That was one of the replies I got from an animal biology professor when I asked to interview him about the Bloodhound Gang song “The Bad Touch.” In the same way I got three bus drivers to discuss Speed and three meteorologist to fact-check Toto’s “Africa,” I wanted three animal reproductive experts to give me their feelings on lyrics like this:
You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals
So let’s do it like they do on the Discovery Channel
Love, the kind you clean up with a mop and bucket
And let’s not forget:
So show me yours, I’ll show you mine — “Tool Time”
But they were “not interested,” as another biologist told me. All told, I got a grand total of 64 rejections, shattering my record from when I unsuccessfully tried to get plumbers to discuss Mario (plumbers, by the way, are a rather taciturn people). But I soldiered on, through the ignored emails and the ones who “respectfully declined.” And even this guy, who almost seemed to want to make it a little personal:
“It does seem like your MEL magazine is better than that music video you had me watch. My advice is to waste no more time with your proposed article on that music video to work on something more funny, interesting and/or important. You might start by reading up on reproduction in the spotted hyena. Seriously. You won’t be wasting your time.”
Well, needless to say, I failed to heed this biologist’s advice and continued to waste my time on this unfunny, uninteresting and/or unimportant pursuit (and, out of a bit of childish spite, I have yet to look into his claim about hyenas). I needed to find three experts to hit my usual magic number of panelists, and, eventually, I did. I found three animal reproduction experts who were unoffended by lyrics like:
You’ll love it just like Lyle
And then we’ll do it doggy style
So we can both watch X-Files
So, let’s get into it.
On the Educational Value of Knowing About Animal Mating Habits
Gareth Evans, professor emeritus in animal reproduction at the University of Sydney: There’s nothing to be ashamed about with sex and reproduction. We’re long since past the Victorian era where these things weren’t to be discussed. Learning about them helps to teach us about human behavior, to reflect back on ourselves.
Joy Reidenberg, anatomy professor and host of the PBS nature series Sex in the Wild: There’s a lot of value in learning about how animals mate. If you don’t know what’s important for a particular species to reproduce, you won’t be able to protect that species. Like if we don’t understand what a male’s territory is and we break up that territory, the females may not find the males, and then they won’t mate. For endangered species, if we don’t know how they mate, where they mate or when they mate, you’re never going to perpetuate that species and it’s going to go extinct.
Victor Stora, professor of animal genetics and reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine: Learning about mating habits is useful for conservation. It helps people to understand that if we remove habitat, an animal may cease to exist. So understanding these helps to maintain the biodiversity of our world.
On the Music Video
Evans: I wasn’t sure if those suits were supposed to be bloodhounds or monkeys or what.
Reidenberg: There’s a lot of unacceptable behavior in the video, but there’s a lot of unacceptable behavior in the animal kingdom, and humans are a part of that kingdom and we have a lot of unacceptable behavior. Of course, when we’re talking about unacceptable behavior, we’re putting a judgment on that behavior based on our culture, but animals don’t have such a thing. There’s usually no mutual consent, oftentimes it’s much more of a “rapey” kind of situation.
Sometimes, though, a female will solicit sex. For example, one of the most fascinating things I learned while doing Sex in the Wild was that female orangutans solicit sex from every male it can find, waving her butt in the faces of all the males. That way, none of them know which one really is the father and they all then feel protective of the baby.
Usually in other female animals, it’s about being in estrus [“heat”] and they get “itchy” and they do certain behaviors to attract males. Like cats, who will bend their back with their anus in the air and do that yowl until a male comes along to scratch the itch.
Reidenberg: I wouldn’t pin all good nature programming on the Discovery Channel, especially some of the stuff they put up, like the mermaid documentaries and things like that. But I would say, generally, that nature programming shows the real world, at least in the animal world. There’s so much taboo around seeing sex in the human world, so much so that you need X-rated access, but with animals, everyone can see that, because its natural. That’s how we should be viewing human sex — at least, consensual human sex — but it’s taboo in our country because of religious and cultural taboos, which isn’t the case in many other countries.
On Mammalian Mating
Stora: Compared to other animals, mammalian mating habits are less elaborate. In birds, pre-mating dances can take hours sometimes before the female allows the male to copulate, and then the actual mating takes only seconds. With mammals, the courtship is generally not as long, but the copulation event in mammals is generally longer than other types of animals. We’re also the only kinds of animals who mate for pleasure occasionally, like us, chimpanzees and dolphins, for example.
Reidenberg: People are the opposite of the animal world in many ways. First of all, we have all of our cultural taboos, but then there’s also the advertising to attract a mate. In the animal world, males are the ones with the pretty feathers or the ones who do the mating dance, while the females are cryptically colored so they can hide to protect themselves and the babies. With humans though, it’s totally opposite. I want to see the guys put on the makeup, do up their hair and put on the pretty clothes and perfume while I sit back in my T-shirt and sneakers and watch the show. I want to get to choose, too! I want a bunch of them out there dancing!
Reidenberg: The animals that have the messiest sex are probably fish. They just squirt their semen everywhere, and it’s all over the egg pile. That’s pretty messy. Mammalian sex is fairly neat because it’s all contained, but some are even moreso because some mammals — kangaroos, for example — actually secrete a waxy cap afterwards, which prevents other male sperm from later getting past that waxy plug. So that’s the opposite of messy because things aren’t even dripping out afterwards.
Stora: Pigs are messy. They ejaculate over a liter, and they have a spiral penis that locks into the female where the sperm is pumped into her. And of domestic animals, they have the largest sperm volume.
Stora: Horses do this. Mares, when in heat and ready to mate, will flash the males. They will swish their tail like a burlesque show and flash the male their vulva. This is called “winking,” where their vulva literally wink by opening and closing the lips. They will then pee, so that the males can smell it. Then the stallions, when excited, will start sweating and foaming, where their sweat is foamy and they will drool a little. You’ll probably need a mop and a bucket for that, too.
Evans: A lot of birds have big displays, but not really their sexual organs. In mammals, though, the most prominent form of attraction are pheromones more so than any kind of display.
Reidenberg: What comes to mind for me are female baboons. When they’re in estrus and ready to mate, their vulvar tissues swell and become very, very pink, and they kind of look like a valentine heart. It’s like an advertisement saying, “I’m ready for love.” She shows that to the male, he gets erect and then he’s showing his penis, so that’s what I think of. Males will more often show their sexuality to each other, though, as a sign of dominance. There are some male monkeys, for example, which are almost perpetually erect.
On Animals Doing It “Doggy Style”
Reidenberg: Most animals in the animal kingdom are doing it “doggy style” where they’re mounting from behind, but some don’t. Dolphins, for example — with them, the female is generally swimming in a normal position, and she’s swimming very fast and the male has to catch up to her. He then has to keep pace with her and be upside down and approach her from below, so they’re doing it belly-to-belly. Humans, whales and manatees are probably the only animals that are mating belly-to-belly.
When I say whales, I’m also including dolphins, which are just small whales. In fact, sometimes whales will cooperatively mate, where two males are on either side of the female, and while one is inserting the penis, the other is basically the couch to stabilize the female. But the benefit to the one that’s a couch is that he gets a turn afterwards. Not all whales do that, but some do.
Stora: I don’t think a lot of people know what dog mating is like, and people even get upset when they see dog mating because they don’t really understand it. After the humping occurs, and the male enters the female, the male steps over and then they’re butt-to-butt. There’s actually a gland at the back end of a dog’s penis that will engorge and create a plug and then they’re literally stuck together for sometimes a half hour or an hour, and you cannot pull them apart during this time. That’s actually what doggy style is like.