Thursday, November 12, 2009

You and me baby ain't nothin' but mammals ...

... so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. That's a 1.5-entrende from a song by the Bloodhound Gang. But it serves as a great intro to this post, which coming the day after the previous one marks the return of regular blogging.

This story in the Telegraph (UK) about how scientists recently discovered the fruit bats practice fellatio (oral sex) caught my eye for obvious and non-obvious reasons. Obvious, because as a guy I'm still basically an immature junior-high boy who giggles when news articles cover sex, particularly non-missionary sex.

But in the non-obvious (and far more important way) is because of one quote in the article from a scientist.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said that animal oral sex may be more common than we realise, but researchers’ prudery has prevented this fact becoming known. He said: "Part of the reason fellatio is rarely mentioned is shyness about this issue."

De Waal is an expert on the bonobo chimpanzee, which prior to this finding about fruit bats, technically in this case the short-nosed fruit bats (Cynopterus sphinx), were thought to be the only animals besides humans to practice oral sex.

His quote stood out to me because it shows how our paradoxical prudishness about sex and sexuality is so detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. I get that studying the sexual behaviors of animals probably won't cure cancer or cure world hunger. But genetically we have so much in common with other primates, chimps in particular, but also animals, period (why do you think animals are tested on for cosmetics, medicines, etc.?), that to pretend it's unworthy of study is narrow-minded.

The researchers were good scientists and didn't make conclusive proclamations, but they speculated that it's possible the bats simply enjoyed it or that perhaps it was a way for females to hang onto mates longer. Either could be true. But the conclusion I'm willing to draw is that if it's OK for animals and OK to be written about with animals, it ought ot be OK for people to talk about, too, and for newspapers to write about with some delicacy, maturity and also even a little humor.

I was talking earlier tonight to a friend about my job as an editor at a teen newspaper and was guesstimating that as much as 3 percent of my job is to if not, teach, at least evangelize the potentially life-saving benefits of comprehensive sex education. I'm always aghast when we have discussions at staff meetings about sex education in schools how many students tell us that their teachers, and in many cases parents, haven't told them anything.

Back before Dennis Miller became a stool pigeon of the Republican Party he used to be a biting social commentator who had the stones to say that Clinton-era Surgeon General Joycleyn Elders deserved to be president for saying that masturbation should be taught in schools. In context what she was arguing for was comprehensive sex education that included factual information about masturbation—it's natural, normal, common, 100 percent safe if practiced correclty and something no one should be ashamed of.

But sadly, we live in a country with so many sexual hang-ups that a story about bat blow jobs made me laugh as a first reaction. Of course, saying "bat blow jobs" out loud is giggly. Perhaps the Bloodhound Gang will be inspired to write a single to their song, "The Bad Touch."

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