An X-Rated Nature Essay

Certain members of my family have long tried to persuade me to try writing something more lucrative, something that might have a better chance of making it to the best sellers’ list than a bunch of essays. If I would write just one good pornographic novel, they tell me, or even one that is not so good—just sinfully shocking—then I would at least have a steady source of income to support my writing habit.

Being an essayist, however, I decided to first try my hand at a pornographic essay. Furthermore, I decided that my characters would all be non-human, since other writers had long ago exhausted most of the interesting possibilities of the human anatomy. With millions of different kinds of plants and animals from which to choose, each with a unique sexual story to tell, I knew I had the makings of a hit essay … not to mention future novels and movie rights.

The trouble with writing such an essay is that it’s not always easy to define pornography, even within our own torrid species. What is art or of redeeming social value to one creature may not be so to another. Non-human organisms certainly don’t write about their sexual activities (at least nothing that has yet been published). Nor do they take explicit photographs. But there are other ways to depict erotic behavior that are no less subtle and direct.

Take the flowering plants, for example—so innocent and lovely—which flagrantly and fragrantly advertise their raw sexual needs to every passing insect. The boring sameness of human flesh tones is no match for the bold gaudiness of many flowers, whose stamens and stigmas entice so shamelessly. Anthony Huxley wrote of a plant called the Persian zungeed that “has a fragrance once thought so intoxicating that Persian men were wont to lock up their women when the tree came into bloom.”

Even the shapes of some flower parts are pornographic, to say the least. Especially is this true in certain members of the family Araceae, whose phallic resemblance so titillated the Victorians in their gardens and hothouses.

It gets even worse in the animal world. The male peacock, for instance, has no need for dirty words or pictures. His iridescent tail feathers, spread in all their glory for any passing hen, leave no doubt of his lascivious intentions. Male sage grouses are even more direct, with their brazen strutting and baring of inflatable air sacs. Animal behaviorists have not been able to determine as yet if any peacocks or grouses find such actions offensive.

The insect world has its own brand of chemical pornography. Through the secretion of minute quantities of substances known as pheromones, certain female insects send lewd and clear messages through the air over many miles to potential male partners. I sometimes wonder, late at night, what crazy pictures may form in a male moth’s head.

For sheer novelty in form and function of sexual appendages, the human body pales in comparison to those of other creatures. Just imagine what a pornographic writer might do with the copulatory arms of the squid. Or the dozen “love darts” carried by certain African naked snails. While the things that some worms do should not be mentioned in mixed company.

There is even what humans might call sexual sadism in some creatures. Female scorpions and praying mantises can never get quite enough from their mates: so they end up eating them piece by loving piece. Talk about your sex objects.

On second thought, I may never get around to writing that great pornographic nature novel. Out beyond the street lights, in the darker recesses of woods and fields, life plays out its little bedroom games on a scale too shocking for human sensibility. Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet “that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.” Modesty, indeed.  Mother Nature, you’re one hot mama.                                                                                                                                                                             ©Gene Twaronite 2013

Read The Absurd Naturalist every month in 5enses