Animal Sex: What it can teach us about heteronormativity June 2, 2009Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, Heteronormativity, sex.
Tags: animal sexual behavior, birds and bees, bonobo, complexity of sexuality, Heteronormativity, praying mantis eats its mate
Last week, Christina and I posted about the wide range of sexualities/sexual drives that we experience as singles. We think it’s important to acknowledge our diversity as gendered, sexual beings because society tends to stereotype, undervalue — and oftentimes punish — single people when they have so-called “abnormal” sexual desires or lifestyles (ranging from wanting to have sex but not a relationship, for example, to feeling indifferent about sex altogether). The thing is, most of us probably grew up with our parents teaching us about the “naturalness” of sex — families more open about sex might tell us that “the birds and the bees” do it (within the confines of a monogamous relationship, of course), and the rest of us are told that babies are brought to happy, deserving (ie – married) couples by generous storks.
The thing is, nature isn’t exactly “natural” – at least not according to how we humans would define it. Indeed, looking at the truth about animal sex may help reveal the heteronormativity underlying much of what we’re taught about sex and sexuality as children. Let’s begin, as a case in point, with the female praying mantis, who eats her mate immediately after sex (hey, she needed some sugar to process all that sex!):
YIKES! That isn’t friendly post-coital behavior. But it’s perfectly acceptable in the “natural” world to eat one’s mate.
For a long time, apparently, scientists believed that most animals were monogamous (coupled for life!) — and then suddenly, in the early ’90s, they discovered that the animal kingdom is a nasty, nasty world. Birds don’t stay together (scientists once believed that nearly all bird species — 94% — do); and even when a species is socially monogamous, individuals are, more often than not, actually quite promiscuous. Some species – such as the bonobo - do not adhere to any obvious sexual code of conduct; and others, such as the sea lion, are happiest in polygamous relationships. And, according to this report, homosexuality among animals isn’t all that strange, either.
So what can animal sex teach us about contemporary culture’s heteronormative standards of “normal” sexual behavior? Basically, it’s complicated. And we should expect it to be.