The Big Issue : Edition 473
Britain. It became clear that human understanding of animal sex is limited. Throughout his research – which consisted of speaking to experts, visiting breeding farms and reading endless books on the subject – Howard kept bumping up against the boundaries of human knowledge. “In terms of research, I guess sex is finally becoming normalised, but I’m often surprised at how the public perception of scientists is that we know it all. We don’t. “There are 50,000 species of spider – do you think someone has looked at the mating quirks of each? No way. Do you think we really know how big a T Rex penis was? No chance.” This could be blamed on the embarrassment, neurosis or judgement that surrounds sex science. In 1912, polar explorer George Murray Levick witnessed disturbing penguin sex behaviour when exploring southern Antarctica. Despite publishing works of his findings, his research wasn’t released widely because the science of sex wasn’t respectable. A century later, Howard believes society’s repressed attitudes towards sex continues to exert influence over funding and research on copulation in the animal kingdom. “Our knowledge about the potential evolutionary reasons that underpin masturbation and homosexual behaviours have undoubtedly been hobbled by scientists not wanting the label: ‘Dr Animal Masturbation!’ Thankfully, things are changing.” As well as cultural values, human psychology has influence over what we know about animal sex. “Go to Google now,” Howard says. “Type in, ‘Which animal has the biggest penis?’ and you’ll see thousands of results all about the blue whale. Type in, ‘Which animal has the biggest vagina?’ and you’ll see a paltry 60 or so results! I don’t know the cause of this, but it’s true across all penis and vagina news and literature; we’re penis obsessives. This is a shame, because vaginas have faced the same evolutionary pressures as penises and have evolved some of the weirdest adaptations one can imagine. Vagina stories deserve to be told.” And he sure does tell them. From a duck’s anatomy that can reject male appendages (“long and spiral-shaped with a series of cul-de-sacs, her reproductive tract is built like a boobytrapped Inca temple”) to hedgehog vaginal plugs, Howard goes there. But don’t worry: there are plenty of stories about both male and female anatomy. And after witnessing all this frogspawn, dog humping and studs mounting mares, has Howard seen enough for a lifetime? He replies: “Let’s just say that I have a bucket list and it’s only half finished.” » Lou Heinrich is a regular contributor to The Big Issue. Sex on Earth is out now.