Sunday, August 30, 2015


WARNING: This blog is only NSFW if you are not in a life-sciencey profession.  Because today's topic is all about sex.

Uh oh, you may think.  Has Cat decided to go the way of sophomorphic humor, riddled with juvenile mentions of genitalia?

Uh, I guess we know what harbor porpoises think about all day.

Of course not. Okay well, maybe a little, since I tend to refer to male reproductive organs with the medically-accepted term "wiener." But the thing is, see, we as animals are (like so many others) totally obsessed with sex.  I don't just mean the act.  I mean everything that relates to it, from benign crushes to well, wherever your imagination takes you.

Here's where my imagination took me.

Sexual reproduction is arguably THE driving force in sexually-reproducing organisms.  Since that's like a whole lot of lifeforms, we're just going to stick with vertebrates because most of them utilize this method.  We humans oft ask the age-old* question: Why Am I Here? The Selfish Gene Hypothesis states that the answer is to get as many genomic copies of ourselves out in the world.  

Fungi are simultaneously among the best sexual reproducers and the worst things to eat.  Ew. 

Those humans with a strong faith in certain religious sects may take offense to the aforementioned statement, but that's not what I'm getting at.  There are many, many "loftier" reasons why we may exist, and an entire slough of spiritual belief systems that can sum up our existence in beautiful, meaningful ways.  What I'm saying is, regardless of your particular faith (or lack thereof), this blog is not commenting on deep aspects of Why We Are Here, nor is its tribute to the biological explanation meant to imply the exclusive answer.

Oh wait, d'uh.  I forgot we already know the meaning of life. 

Okay, with all of that out of the way....

A few days ago, I saw an article in the Washington Post about this new, hilarious hashtag explosion entitled #junkoff.  Basically, it's a bunch of zoological nerds trying to one-up each other in the Twitter cyberverse by posting photos of ridiculous animal genitalia.  Mostly wieners.  Here, check it out.

It's absolutely hilarious.  I mean, why does anyone care about wieners?  Why do we LOL at movies like Superbad because of poor Seth's almost reflexive tendency to draw penises everywhere? Do we subscribe to Cosmopolitan magazine because we just LOVE the recipes in there? Why is sex the ubiquitous topic with teens in every. single. generation?

Because.  Science.

You tell 'em, Jesse.

One myth that humans love to talk about is how we are one of the only animals who has sex "for fun." We graciously include dolphins into this, too.  As if that somehow elevates the status of dolphins to More Conscious because they aren't mindlessly reproducing.

But here's the thing, fellow animal sexual-reproducers: the whole point of this method of reproduction is to feel good.  If it didn't have some reinforcing value, I'm not totally sure it'd be as successful as it is.  Yes, many animals have specific breeding cycles and mate only within that period of time.  Does this mean that during estrous, a female horse isn't thinking about how suddenly, that stallion is looking MIGHTY fine?  Regardless of sexual orientation, why do two individuals decide to come together to have a go at propogation? 

But only when we're in estrous.  

That part is the instinctive side of sexual reproduction for animals, regardless of orientation***.  Plants and fungi that engage in this method just kind of lie there and have their own way of acquiring gametes.  Us animals, we get an urge, we follow that urge, badabing badaboom.  If biological life revolves around making more of us, then it makes complete sense that all we think about is, well, anything related to making more of us.  Even if we don't necessarily WANT more of us (you know, like if you don't want kids, or if it's physically impossible,) that doesn't mean you don't ogle people you find attractive.   

Some social animals (like us humans) engage in sexual activity outside of our normal estrous cycles, yes.  But in order to ensure that it keeps happening, it's gotta feel good to someone. An itch that needs to be scratched, so to say.  It may be pretty one-sided in the case of some animals.  In others, sexual behavior is noted but not necessarily used for reproduction.  And if you ever need example of this, you can stop by my workplace and watch our female ASCOs prove my point.  Or, you could read this BBC article about this very topic.

A little privacy, please?

Many of us know a lot about natural selection, but that is just one mechanism of evolution.  Sexual selection is just as prevalent in the natural world.  Sexual selection is why male genitalia winds up just right for females in many species....and why females develop their own physiological and/or behavioral methods of successful reproduction. It's also why many male birds are obnoxiously gorgeous (and therefore very attractive to predators in an entirely different way).  Or why men of many species act in ways around boom-boom time that just make us go agog.  These are all things that increase the chances of us making little versions of ourselves.  

