described in the story include itching, redness, burning, swelling, hives plus a pain like “a needle-like sticking in the vagina,” according to the University of Cincinnati’s Jonathan Bernstein, who treated the couple and who believes there are as many as 40,000 such cases in the U.S. Sometime the symptoms are confused with yeast and vaginal infections, James writes.

The treatment to desensitize the wife to the allergy included her undergoing “an intravaginal graded challenge using serial dilutions of her husband’s seminal fluid, which were injected via syringe every 15-20 minutes over the course of two to three hours.” It helped and continued to improve and eventually their sex life got back to normal. A lot of people would have just gotten a new spouse…but that’s love for you.

9. It’s on the street

We’ve talked about some interesting sperm delivery systems but the most eye-catching, bar none, is the Sperm Bullitt bicycle, a sperm-shaped bike built for Nordisk Cryobank a leading European sperm bank, used in Copenhagen, as reported — with pics — on Copenhagenzine.com. The company was looking for an eco-friendly way to get its cargo around and yes, just like sperm need, it has a cooling system: “Inside the head of the giant sperm cell is a cooler compartment designed so that the metal containers with sperm donations can fit snugly inside and be kept cold.”

It would be the worst getaway vehicle in the world, wouldn’t it? But then…who steals sperm?

10. Love roller-coaster

Most of us have seen those amazing animalcules and the semen they swim in make their grand entrance out of the body, but what you don’t see is the remarkably circuitous route it takes to get to that point. No kidding: men rather fantastically have what amounts to a Krazy Straw in there.

It all starts in the testes which are made up of seminiferous tubules in which sperm are manufactured. HowStuffWorks.com’s Craig Freudenrichand Molly Edmonds put the rate of production at about 4 million per hour.

Once formed, sperm travels to the epididymus, a coiled tube outside the teste (here’s a picture) where they mature and stay. After the penis is erect if there is “sufficient stimulation,” says Medicine Plus (where you can see it all via animation) the sperm travel up, up, up, through the vas defrens which propel them with muscle contractions, then down again to the ampula and the seminal vesicles where they’re mixed with the first of the fluids that make up semen. That fluid contains numerous substances including fructose, potassium, citric acid and the hormone-like substance prostaglandins. This mix goes downward through the ejaculatory ducts past the prostate gland where another milky fluid is added to the mix which helps neutralize the PH of the vagina, and the semen is finally semen.

At this point it goes back up, up, up again through the urethra and zing! Out into the world. Then, who knows? After all that mixology it could end up on the shower floor…or in a sperm bank…or in the aforementioned vagina…or other places on the body (for which you’ll have to look at another kind of website).

Liz Langley is a freelance writer in Orlando, FL.

9 Fascinating Things You May Not Know About the Penis

You May Not Know This About the Penis

By Liz Langley    Alternet

penises“Isn’t it awfully good to have a penis,” Eric Idle mused in  the greatest 35-second song ever written and I believe he’s telling the truth: having a stiffy is probably spiffy. Erections are such hopeful things, like carrying a little optimist around in your pocket, one imagines.

The penis provides lots of pleasure and keeps the human race going in its capacity as a reproductive organ. There’s all kinds of interesting facts and facets to the human penis and there are some in the animal world that could easily have been designed by Dali. Now’s your chance to get to know them a little better.

1. Spiny Norman no more.

Evolution has discarded many parts of the human penis, including … its spines?

Penile spines are little tiny ridges made of a hard tissue called keratin, and line the outside of the penis. They look (I think) a bit like those punk-inspired accessories that are so popular these days. Lots of animals, including the chimpanzees, still have penis spikes. Christine Dell-Amore of National Geographic News writes that the human genome project gave us the information that the ancestor we share with the chimps also had the spines.

But that was so six million years ago. The code for the “penile spine enhancer” was deleted from the human androgen receptor gene, says Nature (androgens are male sex hormones) and Dell-Amore reports that it happened “before our common ancestor split into modern humans and Neanderthals about 700,000 years ago.” Quite a few deletions were discovered — 510, if you please — and gave us other spiffy changes like having bigger brains and not having whiskers.

