The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex


What the Critics Say About Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation

BBC Wildlife - Stuart Blackman

Agony and Ecstacy

Sex sells everything, from cars to gravy granules. It also sells
books--and not just the airport-lounge variety. These days, students of
the science of sex are also well catered for. Much of what is available in
this market is little more infomative than the bonk-busters, but the
gloriously titled Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation is scientific
smut of a superior kind.

Dr Tatiana, the alter-ego of erstwhile Economist science writer Olivia
Judson, is agony aunt to the birds, bees, baboons and bacteria. And boy,
do they have problems: "Dear Dr Tatiana, I'm a queen bee, and I'm worried.
All my lovers leave their genitals inside me and then drop dead. Is this

The quirky format allows Dr Tatiana (a cross between Ricki Lake and Richard
Dawkins) to expound wittily and accessibly on the evolution of sexual
reproduction--one of the most problematic areas in evolutionary biology.
So, while Dr Tatiana assures 'Perplexed of Cloverhill' that her suitors are
indeed normal (by bee standards, at least) and explains why they jettison
their genitalia inside her (to stop access by other males), she uses this
as an excuse to explore the wider issue of conflicts of interest between
the sexes.

Many of Tatiana's correspondents are familiar: cloaca-pecking dunnocks,
insatiable bonobos, cannibalistic mantises and other staple sexual oddities
are all there. But the text is kept fresh with more esoteric
examples--slime moulds with 13 sexes, masturbating iguanas and necrophiliac
bacteria, for instance.

Generally, Judson doesn't shy away from the trickiest aspects of slap and
tickle, bringing the reader bang-up to date with the state of knowledge and
what remains to be worked out. But I was disappointed when she ended a
fascinating account of the girl-power mating system of the jacana without
explaining the pressures that gave rise to it, when enough is known to
merit an informed guess. Similarly, I would have liked more than two pages
on how sexual reproduction evolved in the first place.

But on the whole, this is a thorough, informative, original and
entertaining survey of the of the evolutionary biology of sex. As long as
the subject is treated as expertly as it is here, sex will keep on selling.