Animal Threesomes, Females Who Eat Their Mates

New York's Museum of Sex expands into the world of animals.


June 28, 2008 — -- Did you ever wonder what a bonobo's orgasm sounds like? Or how barnacles reproduce? Did you know that over 300 living species display homosexual behavior?

The Museum of Sex's exhibition "The Sex Lives of Animals" is now open to the public, depicting the scientific facts, anatomies, pleasures and sex games of a slew of animal species.

Presented with a caption about Charles Darwin's research at the exhibition entrance, the museum offers visitors an evolutionary sexual education, from basic facts to detailed descriptions of the mating habits of animals as diverse as banana slugs and panda bears.

The Museum of Sex curator Sarah Jacobs worked with Stanford University biologist and author Dr. Joan Roughgarden and with sculptor Rune Olsen to bring together the original show.

Olsen, who has worked with sexuality and violence in his sculpture for years, described his thoughts while crafting the featured art pieces.

"It's important to me that my sculptures are individual," Olsen told "My favorite reaction to them is when people see the two gay dolphins having sex, which is so out of this world. They say to me, 'you know the penis is in the wrong hole, right?' I think it's hilarious."

Olsen's sculptures have glass eyes and pen-drawn lines crosshatching with tape to give them a moving appearance. Working with the biologist to ensure scientific accuracy from an artistic standpoint was a hand-in-glove experience, Olsen said.

The exhibition relates animal pleasures to human pleasures to help visitors better understand how and why animals engage in their seemingly hedonistic behaviors.

The research behind the exhibition was mostly drawn from Roughgarden's book "Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People." The book is a synthesis of other biologists' work.

"The sculptor and curator were already very scientifically sophisticated when I was working with them," Roughgarden told "I wrote the material for the narratives on the walls, but we really worked together."

Wall captions are accompanied by photographs and videos that describe selected topics in depth, such as sexual cannibalism: when female golden orb weavers or praying mantids consume their male mates in the time leading up to or briefly following sex. The strong males that survive these mastication attempts are considered more suitable mates and the weak ones become nutrients for the female to nourish her eggs.

The exhibition also cleared up sex-related rumors: Many species have females that are larger than their male counterparts; some males give birth; many species have three or more genders.

As a visitor one learns unusual sexual terms: urethritis, for example, is an inflammation of the urethra in male camels who engage in autoeroticism -- rubbing against sand for pleasure.

Jacobs said that she's pleased with the way the exhibition has turned out.

"People often get overwhelmed by science," Jacobs told "So we turned this research into bite-sized pieces of information so that you absolutely need to read the next caption out of interest. We kept scientific integrity while making the show fun and accessible."

The Museum of Sex is at 233 Fifth Ave. in New York City.

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