It’s not yet certain just what the spines are for, though there are theories, Jen Quaraishi reports in Mother Jones like a correlation between spines and greater promiscuity, also that they make for faster copulation time. If you want to see what they look like, here’s a picture of a cat penis on a blog called Sand Walk.

2. How the human lost his bone, er, baculum.

Another thing the human penis lost along the way — gosh, is it forgetful or what? — was its baculum, or penis bone. Some animals have what’s called an os penis, one containing a bone which keeps them rigid long enough to deliver sperm into the female’s reproductive tract. Most primates have one, but human males rely solely on blood pressure or hemodynamics for rigidity. Lauren Reid of Science Alert writes that the baculum is usually stored in the animal’s abdomen until needed, when abdominal muscles push it out. One of its good qualities is speed: it’s more reliable than waiting for blood flow to work and allows for quick copulation.

In The Selfish Gene, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins describes the os penis as clearly being an easier way to maintain an erection. He theorizes that the reason we lost such a helpful trait is that hemodynamics allow females to better gauge male sexual health when choosing a partner. From diabetes to depression, there are numerous health factors that can cause erectile trouble and “females could glean all kinds of clues about a male’s health and the robustness of his ability to cope with stress, from the tone and bearing of his penis,” clues a bone would obfuscate because “anybody can grow a bone in the penis; you don’t have to be particularly healthy or tough.”

Another charming tidbit from Reid: “There is also a female version of the baculum in some species which has a rather lovely name – the “baubellum,” or “os clitoris.”

3. The adventurous penises of the argonauts.

So the human penis is strong, but not strong enough to run away and mate on its own, leaving the rest of the guy to relax and watch TV.

One animal that does have that ability is the argonaut octopus. Stefan Anitei writes on Softpedia that in octopi, the third right arm of the male is the penis, which is detachable and is called the hectocotylus. The hectocotylus deposits sperm packets called spermatophores into the gills’ cavity of the female and will regenerate a new third arm next season.

Some human males will be jealous of the fact that the male argonaut doesn’t ever have to bother with any intimacy hooey. Some other octopi will at least get close — they recognize their partners by smell and touch. But the argonaut’s hectocotylus wanders off on its own when the spermatophores are formed and goes into the “mantle cavity to fecundate the eggs.”

Wow, just imagine how much more the argonaut can get done in a day! He can go to the bank, the post office and the liquor store all while helping perpetuate the speceis.

4. While you were sleeping.

The human penis may not be that much of a multitasker, but it does get some exercise while the rest of the body is busy with something else: sleeping.

One of the 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Penis pointed out by Martin Downs on WebMD is that to keep it healthy you’ve got to use it, i.e., get erections. But if something is going on in your waking life that’s preventing that from happening, your penis has your back: it works out while you snooze. Doesn’t matter what they’re dreaming about; most men have 3-5 erections a night.

The technical name for these nightly weiner workouts is NPT — nocturnal penile tumescence — and they are one of the things a doctor might check if you’re concerned about erectile dysfunction. Men who don’t get erections during waking hours will still get NPT; if they don’t, there may be a physical problem.

To add insult to difficulty, “Without regular erections, penile tissue can become less elastic and shrink, making the penis 1-2 centimeters shorter,” Downs writes.

Jeez, way to kick a guy when he’s down. It’s just like when the bank charges you a fee…because you don’t have enough money in your account. Either way you’re unfairly shortchanged.

5. What a drag.

If you want to help your penis help you, there’s something you might want to do: quit smoking.

Web M.D. Jeanie Lerche Davis reports that a study of Chinese men found, among other things, that “Men who currently — and formerly — smoked were about 30% more likely to suffer from impotence.” Smoking and erectile dysfunction are both connected (individually) with plaque that builds up in the arteries: it restricts blood flow and potentially causes ED, among other problems. The habit could also be making your erections smaller.

Men’s Health reports in 8 Strategies for Stronger Erections that “In addition to damaging blood vessels, smoking may cause damage to penile tissue itself, making it less elastic and preventing it from stretching,” says urologist Irwin Goldstein.

