CHAPTER SEVEN: HOOKED ON SEX
(THURSDAY MAY 29TH )
It seems that laser surgery has a brand new application. Nowadays, according to an interview I heard on the radio during the Thursday drive to work, laser surgery is no longer just a fancy and modern way of fixing your eyesight or getting rid of your skin blemishes. No, there’s much more to it than that.
A certain Dr Michael Pollock of Cincinnati University has been using laser surgery to remove certain parts of the penis. (I was about to say that, when they announced the topic on the radio, it caused me to prick up my ears, but then I decided not to say that. How about that for self-restraint eh?)
Anyway, Dr Pollock has been busily (and meticulously) lasering off bits of the penis, but not on human males – that would probably be illegal, certainly at the moment. He’s been doing that surgery on fruit flies, known formally as Drosophila melanogaster. Now I must admit that I did not know much about the sex life of fruit flies, apart from the fact that there is a lot of it. They are a very fecund species much beloved for their reproductive abilities by geneticists, and much hated by householders - since flies appear in vast numbers from nowhere and hover around the fruit bowl - for exactly the same reason. Anyway, it seems that female fruit flies are not very interested in sex. They like to chill out, presumably just dreaming about decorating the kids’ room, trying new places to have dinner etc. So the males have great difficulty in getting the females interested in copulation, which is, in evolutionary terms, a very bad thing for the species. That, actually, sounds like a pretty useful line which human males could use whenever they’re not doing well in a singles bar. (It suggests an approach such as “Hey darling please come to bed with me, it’ll be good for the species.”)
Anyway, in the Drosophila species, the male apparently just mounts the female without any foreplay, buying flowers, romantic dinner etc. Naturally, the female is not wildly enthusiastic about being mounted, though nobody actually knows the fruit fly language for ‘that’s all you want me for’.
Having started copulation, the male keeps it going for a very long time, sometimes four or even more seconds, while the female just grits her teeth. That is, if fruit flies actually have teeth, which I think they don’t. I guess she just grits her proboscis and thinks of England, or the fruit fly equivalent thereof.
It seems that zoologists have long been puzzled by how it is that the male manages to keep the procreation process going for all those seconds, despite female indifference. So the zoologists studied the anatomy of the male fruit fly, and they found that that the fruit fly penis is equipped with a pair of hooks. Yes, hooks. Not only are these hooks very very very small, but they are also quite widely variable in shape from species to species. It seems that they are almost as varied in design and form among the fruit flies as automobiles are among us humans. One fruit fly species possesses the equivalent of the Chrysler penis-hook while another goes for the Cadillac, presumably with cruise control and air-conditioning. Maybe the designs of the penis-hooks are not only species-specific but also date-specific – perhaps they change the model every January, who knows?
Anyway, Dr Pollock did something amazing: he took some male fruit flies and used laser surgery to cut off their penis-hooks. Painlessly and under anesthetic, of course – this is science, not sadism. Actually it seems that fruit flies are quite easy to anaesthetize. At first I thought that the scientists would have to train other fruit flies as anesthetists and to dash around with very small masks and tiny cylinders of nitrous oxide for the patients (and goodness knows how they would get the consent form signed pre-op). But no: anesthesia in the fruit fly world is a simple matter of carbon dioxide. Apparently, you just pass a whiff of CO2 into the box and presto the flies all fall asleep while you go ahead with the laser surgery.
But there’s another factor that needs to be taken into consideration too. The fruit fly is very small, and the fruit fly’s penis is even smaller: a LOT smaller actually - despite the bagging that goes on at Drosophila parties. Furthermore the hooks on the very small fruit fly penis are even smaller still. In order to be able to remove said hooks without removing any of the more essential stuff, Dr Pollock had to do the operations while the fly was anesthetized and asleep under the microscope.
So with effective carbon-dioxide anesthesia, excellent lighting, superb microscopy and a steady hand, Dr Pollock removed the hooks. Guess what happened then? Well, I’ll tell you: once the penis-hooks had been removed, copulation was a total failure. The Act would last less than one second, and then the hookless penis basically fell out. A case of premature ejection, perhaps.
One way or another, Dr Pollock had basically invented coitus interruptus for the fruit fly. Even more amazingly, as we heard during the radio interview, it turns out that those hooks are really really tiny. In fact they are only fifteen microns long. Let me give you a sense of scale here. If something is fifteen microns long, it means that it is only as long as long as the diameter of two human red blood cells pressed together (well, two and a bit perhaps). That’s it: that’s the length of the hooks we’re talking about. An appendage that is no longer than the diameter of two red cells makes the difference between good sex and bad sex for the fruit fly.
Doesn't that just prove the old adage: size isn’t everything.
But let’s not stop there. Isn’t there another message in the Drosophila conjugal anatomy? Wouldn’t humans benefit from the equivalent of penis-hooks? Of course, these are politically charged and deep waters. There are many submerged reefs of political incorrectness waiting to destroy the unwary, but, even so, isn’t there a message here about the ties that bind us?
In contemporary society of course we don’t really need devices as obvious and overt as penis-hooks, because we have all kinds of existing devices that bind us together such as joint-mortgages, in-laws, Christmas with the family and other indestructible links between partners. But wouldn’t the evolution of penis-hooks add something to our relationships? Given what Dr Pollock found among the species of Drosophila, human penis-hooks could become a new and promising expression of individuality and creative design. Perhaps they could become a sort of anatomical cod-piece a new fashion statement and a must-have accessory.
Maybe the next year’s sex manuals will be discussing the implication of this research in great detail: at least it’d be something for us males to get our hooks into, wouldn’t it?