Male big horn sheep live in what are often called “homosexual societies.” They bond through genital licking and anal intercourse, which often ends in ejaculation. If a male sheep chooses to not have gay sex, it becomes a social outcast. Ironically, scientists call such straight-laced males “effeminate.”
Giraffes have all-male orgies. So do bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, and West Indian manatees. Japanese macaques, on the other hand, are ardent lesbians; the females enthusiastically mount each other. Bonobos, one of our closest primate relatives, are similar, except that their lesbian sexual encounters occur every two hours. Male bonobos engage in “penis fencing,” which leads, surprisingly enough, to ejaculation. They also give each other genital massages.
As this list of activities suggests, having homosexual sex is the biological equivalent of apple pie: Everybody likes it. At last count, over 450 different vertebrate species could be beheaded in Saudi Arabia. You name it, there’s a vertebrate out there that does it. Nevertheless, most biologists continue to regard homosexuality as a sexual outlier. According to evolutionary theory, being gay is little more than a maladaptive behavior.
Joan Roughgarden, a professor of biology at Stanford University, wants to change that perception. After cataloging the wealth of homosexual behavior in the animal kingdom two years ago in her controversial book Evolution’s Rainbow—and weathering critiques that, she says, stemmed largely from her being transgendered—Roughgarden has set about replacing Darwinian sexual selection with a new explanation of sex. For too long, she says, biology has neglected evidence that mating isn’t only about multiplying. Sometimes, as in the case of all those gay sheep, dolphins and primates, animals have sex just for fun or to cement their social bonds. Homosexuality, Roughgarden says, is an essential part of biology, and can no longer be dismissed. By using the queer to untangle the straight, Roughgarden’s theories have the potential to usher in a scientific sexual revolution.
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