So where there’s smoke…there may not as much fire as you’d like.

6. Those amazing animals.

The variation nature has gone to the trouble of putting into the penises of the world is dizzying. And sometimes dwarfing.

Elephants are big (you learn something new every time we talk, don’t you?) and their penises are proportionately enormous to the point where if you click the link to this piece by science writer Ed Yong, you’ll see how you could almost mistake this elephant’s schlong for a skinny leg. Yong says the elephant also swatted flies and scratched his belly with it. Elephant penises are referred to as “prehensile,” although it doesn’t say in the piece that he picked up anything with it…except, we suspect, a lucky lady elephant.

Here on National Geographic, Yong also shares the weirdness that is the alligator penis. This member is eternally erect, “ghostly white,” doesn’t inflate at all, which makes it highly unusual, is filled with layer upon layer of collagen (even where blood would normally flow) and, as Yong notes, must have scared the bejesus out of this researcher when one appeared to rise from this dead reptile.

Then there’s the cute little echidna, a prehistoric, egg-laying hedgehog-like mammal whose penis has four heads. Click on the second picture and see how happy he looks (even though his name is Grumpy).

Lucy Cooke writes in Natinoal Geographic that, “The reason why the echidna’s penis has four heads is still up for grabs. The female echidna has two love canals and Stewart [Nicol, echidna researcher] believes that the penis works like a double double-barreled shotgun, firing out of the two heads on one side, and then again quite quickly on the other. Given the fact Mr. Echidna has no idea which side his lady’s egg will be released this might increase his chances of fertilization.”

And may be one reason why a species who walked with dinosaurs is still here to charm us with his ornate love machine.

7. Getting a big head.

So the elephant’s penis is big, but the human male’s is huge among primates. Correcting for overall body size, it’s twice as big as the chimp’s, which may be why they’re always screaming.

How do I know? The wonderful Jesse Bering said so and he studied ape social cognition. Jesse Bering also knows why the human penis evolved to be the shape it is, hence his book Why Is the Penis is Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being HumanThis essay in Scientific American is nearly verbatim from his book, which you must buy to be both entertained and the life and soul of cocktail parties from now til the end of the world.

At any rate, the strong, straight shaft, large glans or head and coronal ridge look the way they do for a reason, and the reason is probably semen delivery and displacement — delivery of one’s own and displacement of another male’s.

First let’s talk about length. Bering tells us that evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup and coauthor Rebecca Burch wrote a 2004 paper conjecturing that the lengths the penis can reach and the force of human ejaculate can delivery sperm into the uppermost part of the vagina and that a longer penis would be advantageous not only for reaching the vagina’s deeper recesses but to displace sperm that might have been left by another male. Interesting, especially since magnetic imaging of couples having sex is what tells us how the far the penis can go and how it expands inside the vagina.

But it gets way, way better.

The distinct arrow-like shape of the penis would be good for displacement, Gallup figured, because of the “upsuck,” (not kidding) caused by thrusting. If there was anyone else’s sperm in there, that ridge would effectively scoop it all out. To test this, Gallup and his researchers got some “prosthetic genitals from erotic novelty stores,” including a faux vagina and three faux penises, one with a coronal ridge extending .2 inches from the shaft, one extending out .12 inches and one with no glans at all, which was the control. They made a simulated semen solution of flour and water, put it inside the “vagina,” and the three dummy weiners were then inserted to see how much ersatz sperm they could displace.

Imagine going to the office that day. To anyone who thinks science is monotonous, I have two words: puh leeze.

Anyway, Gallup was right. The smoothie removed only 35.3 percent while the two with the wider coronal ridges removed 91 percent and the deeper they were inserted the more effective scoopers they were.

