A History of Sexual Behavior in Penguins

image courtesy of blogspot.com

Researchers at the Natural History Museum recently discovered a 100-year old manuscript describing the sexual behavior of the Adélie penguins in Antarctica. If you’ve been reading my posts for the past few years, you know that I love anything vintage and sex related, and I love learning about animal behavior. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited about this manuscript!

The paper, written by scientist George Murray Levick in 1911, describes the “disturbing” sexual practices of penguins, including what he described as rape and necrophilia. According to the Liat Clark, all of these behaviors can be logically explained. What looked like “necrophilia” was, in fact, a basic animal instinct to procreate when presented with the opportunity (in this instance, a penguin laying on its back looks like it’s ready to copulate).

I was glad to see that the article’s author discussed personal bias. Clark mentioned that “necrophilia, as Levick perceived it, is a human term, and therefore hardly likely to explain penguin behaviour.” It’s far too easy to apply human terms and values on animal behavior, and it is vital that researchers pay attention to that bias. This is an especially prominent issue amongst feminist scientists. Particularly in the research of animal sexual behavior (and specifically because science was a strictly male-dominated field for a long while), researchers often place their own values on the subjects of their research, which leads to skewed results and conclusions.

For some more info on animal sexual behavior, I highly recommend Jared Diamond’s book Why Is Sex Fun?: The Evolution of Human Sexuality.

About Michaela

Michaela

Michaela is a recent Seven Sisters graduate with a self-designed degree in Sexuality Studies. When she's not blogging, you'll find her teaching Health and Wellness and A Cappella to high school students, helping women find properly fitting bras, and working as an editor on a documentary. She hopes to continue her education one day with a PhD in Feminist Anthropology.