In fact, our lives would be just so very boring if we a) were not sexually-reproducing animals and/or b) only asexual reproduction existed.  Think about it.  Sex gave us hashtag JUNKOFFS.  We write bajillions of songs about love and sex.  Many of our political, ethical, and religions devote large amounts of money, time, and mental energy on creating culturally-appropriate sexual norms.  We long for the time we meet The Right Person.  We watch The Bachelor, or get excited when someone we know (humans or others) have babies.  


Let's take a look at what our lives would be like if we were asexually-reproducing. 

Salt N Pepa's song "Let's Talk About Sex" would go something like:

Let's talk about asex, baby
Let's talk about me and me
Let's talk about all the cloning
And the budding
That may be

Definitely not as catchy

Our world would look pretty boring.  Even though the idea of having hoards of Cat clones really appeals to my hubris, it's just better there's one of me.  Actually, it could be kind of cool to fragment, like where I'd fall apart into 8 or 9 pieces, all of which turn into me.  But would it hurt?  It kind of freaks me out.  Maybe I'd better not try it.

You think that being a teenager in the throes of puberty (a necessary transition for many sexually-reproducing animals) was embarrassing?  I contend that being an asexual teenager is WORSE.  

Asexual reproduction (mitosis) in donuts.  SOMEONE AMAZING MADE THIS.

What's the worst thing that can happen to you as a teenage boy or girl?  I won't write it here, but you can use your imagination.  Now, keep that image fresh in your mind as I outline a scenario for our asexually-reproducing alternate universe selves:

You're sitting in math class with all of your classmates.  It's a perfectly normal day in which you've completely ignored the teacher and have doodled all over your notebook.  The teacher, who looks oddly a lot like you, calls your name.  You snap out of your teenage daze, your heart racing as you realize that your cover is blown: you have no idea what your teacher has asked and everyone is looking at you.

I've felt like this more than once.

"I don't know" you say, your face flushing deep red.

"You don't know if you can come up to the board to finish this equation?" the teacher retorts. "Because that's what I asked you to do."

"Oh," you say.  You are humiliated, looking this stupid in front of all of your classmates.  You slowly get up out of your chair and walk to the board, knowing there's no way you can possibly answer the question right.  But what choice do you have?  

It can't get any worse, you think to yourself.

But then, as you reach the front of the room with all eyes on you, you feel it.  That tingle on your upper left arm.  Unmistakable.  Unstoppable.

Ohhh god.

Oh no, oh no, oh no, you think.  You grab your arm and look desperately at your teacher, hoping for understanding.  But teacher just stares back at you.  "Go on."

The tingling intensifies.  "I have to go to the bathroom," you say.  Your voice is laced with panic.

"You can go after you find x."

Under your sweaty palm, you feel the undeniable bulge grow.  You clamp down on your arm, desperate to stop what's about to happen.  But it's too powerful, it's too late.  Your hand gives way as a head, identical to yours, buds out of your shoulder.  You defeatedly brace yourself as another copy of you grows out of your body, pinches itself off, then drops to the floor.  It stands up, looks at you, and takes a seat in an empty desk.  


"Oh," the teacher says.  "Well you could've gone to the bathroom to do that."

Mortified, you know that forever more you'll be known as the Kid Who Cloned In Math Class.  Now, aren't you happy you're a sexual reproducer?

Sexual reproduction really has a huge part in who we are as a species.  It doesn't mean we just abandon our moral codes set by our communities and cultures.  You can interpret its importance and how to correctly use it however you want (as long as you're not being a total jerk to someone else.) But all of us (not just the humans and dolphins) should acknowledge that the powerful and special biological aspect of sex does deserve a nod.

Or maybe a hashtag.  

* Age-old is one of those hilarious and oh-so-human phrases that assumes the concepts of ages only began with humans.  I bet our prehistoric friends look down upon us an laugh heartily from their heavenly seats.**

** No, I'm not doing drugs.  BUT I haven't had a donut in like, many hours.

*** There are same-sex couples documented in many other animal species.  None are as fabulous as Nathan Lane and the love of his live, Devlin Elliot (especially because they wrote this amazing children's book about their dogs).


No comments:

Post a Comment