8. Gimmie some skin.

Everyone knows the human penis can be very giving, but who knew that generosity extended to the medical community? Foreskin, the retractable piece of skin that covers the penis (it’s also called the prepuce, a word that also refers to the skin covering the clitoris) has been used in a lab to grow artificial skin cells for burn victims. And if you’ve ever been impressed with a “grower” check out prepuce power:

“A piece of foreskin the size of a postage stamp can produce approximately 4 acres of skin tissue in the laboratory [source: Strange],” writes Molly Edmonds of How Stuff Works. The foreskins of circumcised infants are thought to work well in this way — better than donor skin — because the infant cells are not rejected by the adult body’s immune system. “If they did,” Edmonds writes, “mothers’ bodies would reject fetuses [source: Skloot].” Discovery Channel says that lab-grown skin is less likely to be rejected by a patient and also less likely to cause infection.

Foreskin tissue donated with parental consent to Germany’s “Skin Factory” at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart is used to grow artificial skin used for consumer product testing that “could someday replace animal testing,” writes Eric Pfieffer of Yahoo News. Pfieffer quotes the German Herald as reporting that the cells are grown “on a layer of collagen and connective tissue.” Eventually they are injected “into a gel that causes them to grow into a sheet that simulates the epidermis. The layers are then fused together, creating a replica of natural human skin.”

Circumcision is definitely a controversial issue, but it’s kind of hard not to be for skin.

9. Something fishy.

To wrap things up, it’s fair to say that doing this story has certainly caused male genitals to be on my mind…but there’s one species of fish that wears his on his head.

The 2cm-long Phallostethus cuulong was discovered in Vietnam in 2009 by Koichi Shibukawa, a researcher from the Nagao Natural Environment Foundation in Tokyo, writes New Scientist’s Michael Marshall. The little fella doesn’t actually have a penis as we understand them, but has a “priapium, which faces backwards and looks like a muscular nozzle. It’s actually a modification of the fish’s pectoral and pelvic fins” and the reproductive organs hang from his chin, a characteristic of all priapiumfish, named for Priapus, Greek god of many things including male reproductive power.

The priapiumfish may also be singular in this world of digital sharing in that no one has ever seen them mating. It’s thought, however, that the male keeps the female in place with two appendages, one that looks like a saw (the ctenactinium), the other like a rod, (toxactinium) which he holds on either side of her head while transferring sperm.

The priapium’s anus is on his head, too, in front of his ball chin. He’s twotwo, two cartoons in one.

Wild Sex

Sex in the Wild (a First-Hand Account)

What I learned about love from a hermaphrodite, a cannibal, and a dizzyingly diverse array of sea creatures.

By Eva Hayward, Jan 30, 2013 from Yes! Magazine

hayward“Naked lungs,” nudibranchs: Undulant sea slugs, frilled and harlequin. They are hermaphrodites and cannibals. Male or female, mate or lunch: permutations abound.

Imagine: you meet at San Francisco’s sea-themed Farallon restaurant, “a resemblance of a beautiful underwater fantasy.” Jellyfish pulse around you. Flanked by glowing columns of kelp, your date eyes you, sensing your signals, your orientations. If the dénouement goes well, maybe you’ll get nibbled—or more. If the night is a catastrophe, you walk away knowing you escaped demise. Sometimes it’s a bit of both—you’re missing tentacles, but you can’t wait to see them again.

Perhaps it is anthropomorphic of me to suppose my way into a nudibranch encounter. Anthropomorphism, that arrogance that imposes human thoughts and feelings upon animals, is surely a sin. But like most sins, I also think it reveals some truths.

Invertebrates, or as biologists call them, “inverts,” like the nudibranch are critters liberated from the constraints of a backbone. They offer a particularly rich resource for examining the limits of sex and sexuality. Consider the limpet, a snail-like hermaphrodite that undergoes sex change during its life. It is born sexless, then matures into a male at nine months. After a couple of years, he becomes female. These little conical beings, no bigger than poker chips, deliciously pervert and invert our human assumptions about bodies.

In general, we pretend sex is obvious, as if our chromosomes calculate our entire physiology. But as we’ve slowly come to realize—with the help of feminism, “queer theory,” and biology—sex is many processes that include X and Y chromosomes, hormones, gonads, internal sex structures, and external genitalia, as well as history, culture, environment, and variables still to be named. Some marine inverts “know” that sex is a process; know it as part of their way of life.

