You've come a long way,
baby, was the mantra of 1970s Cosmo girls. Though the fact that the
first British Cosmo editor, Marcelle D'Argy Smith, has written yet
another sex manual, The Lovers' Guide: What Women Really Want, does
suggest that the primrose path of dalliance demands regular re-paving.
It seems rather dispiriting that Ms D'Argy Smith still considers that
there are potential lotharios willing to pay GBP
14.99 for a glossy hardback book with lots of soft-toned soft-porn
photographs, who need to be told that, "women expect men to have
clean underpants" and "teddy bears have no place in the
beds of adult
Yet, into this murky landscape a clear, bright
beam of light has shone. For next week sees the publication of the
ultimate sex guide. And I do mean ultimate. Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice
to All Creation is the sort of comprehensive work which may very well
have saved the dinosaurs if only they'd had the foresight to learn
Author Olivia Judson, aka Dr Tatiana - the Dr Ruth
of wilderness, jungle and ocean - answers the sex problems of an astonishing
array of species, from marine iguanas to bronze-winged jacanas, lionesses
to yellow dung flies: every organism baffled by the battle of the
sexes and hungry for her advice. A load of anthropomorphous twaddle?
Perhaps. But the breadth of scientific information and its hilarious
parallels to the fumblings of homo sapiens make this the sex guide
for the connoisseur.
Want to refute those allegations that only humans
indulge in homosexuality? Dr Tatiana has all the evidence. Need to
know the best time for a sex change, how to organise a virgin birth,
or applaud the benefits of a detachable penis? It's all here - a cosmic
orgy that would make Caligula look like a choirboy.
Studying this universal sex fest was no more than
an obvious career choice for Dr Tatiana, she says. "Quite simply,
I decided to dedicate myself to sex when I realised that nothing in
life is more important, more interesting - or more troublesome. If
not for sex, much of what is flamboyant and beautiful in nature would
not exist. Plants would not bloom. Birds would not sing. Deer would
not sprout antlers."
Thus, via Stanford University and a PhD in biological
sciences from Oxford, Olivia Judson took up a research fellowship
at Imperial College, London, and began her meticulous interrogation
of the birds and the bees. "For most of us, caught up in the
hurly-burly of our daily struggles, the purpose of life may seem elusive"
she observes. "But from an evolutionary point of view, the purposes
of life are clear:
survival and reproduction. If you fail at either, your genes go to
No exchange of genes, no genetic variation. No
genetic variation, no evolution. So, the outcome of next Saturday's
mating attempts in Acacia Avenue, or under a rock on the Galapagos
Islands are equally crucial. The need to find and seduce a mate is
one of life's most powerful forces.
The most powerful, if you happen to be a Freudian,
the most fascinating if you have taken the pen name Tatiana. For "nothing
in life generates a more ecstatic diversity of tactics and stratagems."
And the battle of the sexes is no myth, warns the doctor. It is eternal
war. "And this battle erupts, because, in most species, girls
So, the anguished plea from an exhausted stick
insect that she has been copulating with her mate for ten weeks and
is now horribly bored and convinced that her lover is insane, is answered
with all the tact that a decent agony aunt must display. Yes, it must
be wearisome, she agrees, but the tiny male stick insect - only half
the length of the female - clings on to ensure no other males can
get near .
A shrewd decision, because she would be very unlikely
to discourage an approach. Like most females, she's a bit of a slut,
and like most males, he is determined that his genes will survive.
The confusion about the relative promiscuity of
males and females dates back to 1948 and experiments with fruit flies,
performed by a scientist called Bateman. Keeping an equal number of
male and female flies in jars for a few days, Bateman observed that
the males were keen to mate as often as possible, while the females
rejected the majority of advances.
He explained this by noting that males produce
lots of tiny, cheap sperm, while females produce a few large, valuable
eggs. Thus, he argued, males are limited in their reproduction only
by the number of females they can seduce; females by the number of
eggs they can produce. Hence males are natural philanderers while
females are naturally chaste.
Sadly, for the moral reputation of the female,
Bateman was wrong. "In the 1980s, the development of more sophisticated
genetic techniques meant that biologists could find out who was having
whose children. And they discovered something that no-one had predicted.
Namely that from stick insects to chimpanzees, females are hardly
Even more surprising, they benefit from promiscuity.
So, we owe some sympathy to the worn-out Serengeti
lion, who laments,"my lioness is a nymphomaniac. Every time she
comes into heat, she wants sex at least every half an hour for four
or five days and nights", even if Dr Tatiana is a little dismissive
of his exhaustion. "A great big lion like you should be able
to keep it up without fussing," she chides, adding that she has
heard of lions copulating 157 times in 55 hours. The reason is clinical.
The lioness needs a great deal of stimulation to get pregnant. Less
than one per cent of copulations produce cubs, and so she is programmed
to keep at it, as are female rats, golden hamsters and cactus mice.
At least the lion does not have to worry about
bringing the Serengeti equivalent of candy. For the long-tailed dance
fly, this is a must. "In long -tailed dance-fly culture, it's
traditional to mix food and sex. An hour before sunset, the male captures
a suitable insect - a juicy may-fly, perhaps - and then goes to find
a female, so she can eat it while they make love."
Females congregate in forest clearings to await
the males, their bodies silhouetted against the sky. They know that
the males always go for the girls with the biggest attributes, and
so they assist their chances in an unusual way.
"They have two inflatable sacs, one
on each side if the abdomen. Before joining the party, a female sits
on a bush, gulping air and blowing herself up to three or four times
her normal girth." No wonder she's called a dance fly. Lining
up for the boys, exaggerating her bosom ... she might as well be a
school dance fly.
But it is not principally the male who demands
a perfect physique in his mate, according to Judson. "Girls may
say they want a kind, sensitive, devoted guy - that personality matters
more than looks - but the truth is, in many species, females are body
fascists. That's why, as a rule, it's the males who have ridiculously
long tails, or
fancy head-dresses, despite the obviously greater risk of being eaten."
Darwin concluded that in sexual selection, the preferences of the
female are rewarded, and females like big, gaudy ornaments - sort
of feathery Ferraris.
Like all good sex therapists, Dr Tatiana prefers
to offer reassurance where possible. So she is able to tell an irate
female marine iguana that masturbation is not unhealthy, indeed, in
young iguanas, it is positively beneficial.
"Look at it from the guy's point of
view," she suggests. "Here he is, a tasteful shade of red,
his spiky crest a full 20 centimetres from his crown to his tail -
he's ready to go, desperate to use one or other of his penises (yes,
like many reptiles, he has two, a left and a right). But being young
and therefore small, he doesn't have much of a chance. It isn't just
that the ladies prefer to mate with bigger, older males. It's that
even if he mounts a female, the odds are he'll be shoved aside by
a bigger fellow before he climaxes. That's why the young males masturbate
when they see a girl go by.