February 25, 2000 (Ira Pilgrim)


Sex n. Rarely used nowadays to specify whether a person had a penis or a vagina. Current usage is limited to the expression "having sex." Having sex is a popular pastime among adolescents and their parents.

Every now and then the writers of Star Trek get bold and a member of the crew of the starship Enterprise has a liaison with another crew member who comes from a different planet in a different solar system. In the world of science fiction anything is possible. However, the sexual behavior of organisms on planet Earth is much more bizarre than anything that the writers of Star Trek have ever come up with.

We are all familiar with the western salmon, where both sexes swim up rivers and streams, leaping over rapids and small waterfalls to get to their place of birth. When they get there, the female swishes her tail to make a hollow in the sand. She then lays her eggs in it and the male pours his sperm over the eggs. Then they both die. Now isn't that romantic?

When I was a zoology student in Berkeley, I spent an evening watching a pair of salamanders do a strange dance on the pavement outside my house. As I found out later, the dance was a prelude to the male leaving a packet of sperm on the pavement, and the female picking it up with her sexual orifice. Can you imagine Worf in Star Trek making it with counselor Troi. After they do a dance, he reaches into his pants and takes out a small capsule and hands it to her. She takes it and puts it somewhere; you guess where. Doesn't the thought excite you? Talk about pornography!

The cuttlefish looks like an eight armed octopus. In some species, at the appropriate time, an accessory tentacle turns into a sex organ and the tip is filled with packets of sperm. After an elaborate mating ritual, the tentacle is attached to the female's body inside the mantle cavity and is broken off. It stays there for a long time and deliver sperm as needed to fertilize eggs. I don't know what the male does after that, since his reproductive tentacle has been broken off.

There is a fresh water leech where the male produces a sperm packet that looks a bit like a push pin. He drives the pin into the flank of the female. The sperm cells leave the pin and migrate around the female until they find an egg to fertilize. That's about as macho as a male can get. Some snails do the same push pin thing, only each snail drives a dart into its partner. They are hermaphrodites, being both male and female in each snail.

Among the barnacles, a tiny insignificant male is attached to the body of the female, in contrast to man where males are considered hot stuff. In barnacles the male is just a monogamous sperm donor and nothing more.

Then there are the bees, where the males(drones) don't do much until mating time. The queen flies high up in the sky and a bunch of males follow her. The ones who catch her mate with her in mid air. That's real high flying.

The male bower bird builds a bower out of any junk that he can find. If the female likes his construction she enters the bower and they mate and raise a family. They have great family values.

Plants have all sorts of wonderful strategies to get the pollen to the egg. This often involves other species such as bees and other insects, birds or bats. There was a marvelous television series called The Sex Life of Plants. I haven't been able to find it anywhere, but I would love to see it again. The photography was unbelievably wonderful.

Virtually all animals restrict their sexual activity to a particular time. This is usually determined by either the female or the climate. In some primates, including man, the female is said to be always receptive(Don't you believe it!). Man, so far as I know, is the only species that has sex as a purely recreational activity, although I suspect that many mammals also do it just for fun. Since man is the only animal that knows what those activities lead to, he is also the only one that tries to have the activity and to also avoid the consequences. And that behavior is as bizarre as anything that you can find anywhere on Earth, and perhaps in the entire universe.

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