Which is not to call nudibranch or limpet reproduction “queer.” Sex change isn’t queer for these organisms; it’s their norm. Unlike some queer humans, they are not challenging sex, gender, and sexual conventions. Humans also change sexes, but oysters and humans change in vastly different biological contexts, specific to their environments and capacities.

The comparison is meant to defy sex determinism and essentialism, but could just as easily reinforce it. Books like Bruce Baghemihl’s Biological Exuberance (2000)—cited in the U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas as evidence that “homosexual behavior is natural”—and Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow (2004) have turned to nonhuman sexual variations as a way to understand, and even legitimate, human sexual diversity. “Cold Cape Cod clams, ’gainst their wish, do it / Even lazy jellyfish do it,” sings Ella Fitzgerald, so why can’t we do it? Such comparisons elide differences among species and their environmental and evolutionary contexts.

So, what can we say about nudibranchs and people, when all such comparisons are dicey?

Consider Green Porno, Isabella Rossellini’s recent series of short films on animal sexual behavior. “If I were a snail,” says Rossellini to the camera in her “Snail” episode, “I could withdraw my entire body.” Dressed in a leotard, she curls into a large, constructed shell on a ribbon of slime. “I could hide both my vagina and my penis. I have both,” she continues, with a naughty smile. Then, we see her and another snail initiating courtship by stabbing each other with “love darts.” “Sadomasochism excites me,” she says, moaning with pleasure.

At first glance, Green Porno seems more problem than promise. However playful the video is, the habits of the snail are made salacious for us humans. The invert(ebrate) as pervert comes across as the same old problem of anthropomorphism. But Rossellini’s sighs of pleasure also open up parallels between our human fantasies and the life of the snail.

The snail, limpet, nudibranch, and even we humans evolve through our abilities to experience sensations and their limits. Charles Darwin teaches us that life needs variation to accommodate our ever-changing environment. Our differences as species are elaborated at the sensuous edge of our selves; we are defined by our abilities to sense and respond to the world around us. Pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion: sensation is the engine of change. It is through our differences and our abilities to differentiate that life opens up to indeterminacy and potential.

There is no direct relationship between a nudibranch and me—not even when I, a woman who was a fag-identified male seduced a man who was a lesbian-identified female. We are now married “heterosexuals” living in a swing state. But the nudibranch’s particular sexuality emerges from the same fundament as mine: life proliferates difference. I’m a woman with a transsexual history, because transsexuality is part of my species’ potential—by which I mean the web of relationships that make us human, like culture, environment, imagination, communication, and physiology. Transsexuality is just one way of being human, of being a thread in the web.

While I am queer and the nudibranch is not, both our sexualities are permanently under revision, because life itself is changing. And all of us will respond and react to the environmental pressures that we humans have helped to create—polluted oceans and depleted resources—and those forces that none of us can control. Perhaps these stresses will prompt new kinships and surprising alternatives, or they might foretell catastrophe and demise. Or, more likely, both.

Eva Hayward wrote this article for What Would Nature Do?, the Winter 2013 issue of YES! Magazine. Eva is a researcher at the Center for Gender Research at Uppsala University, Sweden. She has written on queer theory, science, and visual studies.

UN Declares Contraception a Human Right

Contraception a Human Right

Fiesta Condomobile

Fiesta Condomobile

Ms. Magazine reports on the UN’s Population Fund (UNFPA) declaration of contraception as a universal human right. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin stated:

“..Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women.”

**************

UN Declares Contraception a Human Right

In its annual report released on November 14th, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) declared that it will now consider contraception a global human right. The report, titled “The State of World Population 2012: By Choice, Not by Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development,” conveys the basic message that contraception is a “human right” and is essential to the “sustainable development” of nations.The report insists that legal, cultural and financial barriers to accessing contraception and other family planning methods infringe upon women’s human rights.

