Night Crawler

During Valentine's weekend, hundreds of fetishy fiends converge on the city's only mixed safe-sex club, the Power Exchange, where they may relish in the anonymity of glory holes and the sting of a well-placed paddle. As in nature, sex in San Francisco often takes the form of spectacle. Elaborate mating rituals demanding ornate costuming and fierce displays of dominance are common enough here to make even the peacock pale, but despite our sexual diversity it must be said that most animals have got us beat -- at least in design. For example, the term "boner" is merely wishful thinking for humans, but for the North American River Otter it is a fact. As 70 people on the San Francisco Zoo's seventh annual Valentine's Day Sex Tour discovered, the male otter has an actual bone inside his penis, making 30-minute copulation as easy as falling off a log.

John Aikin, associate curator for the zoo, settles between two bouquets of Valentine flowers hanging from the roof of the zebra-striped zoo train. A sun-bleached ponytail and abundant laugh lines endow Aikin with an impish quality despite the somber khaki of his zoo uniform.

"Now, there are a lot of families in the zoo right now, and since we don't want to offend anyone ... I'm going to be using a code word or two," smirks Aikin into his microphone. He looks around the train for any nearby children. "Instead of saying penis, I am going to say parrot." Despite the 18-and-over age restriction for this tour, the nudges and chuckles that "penis" elicits from the couples on the train show that the code will be easier for everyone involved. The train whirs into life and rolls down a narrow concrete path nestled between two rows of large bushes. The smell of warm beast becomes sharp and thick as the train nears the first of the pens. Some of the elderly women on the tour cover their mouths and noses, but 17 years with the zoo has made Aikin immune.

The train nears the Penguin colony where Sex Tour founder/penguin keeper Jane Tollini is passing out Valentines to her birds and singing Johnny Mathis tunes to get them in the mood. Penguins are for the most part monogamous, but their fidelity is connected more to their nest than their mate -- something not altogether uncommon in humans.

The train continues and Aikin relates a number of bizarre sexual facts, stalling occasionally when groups of children and their incredulous parents pass within earshot: 1) The female Giraffe lives separately from the male, except during estrus, when the very sight of a male will cause her to urinate. Giraffes, like humans, neck, but during the sex act, the male has only one chance to hit his target, otherwise his semen (which Aikin likens to two cups of Silly String) will spill out and waft through the air. 2) The female Zebra lives in a harem with one dominant male that kicks her ass if she strays from the group. Zebra stallions are very aggressive and will beat up any other zebra -- or ostrich -- that comes too close. Their "parrot" is the same as our "parrot," only bigger. 3) The male Ostrich possesses a phallus -- a penislike member that, in the place of a urethra, has a spiral groove running along the shaft that semen travels along. When mating, the male ostrich will demonstrate his sex appeal by flopping out his phallus and waving it around in front of the female. 4) The "parrot" of the African Elephant is 5 feet long and possesses nearly as many muscles as the animal's trunk. It can literally feel its way into the female. 5) The sperm of the Fruit Fly is largest in nature, equivalent to human sperm that would be 4 feet long. 6) When in heat, a female African Lion must have sex at least every two hours for four days (up to 55 times in a day). Male lions take turns when they become too exhausted to perform. 7) The Black Rhino has a daffodil-shaped "parrot" and fornicates for more than an hour at a time. 8) The male African Wart Hog licks his mate while nuzzling and massaging her with his snout. He has a corkscrew-shaped "parrot." 9) The female penguin and the Trumpeter Swan can establish lifelong lesbian relations despite the presence of males. 10) The female Kangaroo can keep fertilized eggs in stasis until the weather is right. At the first rainfall, she releases an egg, which grows into an embryo the size of a lima bean. While still an embryo, the baby climbs out of her womb and into her pouch, where it nurses on a special milk that accelerates its growth. Mom drops another egg, and when this embryo climbs out, the first baby is large enough to move to a second teat that supplies only "infant" milk. When the rain stops, all other eggs are aborted, the embryos are kicked out of the pouch, and the babies are weaned abruptly. 11) The female Casqued Hornbill gets fat and lazy when she is laying. The male walls her up in a hollow with her eggs, where they remain for four months completely dependent upon the male for food and protection. 12) Bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, have sex year round -- for fun, not breeding. Sex is playful and exploratory. They use it to greet one another and to form bonds -- like humans do by shaking hands or hugging. Neighbors have sex; mates have sex; brothers and sisters have sex; parents and offspring have sex; everyone has sex with everyone else -- until a female goes into estrus. Then, only the dominant male is permitted to breed.

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