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Science Has Figured Out Why Bears Go Down on Each Other, and It's Depressing

The "provider" bear just kept sucking on the "receiver" bear's penis until it reached sexual maturity, at which time it realized it was a lucky bear, and the behavior never had any reason to stop.

by Mike Pearl
Jun 16 2014, 1:00pm

Image via Flickr user Spencer Wright

Image via Flickr User Spencer Wright

First of all, sorry to disappoint you if you thought I meant bears like, you know, bears. No, I mean the actual animals.

A couple weeks ago, an article was published in the Journal Zoo Biology written by a Croatian team of biologists who had studied a pair of captive bears over the course of ten years. Presumably, the long-term study had a lot of takeaways that deserved to be published, but this one, about one male bear (the "provider") giving the other (the "receiver") thousands of blowjobs is obviously the most pressing. 

The two brown bears grew up in captivity, and while we have to take the scientists at their word that they never intervened and taught them how to go down on each other, it seems safe to assume that the bears developed the behavior on their own. They write that the bears "engaged in recurrent fellatio multiple times per day until at least 10 years old," and that the act consisted of not just genital contact, but "vigorous penile sucking that appeared to result in ejaculation." 

Certain evolutionary biologists have what on the face of it seems like an awesome job: looking at animal sex behaviors, speculating about why they might be to an animal's advantage, and then trying to prove it. Perhaps there's no more famous example of this than Carin Bondar's TED Talk, "The Birds and Bees are Just the Beginning," in which she winks and licks her lips while delivering familiar trivia about duck penises, all without straying from grandma-friendly terminology like "...animals had it goin' on."

Carin Bondar. Screencapped from the TED Talks site

In the end though, she has to reconcile the fact that despite her porn-movie-librarian delivery, she's spitting some tough truths about nature that are only sexy if you're the Marquis De Sade:  

Males have a spiked, barbed penis that they literally stab into the female, and they don't stab it anywhere near her vagina. They stab it anywhere in her body, and the sperm simply migrates through her hemolymph to her ovaries.  

So while it's fun to find out about animals like bonobos who arguably treat oral sex the way humans would a handshake, most of the time, there ends up being a pretty dry explanation. Ground squirrels, for instance, appear to auto-fellate after sexual contact, in order to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Male fruit bats give oral sex to females in hopes of longer copulation, so the female won't leave during the act, I gather.

As for bears, the Croatian paper comes to a depressing conclusion: It's not natural. They'd been orphaned since before they could even nurse, and one of the bears looked like it had decided that the other bear's penis was enough like a teat. The "provider" bear just kept sucking on the "receiver" bear's penis until it reached sexual maturity, at which time it realized it was a lucky bear, and the behavior never had any reason to stop.

Like so many other behaviors in captive animals, like pacing, pulling out their own fur, and biting their limbs for no reason, the bears' lives became one long oral sex bacchanalia because they were under-stimulated and bored, and had never known their mothers. Maybe these two are better off in their cage, an island of blissful monogamy, because bears in the wild rip each other to shreds during mating season. 

Carin Bondar can raise one eyebrow to make us feel titillated when she talks about a hyena clitoris all she wants, but with very few exceptions, most wild animal sex just seems desperate and painful. In the immortal words of Werner Herzog:

I don't see it so much as erotic, I see it more full of obscenity. It's just that in nature here it's vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotic here, I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away.

If he's right, it's probably better to just be a bear in a cage, spending your entire life trying in vain to get milk from another bear's penis.

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