Archive for October 12th, 2010

Not every woman is a prostitute, but prostitution is the natural apotheosis of the feminine attitude. –  Georges Bataille

One of the fascinatingly stupid statements prohibitionists sometimes make about prostitution is that it is “unnatural”.  I assume this is some alternate meaning of the word “unnatural” with which I am unfamiliar; apparently in this case it means “something the speaker dislikes.”  Prostitution, based as it is on the ancient and pre-human principle of barter, is a helluva lot more natural than marriage and a lot of other things these silly asses have no issue with, and it has been observed in several other species besides ours.

How can that be, you might ask, when only humans have money?  If you think that, it’s because you fail to understand what money actually is.  It is true that only humans have currency, which is a symbolic representation of money, but all species which rely on some limited resource such as food do indeed have money, though we may not call it that.  And when a female gives sex to a male in order to obtain some of his resources via a direct barter transaction, she has performed an act of prostitution.  For a good example of this we need look no farther than our closest relatives, the chimpanzees.

Like humans, chimpanzees are naturally omnivorous; they need both animal and vegetable food to be healthy, and though the vegetable matter is easily obtained and therefore cheap, chimps will go to considerable lengths to add animal protein to their diet.  One way in which they do this is by “fishing” for ants or termites by inserting long sticks into their nests and licking off the insects which climb onto the stick, but as you can imagine this requires a great deal of effort for very little satisfaction.  Larger animals are therefore valuable to the chimp who can catch them, and since chimps particularly relish the meat of small monkeys these are especially valuable.  Researchers have observed male chimp hunters sharing such a kill with their friends, and when a female chimp sees a male doing this she may approach him to offer sex, receiving in payment a piece of the precious meat.  Female primate offers male primate sex in direct exchange for a small portion of his resources; that sure sounds like prostitution to me!

Taking this shared behavior into consideration, it seems likely that the “world’s oldest profession” is much older than most people might imagine; five million years older, in fact, since that is the age of our last common ancestor with the chimp.  It has even been suggested that the universal human custom of a male offering a female food as part of courtship (whether in the form of a primitive hunter bringing her a kill or a modern man taking her to dinner) may also descend from the ancient food-for-sex transaction; it is merely more thoroughly disguised by ritual than prostitution is.  Another exact parallel can be seen in the fact that male chimps who share meat with females even when they aren’t looking for sex  (i.e. wealthy, generous ones) mate more often and with a better selection than those who are poor and/or stingy.

Nor are primates the only creatures ever to evolve the pragmatic money-for-sex transaction; Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have their own independent tradition, using their own scarce resource as a medium of exchange.  These penguins usually mate for life, and in mating season each couple builds a nest of stones to keep their eggs warm and dry.  The entire flock clusters in one area with those of highest social rank in the center, while low-status single males are pushed to the periphery just as they are in many other species (including humans).  Ironically, this puts the single males in a good position to find choice stones because the center of the area gets picked over quickly.  The bachelors therefore build nests themselves, then sit in them and wait.

What happens next is this; if a couple within the flock cannot find sufficient stones to complete a nest, the husband will remain behind to guard the incomplete nest from stone-thieves while his wife waddles off to find a horny bachelor sitting on a pile of good nesting stones.  She then flirts with him in her penguiny fashion and if he responds she presents herself for mating; after he takes what he wants he allows her to take a choice stone and waddle back to her nest with it.  Some bachelors demand sex for each stone, while other clients allow their harlots to return for as many stones as they like without having to put out again.  But not all of these penguin prostitutes are honest ones; some are actually practitioners of cash-and-dash!  One of these nasty little trollops will tease her victim until he jumps off his nest to have her, then she grabs one of his rocks and runs!  If he catches her he will beat her and reclaim his stone, but some of them do manage to get away.  As in human society, the honest version of the transaction is advantageous to all parties; the female gets resources she needs, and the male gets sex he otherwise would not have.  A penguin whore  will often go back to the same clients again and again, and if her husband dies before the next breeding season (which happens quite often in the harsh and dangerous Antarctic environment) she will usually choose one of her regulars as her new husband.

Obviously, it’s a mistake to attribute anything remotely resembling human thoughts and motives to invertebrates, but there are a few arthropods whose behavior does sort of resemble prostitution in a superficial way, and besides it’s the Halloween season so I think some attention to creepy-crawlies is in order.  Insects and spiders don’t experience anything like what we would call “pleasure”; their nervous systems are of an extremely primitive order and they are not in any way conscious of any motivation for doing the things they do.  But when the complexities are stripped away, male bugs seek sex for the same reason as their two- and four-legged counterparts:  In order to impregnate females and thereby pass on their genetic legacy.  The only difference is that more complex creatures cannot simply be programmed to act in a certain way; Nature had to find some better means to motivate higher animals than “Because I’m the Mother, that’s why!”  And so sexual pleasure was born, and until the invention of birth control made non-reproductive sex a reality males were induced to do Nature’s work by seeking to gratify their own desires.

Many arthropods don’t even have sex in the sense we understand it; males merely generate a sperm packet which they try to attach to the female’s body without her noticing, and given sufficient time the sperm passes through her pores and enters her reproductive system.  If the female discovers this insect “cumshot” on her body she will simply eat it, and though human males might find this exciting it doesn’t do anything for the more pragmatic and instinctive sensibilities of male insects.  Some species of cricket have therefore developed a kind of prostitution transaction; the male gives the female a big bag of food, and while she’s busy eating it he attaches his sperm and relies on her being too busy with her dinner to remove the packet until it’s already too late.  Some of these crickets are the equivalent of deceptive human men who try to pad the envelope with low-denomination bills secreted among the large ones; they gather large quantities of low-nutrition food and hope the females don’t notice how cheap they are.

Some species of flies have a similar strategy, though their sex actually involves a form of copulation which takes 5-20 minutes; the longer the act, the higher the chance of proper insemination, so the larger the food donation the longer the female is kept busy eating it and the longer she will let him have her, thus the higher the chance his genes will be passed on.  Flies who are “wealthier” (i.e. better at food-gathering) have a better choice of mates and more generous clients get to buy larger blocks of ladies’ time, just as in human society.

Female spiders are generally much larger than males of their species, so their relationship could be viewed as the arachnid equivalent of a client seeking a dominatrix.  Unlike human dominatrices these ladies give full service, but among redback spiders (Latrodectus hasselti, cousins of the black widow) the price is so high that this type of session is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Everyone knows that black widows generally kill and eat their mates, but their males at least attempt to escape after the “wedding”; the male redback, on the other hand, is the ultimate masochist of the arthropod world.  In order to ensure that his sperm will have time to inseminate the femme fatale of his choice, he attaches his packet to her abdomen and then literally dives into her mouth, ensuring that she will be occupied in devouring him until it is far too late to remove the sperm.  Talk about paying the ultimate price!  Most human men like having part of their anatomy in a woman’s mouth, but IMHO the redbacks carry this to extremes.

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