Currently 222 million women in developing countries have little to no access to family planning. UNFPA believes that an additional $4.1 billion is needed to provide for current family planning resources. UNFPA estimates that maternal and newborn health costs would decrease by $11.4 billion if voluntary family planning was made available to everyone in developing countries.

Along with the economic costs, UNFPA claims that ignoring the right to family planning results in poverty, poor health, and gender inequality. By enabling individuals to choose if and when they want to have children, both women and their children are more likely to live healthier, longer lives. According to a statement from UNFPA Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, “Family planning has a positive multiplier effect on development. …Not only does the ability for a couple to choose when and how many children to have help lift nations out of poverty, but it is also one of the most effective means of empowering women. Women who use contraception are generally healthier, better educated, more empowered in their households and communities and more economically productive. Women’s increased labor-force participation boosts nations’ economies.”

However, this classification by the UNFPA is not legally binding and the United Nations cannot force nations to take any immediate action following the release of the report.

One item museum

 The Movie The Final Member features a museum devoted to only one thing.

 The museum describes its work thus:

“The Icelandic Phallological Museum is probably the only museum in the world to contain a collection of phallic specimens belonging to all the various types of mammal found in a single country.”

Boasting of over 200 specimens of phalluses, only one seems to be missing… a human one.

Hot Docs reviews The Final Member

“Meet Sigurdur Hjartarson, the founder and curator of the Icelandic Phallogical Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to the penis. Receiving a bull penis as a gag gift in the ’70s, something clicked in Sigurdur’s brain and the next thing he knew, he was collecting specimens from any animal he could get his hands on, slowly filling his house with jars of penises of all shapes and sizes, from nearly every creature that walks, swims or flies that you can think of. With his home quickly becoming cluttered, his understanding family joked that he should open a museum, and a lightbulb went off, and that’s exactly what he did. Granted, it’s not the Guggenheim, but the modestly sized building is really one of the few places where you can see the penis in the many shapes and sizes that nature has given it.”

 Another Canadian review of The Final Member describes the affable museum director, and the two donors who vie for a place of honor currently missing in the museum…

  “A house mouse has one; mind you it’s only a couple of millimeters long. A sperm whale has one too, but it’s closer to six feet in length. If you like, you could see both of these specimens (and hundreds of others) from the animal kingdom at a special museum just 30 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The Icelandic Phallological Museum (IPM) features just one theme for your viewing and learning pleasure: penises.

Mind you, there is one important sample missing — that of a human male.

Enter Canadian directors Zach Math and Jonah Bekhor, who now make their homes in Los Angeles. When they heard that IPM curator Sigurdur Hjartarson was looking to complete his unique collection, and that he had a couple of potential donors waiting in the wings, they hopped on a plane and started filming everything from that moment on. The results are funny, sad, heartwarming and fascinating. One thing “The Final Member” is (thankfully) missing is the low-brow, goofy dick joke, which is nary to be found.

Sigurdur, or Siggy as he’s known in the film, is an educator, a family man and a naturalist; he’s also getting older. His popular museum started as a joke after a friend gave him a bull penis in 1974. It was an awfully nice specimen, and Siggy being a bit of a compulsive guy, the collection grew … at least in numbers. Siggy and his wife of over 50 years were looking to take care of themselves and their health issues, but the wry Icelander will not rest until the human addition is made.

His potential donors are just as eccentric as he is. The first is a local icon named Páll Arason. A pioneer of adventure tourism and explorer of the wild in his native country, Arason is also well-known as one of the country’s great womanizers. He is keen to share his notorious manhood with generations to come, but at 95 years old is running into some serious shrinkage problems. This is an issue, as the folklore of Iceland demands a minimum five inches.

If Páll sounds like a handful, wait until you meet Tom Mitchell. Tom is an American who seems like the kind of guy who might be an accountant or run the local hardware store. Turns out he is absolutely obsessed with his genitalia. ‘Elmo,’ as he calls it, seems to live in its own world with its own set of rules. Tom is so elated about the potential for Elmo to be the first human penis in the museum, he has even sweetened the offer. Tom wants to have Elmo surgically removed and plastisized while he is still alive and kicking. He even has plans for it outside of the museum during off-season.

