Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation

This is not porn. Or at least not a typical human’s porn literature. But yes, I think this book has a bit of resemblance to the book of Kamasutra.

Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson does talk about the best sex position of various earth’s creatures–minuscule or gigantic, hermaphrodite or juggling between 13 (!) sexes, has a tendency of siblicide or an ideal father figure to your newly-born child–but no, that’s not the only thing this book has to say.

Dr. Tatiana is here to answer all your frequently asked questions about gender, sex, and why those two things exist in the first place. Because in the world of evolutionary biology, sex isn’t always about pleasure and gender doesn’t mean to be rigid–both phenomenons are evidence of something bigger.

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Evolutionary biology is always fun, but Olivia Judson makes it better. Highlighting the topic of gender and sex from the eyes of an evolutionary biologist, Judson has found a way to present her points in an interesting way: by answering inquiries as if asked by earth’s most wacky (and sometimes kinky) creatures.

One of the interesting case in the book

What? Do you just mention about partner-eating spider and partner-beheading grasshopper?–both are known to be executed after a steamy mating session?

Oh, my innocent child, this is more than that.

We’re talking about incestuous sibling-eating wasps, phallic-vagina bearing hyena (you read that right), also female worm species who has “male room” inside her body where the super-tiny male (200,000 times smaller than the female) is trapped forever inside her and his only job is to produce sperm for the means of procreation.

Huh, and you think that your partner is over-protective.

Limax redii
Introducing Limax redii, a tree slug. You don’t wanna know what the white thing is. (source: Wirbellose at)

We will also be exposed to the fact that promiscuity in several species is predicted to be caused by the high failure rate at the species’ conception and birth, so in order to avert extinction, the natural selection is sided with males who are spreading their sperms everywhere and females who are accepting more than one type of sperms at once.

Yes, octuplets each fathered by different males is just an everyday story for them. Some species don’t make a drama out of it. 

Dr. Tatiana also tells us about the earth’s real-life cupid: the hermaphrodite garden snail that shoots its lover with a type of mucus before sex. The mucus is meant to alter the female part of the partner’s body, widening the passage to the sperm-storage chamber and closing the entrance to the sperm-digestion chamber (garden snail’s type of contraception?).

We, humans, think about how to make our partner falls in love with us, and we sometimes wish that we have that ‘love arrow’ to bewitch our object of affection, snail garden is focusing his energy at the efficiency and success of its mating ritual. They just here to do the business, finish the job perfectly.

And here we are, claiming ourselves as the higher species among creatures of the earth.

Name’s Bonnelia viridis. Born without sex, decided to be female after meeting with my own brother minutes after I was brought to the world. I’m efficient like that.

And after all the surprises and weird facts, mind-boggling mating techniques, and questionable behavior, Dr. Tatiana presents us with the big question in the field of evolutionary biology:

Why sex is considered important for the continuity of a species’ life?

We are told that sexes, which not always female (XX) and male (XY) in some species (a species known to have 500 combinations of sex chromosome, imagine how many bathroom signages they should make in a mall), is predicted to exist in order to support the need of exchanging genetic codes in the creation of a new descendant.

In the world where mutation rate is getting higher every day and the bacteria and virus infections are known to be able to alter the genetic code of its host, sex between (a minimum of) 2 different sexes of same species with different genetic codes that are expected to come from different family and life-background (and therefore = most likely have different genetic codes) is the species’ way to avoid the extinction caused by mutations–which most of time, a bad news for the species.

The ever-changing genetic codes are the homework for the virus and bacteria, they need to re-adapt in order to successfully infect the new set of genetic codes, and therefore: we are saved from the guillotine.

And that’s why some hopeless romantics are willing to lose their head for the sake of genetic codes mixing: to avoid extinction, or maybe they just don’t have much choice

On a side note, virus and bacterial infections aren’t the only reason why mutation happens. Diet, behavior, and the place where the species live are also the 3 big factors of mutation. And that’s why the exchanging of the genetic code is needed by us even more: we’re running from one threat of mutation to the other.

Yet, all of those explanations are still considered as a prediction, because, although the genetic code exchanging activities are practiced by many species who still exist today, there’s a species who removed the act of genetic code exchanging altogether (asexual) from 85 million years ago and is floating still today.

This one species is cloning itself every each time, inheriting the mutation to each of its clones, and still aren’t considered as one of the extinct species.

Guess how they do it?

——-

After-reading thoughts

I found Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creations when I was searching for my next read and I happened to stumble to this TED link. I downloaded the sample version of the book in Kindle and I fell in love at once.

This book has my sense of humor about many of the species’ wacky mating ritual.

And that’s why I bought the full version book the very next day. 😉

I always thought myself as a quite open-minded person, especially regarding the convention of gender and sex. But just when I’m secretly a little proud of myself by not gaping at the fact that slime mold has 500 sexes, or by laughing at the fact that garden snail is trying so hard to ensure that its sperm really reaches the egg of its partner (by the mucus-shooting technique), I had to admit that I might be making some unwise judgments while reading.

500 sexes of slime mold don’t prevent them from finding the perfect mate, on the contrary, it widens their choice of partners. They do have a very interesting way of deciding which genders could mix their genetic codes with the other (we have 2 characters of chromosome, XY and XX, with the alteration in the second chromosome, X and Y. Slime molds have 3 characters, said A, B, C. There are 13 types for each of A and B chromosome, and there are 3 types of C chromosome), but still, their choices of partner (that could produce a child) is still wider than us, humans.

This amazing life of slime mold is predicted to be caused by the fact that slime mold has a little chance of meeting one another (google them, you’ll know why). Combined by the need of avoiding extinction by mutations stated above, this is how slime mold increasing their chance of success reproduction rate: ensuring that the very first time they meet a fellow friend, they could procreate just fine.

This beaut has 20 thousand different sexes. Schizophyllum commune is the name.

And for the case of the garden snail and its ‘love’ arrow that I laughed about, this book makes me reconsider the definition of ‘higher’ species:

Does being a creature with imagination really bring us good, or does it hinder our ability to survive by adapting to our surroundings? – I mean, we stuck with unrequited love, snail garden finds a way to express his interest and making sure that its mating partner will accept his sperm. If that’s not effective, I don’t know what it is.

Will the concept of monogamy that most of us idealized so much be one of the main reasons for our extinction?

Let’s say that most of the much ‘simpler’ species are instinctively trying so hard to avoid extinction by continuously altering their procreation techniques, and we, humans, thought that because we are equipped with imaginations that enabled us to rethink about our life choice, we could choose to be extinct anytime.

But does it really this is us making choices and directing our own life? Or is there another invisible motive steering us from behind the curtain? What if some of us’ choice to being extinct instead of procreating is the other’s way to avoid extinction?

Quoting Judson’s poem from the book:

When it comes to the topic of gender,

Mother nature’s been having some fun.

Take nothing for granted! Remember,

You won’t find any rules-not a one!

I guess that’s also how evolutionary biology works, there are no rules, we are all yesterday’s bizarre case and tomorrow’s wonders.

Happy reading! Sorry for the long post, I love the book too much 🙂

 

Amanda.

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