Procreation, and Natural Non-procreation.

Clifford Longley’s Tablet column on Archbishop Nichols’ thoughts on the need to “explore” afresh issues of sexuality and homosexuality is to be heartily welcomed. However, as we consider the lessons (if any) from the “broad book of nature”, it is really important that we consider the broad book as found in empirical evidence, not the narrow book of theological imaginations. In his own reflection, Longley repeats the claim that “alone of mammals, humans engage in sexual intercourse irrespective of whether the female is fertile or not?”. This claim, that other mammals only engage in sexual intercourse when the female is fertile, is often made. It is however, entirely without foundation. This assertion is beloved of moralists, but it is as false as the other often made claim that homosexual activity is unique to humans.

Bruce Bagemihl, in Biological Exuberance, provides details of many hundreds of animal species, from all branches of the animal kingdom, which are recorded in the scientific literature as demonstrating some form of homosexual activity. For many of these, he also describes examples of non-procreative heterosexual intercourse.

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A Scarlet Ibis Couple’s Spacious, Designer Nest.

As a psychology student at Tulane University, I took a couple of independent study courses observing animal behaviour at Audubon Zoo, near campus.  One semester, I studied the mating behaviour of the scarlet ibis, a wading bird common in marshes and estuaries.  Like other species of birds, the ibis is seasonally monogamous.  For weeks, I watched seven pairs go through the process of nest-building, courting and mating.  Right on schedule, all but one pair stopped sexual and nest-building behaviour within days of each other and settled in for the incubation period.  My interest was piqued by the behaviour of one particular pair that kept building their nest, as well as mating.


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Does Benedict Oppose Gay Priests?

Andrew Brown thinks so, based on the relevant passage in Seewald’s book. I hesitate to comment with any conviction until I have read the full passage myself, but the published extracts are disturbing and important. Up to now, there have been some signs of a more rational approach to homosexuality under this papacy, but some of these views strike me as just wackadoodle. Benedict is widely acclaimed as a great and subtle theologian, but he could do with some lessons in basic facts of gender and sexuality.

For example:

We could say, if we wanted to put it like this, that evolution has brought forth sexuality for the purpose of reproducing the species.

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The Real Mamma Grizzlies: Lesbian Moms!

Sarah Palin’s understanding of wildlife appears to be no better than her tenuous grasp of social history.  Mrs Palin has been very much in the news over her enthusiastic promotion of a band of crazies  thoughtful, conservative candidates who agree with her own views on education and “traditional family values”.   The women in this band she likes to describe as “mamma grizzlies”, most recntly Christina O’Donnell in Delaware.

Sarah Palin, With Bear

The problem with the conservative view of the “traditional” family and its values is that has little relation to history, and is in fact a relatively modern invention. The problem with her adoption of mamma grizzlies as her model is that they too scarcely embody the “family values” she claims to support.  Real life mamma grizzlies do not live or mate in the nuclear families she so admires. Rather, they mate in promiscuous, polygamous groups, then raise their young as single mothers – or in collaboration with other females, as family units headed by two women.  The closest human counterparts to real-life “mamma grizzlies” are lesbian couples, with kids – not exactly Christian O’Donnell. Read the rest of this entry »

Our Queer Primate Cousins

A favourite argument used by the religious right against homoerotic relationships, and by the Vatican theologians against any form of sexual expression outside of marriage and not open to making babies, is that such sexual activities are “against nature”, and that the “purpose” of sex is procreation.

Well, the people making these claims have never considered the actual evidence from , well, you know, – “Nature” itself, which shows the exact opposite. (But then, when did the Vatican, or the wingnuts, ever consider the trifling matter of evidence to interfere with their convictions?)

In the lively comments thread after an earlier post in this series, reader CS in AZ reminded me of a famous exchange with Anita Bryant:

This reminds me of Anita Bryant, back when she was on her anti-homosexul crusade … she said that homosexuality was unnatural and so repulsive that “even barn yard animals don’t do it” — then someone pointed out to her that barnyard animals in fact DO do that, with some frequency, as anyone who grew up around farm animals knows very well! LOL…
well, she was only momentarily flustered, then she just pivoted 180 degrees and said, “well, that doesn’t make it right!”

Well no, but it sure as hell don’t make it wrong, either. On the subject of sexual ethics, “Nature” is entirely neutral. However, as so many self-righteous bigots attempt to introduce nature into ethical and political discussions, it is worth knowing just what “natural” sex really is (it’s also just fun to know.)

 

 

Bonobo females, with onlookers

 

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Same-Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered.

There have been an increasing number of research studies which show that as parents,  same sex couples are at least as good as opposite sex- couples. As a gay father and grandfather myself, I don’t really need to be told this by modern research: I first learnt of the evidence decades ago, from a family friend who was then a child welfare social worker, and is today a top authority on the subject. I also have the best of all possible authority, the experience of my own family. My daughter is very clear on the subject: she is on record as saying “Gay Parents? I recommend them”. She has told me that when she says a young child with two dads, her immediate response is – “Lucky child”. Still, it’s good to see the evidence getting a more public hearing. and reaching the mainstream.

I was interested though, to find that in this, as in so many other areas, of human sexuality, the same pattern is found in many species of animals and birds.

Two Dads, with Kids

Homosexuality in animals has been known since ancient times, but still fails to penetrate the public consciousness. Read the rest of this entry »

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners’ blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in “penis fencing” while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you’ve never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex – forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.

Squirrel Threesome

Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies. Read the rest of this entry »