It’s amazing how much we can learn about sex from the animal kingdom – what’s “normal” or “natural” and what isn’t, what goes on behind closed doors, who’s “zooming” who, you get the idea.
As much as we’ve evolved, it can be easy to forget that, at the core, we’re animals too. Just because animals do certain things doesn’t prove that we necessarily do them too. But studying animals can certainly provide an interesting lens through which we can view human sexuality.
Here are some interesting things you might not know about animals and how, when, why, and who they “do” when they do what they do.
1. They flirt…and sometimes in very strange ways. Male hippos defecate and then use their tails in a propeller-like fashion to spread it around to attract the ladies. Male peacocks display their feathers. Other species puff up their chests. Some creatures are just born with it. Male cardinals are already bright red and stags have enormous horns, both of which are designed to impress the fairer sex.
People flirt, too. And we do it in a variety of different ways. And some of those ways are not so different from our animal relatives. We show off our assets, some that we are born with others, which we accentuate. Luckily we don’t throw our feces around, although a little BS has been known to fly in the name of attracting the opposite sex.
2. They masturbate. Primates, lions, vampire bats, walruses, sheep, deer, zebras, warthogs, hyenas, cetaceans, birds, killer whales, and penguins are just a few members of the animal kingdom who partake. According to research, they do it for the same reason people do.
People masturbate. And, much like in the animal kingdom, we do it in a variety of ways –
both with “toys” and without. Unfortunately, unlike animals, there is still a great deal of shame associated with self-play. But this is one area where we should definitely take our lead from the animal kingdom and not worry so much about this perfectly natural behavior.
3. They watch porn. Pandas are often shown porn by zookeepers and others in the business of trying to get pandas to mate, not always an easy task.
People watch porn. Unfortunately, people also abuse porn. But if we were to take a page from the panda playbook, we would use it to jump-start our own sex lives. It’s a subsidy, not a substitution. And it’s fantasy, not instruction.
4. They exhibit habits other than monogamy. They are polygamous and polygynous. And they are social monogamists as well as serial monogamists, even swans. Bonobos, for example, have multiple sexual partners at any given time in their life. And some species even engage in group sex. When red-sided garter snakes mate, the female is made the center of what is called a mating ball, where 100 males all attempt to mate with the female at the same time.
People exhibit habits other than monogamy. Although not always socially accepted, people partner in a variety of ways. Many of those ways have proved to be perfectly healthy. It’s just a shame that so many of those non-monogamous scenarios also include a lot of dishonesty, something that healthy for any species, human or otherwise.
5. They are homosexual as well as heterosexual. Marine birds, mammals, monkeys, great apes, dolphins, penguins, cattle, bonobos and rams are just a few of the many animal species in which scientists have observed homosexual behavior.
Humans are homosexual as well as heterosexual, obviously. And each is perfectly normal and absolutely biological. Once again, the only issue in human society is our lack of acceptance of both orientations.
6. They have sex for pleasure. Not only are bonobos not monogamous, they also don’t have sex simply for pro-creation. They have sex with many partners and for no reason other than pleasure.
People have sex for pleasure. This is one arena where people and animals are as alike as can be.
7. They’re on the hunt for compatibility. In one year, female porcupines are only interested in sex for eight to 12 hours. But when she’s in the zone, she wants to mate over and over again, until he can’t play anymore. And once he’s spent, she simply looks for another partner.
People are on the hunt for compatibility. Almost everyone is looking for a mate who “gets” them and who is looking for the same things when it comes to love and sex and making a life. Luckily, most don’t resort to some of the wilder means that our animal brethren do.
8. They over-indulge sometimes. There is such a thing as too much off a good thing…in the animal kingdom anyway. A small marsupial called the brown antechinus will actually have sex until he dies, mating for up to 12 hours with one partner and then moving from partner to partner until he simply dies at the end of mating season.
People over-indulge sometimes. Whether it’s an actual case of sexual addiction or simply someone who occasionally goes a bit wild, people have been known to sexually exhaust themselves to their own detriment. Luckily, most of us, know when to say when.
9. They have female sexual aggressors. Female hyenas are more sexually aggressive than male hyenas, and in a family of Percula clownfish, the largest member is female and the second largest is the male. So, she’s the boss. And, when she dies, the male fish becomes a female and takes charge.
People have female sexual aggressors. Luckily, these days, sexually strong women are more socially accepted than they once were. Although it sure would be nice if it wasn’t considered a “special case” and instead was just considered another happy permutation in the spectrum of human sexuality.
Scientists are discovering new things about sexuality and the animal kingdom every day. Hopefully, we’re learning just as much about ourselves too -- both from the animals and from studying our own kind. The good news is, when it comes to sex, the fun only stops when we stop exploring.
Jenny Block is a freelance writer based in Dallas. She is the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." Her work appears in "One Big Happy Family," edited by Rebecca Walker and "It's a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters," edited by Andrea Buchanan. Visit her website at www.jennyonthepage.com or check out her blog at www.jennyonthepage.blogspot.com.