It's a Friday night. You don't even want to be here. But there's a disturbance in the force. You can feel it.
Someone was wrong on the Internet.
And not just anyone: Neil deGrasse Tyson, science aficionado. With over 5 million Twitter followers and two television programs, NDT probably has a wider audience than any science communicator in the world. He's a brilliant astrophysicist and a fantastic spokesperson for all things cerebral.
But he's also really, really wrong about sex.
I first caught wind of this tweet by way of an attempted correction – one of many – from Nerdist's Kyle Hill.
@neiltyson Yeah I’m sure female cats *love* those spined cat penises. Oh and bedbugs can’t get enough traumatic insemination.
— Kyle Hill (@Sci_Phile) March 11, 2016
Miriam Kramer from Mashable chimed in with ducks, because duck sex is literally the most terrifying thing on the planet and pretty much the only argument it takes to disprove intelligent design.
— Miriam Kramer (@mirikramer) March 11, 2016
The issue here is a misunderstanding of sexual selection: It's true that animals need to feel compelled to copulate if they want their species to survive. If animals that reproduce sexually never got around to actually reproducing, they'd totally die out! This is true.
But that doesn't mean it feels good. Animals can feel compelled to do all sorts of things that don't feel good. What does feeling "good" even mean? We don't even know! We're working from the limited experience and perspective of a single species. It's pretty much always a mistake to assign human feelings to any other species, because we're totally working from a sample size of one, biologically speaking.
And reproduction definitely doesn't have to be enjoyable for both sexes of the species in order to keep happening. Plenty of critters in the animal kingdom are downright terrible to each other when it's time to do the deed.
Here is a brief and totally incomplete list of animals for whom we feel pretty comfortable saying sex does not feel good:
Reasoning: They literally stab each other.
Reasoning: Spined penises.
Reasoning: Oh, they also literally stab each other.
4. Angler fish
Reasoning: They basically feel compelled to latch onto a mate's body with their teeth and then they sort of just fuse into the female's body and stay there forever, which sounds fun I guess?
5. DUCKS DUCKS DUCKS
Reasoning: NO MY FRIENDS LOOK AWAY.
ducks, are terrifying
— Auriel Fournier (@RallidaeRule) October 1, 2015
And not for nothing: Sex hurts for a lot of humans too, and we do okay. Sure, it's not the entire species, but it's more common than you might think.
#sexhurts4 roughly 10-20% of human females due to vulvodynia & other chronic pain conditions. Most common treatment? "Have a glass of wine."
— Mika McKinnon (@mikamckinnon) March 11, 2016
DeGrasse Tyson has not responded to my numerous requests for comment.
— Rachel Feltman (@RachelFeltman) March 11, 2016