Sex & Relationships

9 Interesting Facts About Sex in the Animal Kingdom

When hibernation season ends, the red-sided garter snake celebrates with a massive orgy.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Sex in the animal kingdom can get pretty wild, as you can imagine. Here are 9 bizarre facts about how animals get down. 

1. Don’t get mad, get off.

No animal better demonstrates the peacekeeping powers of sex better than the bonobo. As Susan Block writes in her book, The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace Through Pleasure, “The most revolutionary way bonobos use sex is for conflict resolution.” Sex is an integral part of bonobo politics. Doing the dirty helps provide stress relief, eases tensions and can even be employed for something as simple as snagging a banana. As Block notes, such exchanges might go a little something like, “I’ll trade you a banana for a blowjob.” Often, it’s the female who initiates such transactions. In human society “prostitution” is often framed as a dirty word. But in the bonobo universe, it’s somewhat central to everyday life. Block writes, “Among almost all other species, it’s always the male who does the paying, in the form of providing food in exchange for sex. Among bonobos, it’s very often the lady who picks up the check.”

2. The more the merrier.

When hibernation season ends, the red-sided garter snake celebrates by having a massive orgy. Sounds reasonable. These “mating balls” take the form of hundreds of male snakes wrapping themselves around a single female, all in the name of having some procreative fun. But things can get out of hand quickly. One study found that a total of 301 snakes died of suffocation while partaking in one such ritual. Each year, thousands of snake aficionados travel to the Narcisse Snake Dens of Manitoba, Canada for some mating ball tourism. Manitoba is home to the largest congregation of red-sided garter snakes in the world.

3. Kink is cool.

During mating season, male porcupines will sniff up and down a female’s body as some kind of aphrodisiacal foreplay. When he’s done, he’ll get up on his hind legs, grab his fully erect penis with a free paw, and unleash a stream of urine onto his mate, “soaking her from head to foot.” Giraffes too, are known to get down with pee. To determine a female’s fertility, a male giraffe will actually taste her urine. If he detects estrus, he’s good to go. Male hippos actually attract their mates by pooping. We’ll leave it at that.

4. Courtship is not dead.

Prairie chickens perform an elaborate mating dance. During the performance, the males will raise their tail feathers, stomp the ground, inflate the air sacs along their throats and unleash a distinctive echo to serenade the females. Peacocks play a similar game, using their long tails to attract females in a fanning courtship ritual known as the peacock mating dance. Experts believe females pick their mates based on size, color and feather quality. “Peacocking” has even been adopted as a slang term used to describe men who put on ostentatious displays to get some female attention. You know the type.

5. Bi-curious much?

Studies suggest as much as 75 percent of bonobo sex is non-reproductive, and that “nearly all bonobos are bisexual.” Paul Vasey, professor of animal behavior at the University of Lethbridge told National Geographic, “They’re engaging in the behavior because it’s gratifying sexually, or it’s sexually pleasurable… They just like it.” But the bonobos are hardly alone in their quest for same-sex companionship. Male dolphin calves are known to form temporary sexual partnerships. Scientists credit these relationships for helping form lifelong bonds. Elephants have been documented mounting each other, even “kissing” whereby one male inserts his trunk into the other elephant’s mouth. The list of animals who form homosexual bonds goes on and on. Of course, some may be in it for the show. An article put together by AskMen suggests “female gorillas engage in bisexual acts in order to stimulate alpha males into breeding.” That description bears striking resemblance to a lot of amateur porn flicks out there. 

6. All about oral.

Oral sex is great foreplay. Fact. So why assume humans are the only mammals privy to that knowledge? Researchers have recently discovered that male Indian flying foxes (also known as the greater Indian fruit bat) will perform oral sex on females to make sex last longer. The researchers also came to the unsurprising conclusion that this kind of foreplay helps arouse and lubricate the females. Sound familiar? Though, the scientists also offered one less obvious note. In addition to aiding in arousal, male bats may perform oral sex on females in order to clean off competitors’ sperm. Other animals have more orgasmic goals in mind. Goats, kangaroos, walruses and hyenas have all been observed engaging in auto-fellatio.

7. Ladies, have at it.

Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, told National Geographic that it’s only since the 1980s, with the advent of genetic testing, that scientists started to hone in on how promiscuous the females of many species actually are. The article states, “Only since the late '80s have experts considered the possibility that females are promiscuous because it's beneficial to them. Before then, female promiscuity was generally regarded as unnatural.” More and more scientific data has pointed to the fact that, in many species, females don’t just mate with one male, they take on several lovers to better their chances of producing more and healthier offspring.

8. If you don’t want his sperm, don’t take it.

Birth control is a wonderful thing, and minimizing the consequences of unexpected or unwanted sexual contact is important. That’s something most humans are clear on. Fortunately, a CVS is usually just a stone’s throw away. Animals, of course, aren’t afforded such luxuries. Cut to the female Meller duck of Madagascar. Their vaginal canals are lined with a series of pockets and spirals. Scientists argue that the elaborate female duck anatomy is designed to trap and expel unwanted sperm, working as a defense against aggressive males. Patricia Brennan, a behavioral ecologist, told the New York Times, “Once they choose a male, they’re making the best possible choice, and that’s the male they want siring their offspring. They don’t want the guy flying in from who knows where. It makes sense that they would develop a defense.”

9. Get it in while you can.

Nothing lasts forever, and nature can be cruel. Few things better exemplify that than the lifespan of the brown antechinus. These mouse-like marsupials can mate for an impressive 14 hours at a time, and even break down their muscles to give them more energy in the process. But when their “frenzied mating season” comes to an end, the males die off, usually before the young are even born. This process is known in scientific circles as “suicidal reproduction,” or “semelparity.”

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture. 

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