The rampant sex lives of animals

I got into what initially seemed to be a perfectly innocent conversation with a businessman on a flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town recently. You know the usual stuff about the weather, the politicians and the rugby.

Things took a turn for the worse, however, when he casually dropped the word “faggot” into a derogatory remark about a well-known personality. When I told him that I didn’t appreciate his homophobia, he launched straight into a rant about how “these people” are perverts and sexual deviants and how their activities are immoral and sinful because they are totally unnatural.

I was so taken aback by his outburst that I didn’t really know how to reply and breathed a deep sigh of relief when we landed soon afterwards and I could get him out of my sight. Of course this wasn’t my first ever encounter with virulent homophobia and similar moral-high-horse-rants about which human sexual activities were damnable outrages and which were acceptable.

Everything from masturbation and promiscuity to homosexuality and group sex is condemned either as the debauched practices of godless barbarian heathens or those of western perverts hell-bent on debasing traditional African societal values. And in both cases, the claim that such activities are not natural - in other words are not practiced in the animal world - is commonly made in support of their blanket condemnation.

Bovine faeces and cow dung, I say!

As far as I’m concerned, diverse sexual practices among humans are good and healthy. What you do in your private life should be exactly that: private.

I’m perfectly happy to condone any sexual activity as long as it’s consensual and nobody gets hurt. Contrary to popular belief, just about all forms of sex are completely “natural”. You see, it turns out that animals are actually much more adventurous and uninhibited than people when it comes to sex. Dream up the most outlandish libidinous pursuit and chances are a bunch of horny wild creatures are at it right now.

I should have referred my obnoxious cabin neighbour in seat 24C, to the enlightening work of Bruce Bagemihl, a Canadian biologist and author of the seminal book Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity. He has catalogued homosexual behaviour in over 470 different animal species.

From lesbian gulls and gay ostriches, octopuses and penguins to river dolphins indulging in “blowhole penetration”, it’s all old hat in the animal kingdom. Everybody’s favourite, the loveable giraffe, turns out to be as gay as they come. According to some reports, giraffes engage in more same-sex acts than they do in opposite-sex activities.

But why stop there? Monkeys are notorious masturbators, as are male camels who rub their genitals against the sand, while the male members of some particularly gifted species - the kangaroo among them - are able to perform auto-fellatio (yes, that’s what you think it is).

There are group-mounting deer, snake orgies, extremely promiscuous bonobo chimpanzees, transsexual fish, primate prostitutes, male spiders who’re into bondage to avoid being eaten by their mates, interspecies romps between rhinos and elephants and even necrophilia among mallard ducks, frogs and ground squirrels.

Something that’s quite obvious from all of this is that animals don’t only have sex for the sake of procreation. Shock and horror: they do it for the sheer pleasure of it as well!

But don’t take my word for it. Watch this video clip from the reputable New Scientist magazine for some examples:

So next time someone tries to tell you that sex - any kind of sex - is unnatural, just tell them to spend a day at the nearest zoo or nature reserve. They might be in for a huge surprise.

(Andreas Späth, Health24, updated March 2012)

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
34% - 9270 votes
66% - 17915 votes