Watch out, Dan Savage. The organisms who write to Dr. Tatiana give new meaning to the phrase "getting some tail."
Take "Perplexed in Cloverhill," the queen bee whose lovers' genitals literally explode upon ejaculation and plug her up. Or "I Like 'Em Headless in Lisbon," a European praying mantis who enjoys coupling much more when she bites off her paramour's head, causing him to thrash around in a sexual frenzy. Humanoid Tatiana -- also known as Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist -- adroitly addresses such kinks (and the science behind them) in her book Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation.
The idea for Dr. Tatiana originated at a Christmas housewarming party. "I was a journalist and was working on a piece for the Christmas issue on the evolutionary biology of sex," she tells the Pitch. "It was not going well -- it was a bit humdrum. I was with three colleagues in the kitchen, and we were joking about the problems organisms have, and one of them was, like, 'heeeeyy!'" A sexpert was born, and a three-page feature was written.
"It was kind of a joke -- it was meant to be entertaining," Judson says. "But it was also a useful device to make natural history come alive."
And come alive it does, though some of the advice seekers have problems getting to that "coming alive" point themselves. Judson debunks the myth that boys are promiscuous and girls are chaste. In most species, females are just as sluttish as males -- the fertilization of eggs is at stake, after all. Judson cites the female chimpanzee as the whore-iest of them all: Some chimpanzettes have been known to monkey around with eight different males in fifteen minutes. Others have done the deed 84 times in 8 days with 7 different partners, putting Annabel Chong to shame.
Of course, this sort of wantonness causes males to devise various strategies of their own, whether it's the fig wasp's method of biting the competition in half; the sponge louse's penchant for disguising itself as a female to infiltrate the harem, Bosom Buddies-style; or forming a lek -- a group in which the homelier male can support his brothers and pass on his genes through them. This last tactic sounds eerily similar to a Saturday night in Westport, with its free-roaming, Dockered man tribes collectively yelling out of car windows.
"Sex is the driving force of spectacular diversity," Judson says. Diversity is evident in the variety of her book's letter writers, chosen because they are good examples of topics that interest all creatures great and small -- promiscuity, infidelity and homosexuality. No humans write, though; we're not that interesting to study in the grand scheme of things, Judson says, because we have the monogamy thing pretty well nailed down. Plus, she says, we have "agony aunts" (i.e., people like Dan Savage) to help us with our problems.
As for the creature whose sex life she most envies? Judson pauses, then laughs. "In my next life, I wouldn't mind being a dolphin, for their sheer exuberance of life in general and sex in particular."