And so the race is on. One would think that plans would be drawn up, deadlines would be determined, and arrangements made for the final member. Instead we see three men grappling with ego, compulsion, attachment and expectation. Whether the Icelandic Phallogical Museum is ever completed is now a difficult, complex and layered problem for the trio to work out.

In the end, “The Final Member” has a lot more heart than penis in it — and that’s a good thing.”

Pro Life or Pro Sperm?

Pro-Life or Just Pro-Sperm? 

by David Morris   Published March 15, 2012 in Common Dreams

Recent events make clear the need for a new language to describe the raging debate about sex and birth.  Consider the problematic word that dominates our conversation:  pro-life.

Most pro-life organizations more accurately should be labeled pro sperm. For they insist the sperm has the inalienable, indeed the God-given right to pursue the egg without human enabled interference.  Joseph M. Scheidler, the National Director of the Pro-Life Action League memorably declared, “I think contraception is disgusting-people using each other for pleasure.” Judith Brown, President of The American Life Lobby asserts its opposition “to all forms of birth control with the exception of natural family planning.”

The Catholic Church is fervently pro-sperm.  Decades before the Church mobilized against abortion it mobilized against contraception.  As late as 1960, many states outlawed sales of contraceptives.  The Catholic Church was the driving force behind these laws.  In the 1940s, Connecticut legislators introduced bills allowing physicians to prescribe contraceptives only for married couples if a pregnancy would be life threatening.  The Catholic Church swung into action.   One historian describes the process;  “priests became heavily involved…Their efforts were not confined to anti-birth control sermons on Sundays.  They engaged in voter registration drives, they encouraged parishioners to support anti-birth control candidates for the legislature, and they actively campaigned to defeat any changes in the birth control laws”.  The bills failed.   read more

All Sperm Sacred!

Life Begins Not At Conception But At Ejaculation, proposes legislator

everyspermissacredYES! GZ does like that All Sperm is Sacred. However, GZ is not so enthused about a proposed legislation amendment that would only allow sperm into a woman’s vagina: what happens then to GZ’s friends in the GBT community? It would definitely discriminate against them.

Oklahoma state Senator Constance Johnson proposed a bill amendment  that would make it illegal for a man to ejaculate anywhere except into a woman’s sexual organs, focusing on the current so-called personhood” laws proposed across conservative states.

Even after reading the legislator’s explanation about her bill amendment in the Guardian, GZ is still not convinced; but loves some readers’ comments, such as Herr Emott’s, offered on Feb. 9, 2012. He simply sez: “So every sperm is sacred after all.”

Monty Python sang it best“Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good,
every sperm is needed, in your neighborhood,
Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.”
praying


 

Lingam Sculptures

Malta street sculpture

“I think/you’re lovely and brave, and so interesting, you are/ like a creature, with your head, and trunk, as if you have a life of your own.” -Sharon Olds, Ode to the Penis

Phallic Art

It has been used artistically by most cultures for hundreds of years. In some places they are called monuments. There is at least one museum devoted to it. The Japanese love their phalluses, and celebrate them in a fertility festival.

Westerners might raise an eyebrow, but Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Iron Phallus) is a joyous occasion which besides asking for fertility, long marriages and healthy births, raises awareness of sexually transmitted diseases.

The Greek have their own phallic festival where residents of the tiny town of Tyrnavos “go crazy about penises”. Unlike the more goal oriented Japanese festival, this one celebrates Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy.  India’s own lingam festival is related to Shiva, the creator and destroyer god. Five offerings are made on Maha Shivatri day, and placed in front of Shiva in its phallic form.

Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park, N.Y.

Cleopatra’s Needle, Central Park, N.Y.

Kanamara Matsuri

Kanamara Matsuri, or Phallus Festival in Kawasaki, Japan.

A lingam at a temple in Mahabalipuram.

A lingam at a temple in Mahabalipuram.

London sculpture

Wash., DC Phallus Imp. or: Mine is Biggest of All

Or if you prefer, there is the cake version.phalmon

And, for those with a sweet tooth, there are more like this.