Hi, I am sex. I am around 2 billion years old1. Nice to meet you.
I am guessing you know me. Especially if you are a teenager or older, though many children also know about me these days. Good for them… or not.
Anyway, I am here to tell my story. I think it’s time I told my story, hopefully in a short and simple way. It’s really important that I do.
You know I am afraid. For the first time in my almost two billion of years of existence I am afraid. I look around myself… and what do I see: my existence, like yours, is under threat. I exist, if you exist, if life exists. I am not sure if many of you ever thought about that – I mean in a lot of places on my own planet I am not even mentioned mostly except in whispers - but I am life itself… almost… isn’t it? Which life - sentient or insentient, self-aware or instinctive, happy or unhappy, moral or immoral, good or evil – it doesn’t matter. Those distinctions, while obviously important to you given the amount of pages scrawled, speeches made, blood shed, time spent over them, don’t really matter to me; the world is a bit different if you see it from my eyes.
That’s why I want to tell my story to you humans, because I want to talk about what matters to me. I want to thrust myself in the public attention even if you try to ignore me except when trying to sell stuff to each other. I want to make you sit up and take notice of me. I know most of you take notice of me in your private thoughts quite regularly, – ten to twenty times a day if some researchers at Ohio State University are to be believed2 - you can’t help it, I am the most powerful drive in your instinct whether you like it or not, but I am not talking about that.
Or not only about that. Oh I am glad to be a part of your thoughts, or your bedroom, or any other place you choose to be amorous, I am, thank you very much. But my role on this planet is a bit more important than to just give you pleasure or make some cute babies for you. Don’t get me wrong, I like human babies, I adore them, I keep making them all over the planet and will keep doing so till your species exists. You are after all – by some reasonable definitions – the pinnacle of evolutionary development, the pinnacle of my achievement. My job however is a bit egalitarian; it doesn’t stop with you. I got to make babies for most of the species most of the time, and do it well enough so the species survive and evolve.
Which brings me back to the point why I am talking to you – why you? Well, for better or for worse, you are the only species on this planet that has developed written languages and can read a book – like this one. You are the only species that can do math, discover laws of physics, do experiments to figure out the age of the universe, hold conversations with God who doesn’t seem to have any work except have conversations with you, write sonnets, create symphonies, decipher genetic codes, spread rumours with the help of the internet about that close friend you secretly hate and conjure exquisite torture devices like the Iron Maiden to convince your gullible fellow humans into thinking how horribly cruel your ancestors were. You can do all that. Oh, and you can also think of romantic stories that pit imaginary creatures who drink animal blood against imaginary creatures who drink your blood and make female teenagers of your species cry buckets of tears. Pretty impressive I must say.
You see you have amazing powers, powers that evolution - the only thing more important for life than me - has not given to any other species on this planet, at least yet. More than that, the sum of all the gifts evolution has bestowed on you has given you the power to shape the events on this planet in extraordinary ways, the power to even decide the future course of life on this planet.
Not to say that your powers are unlimited. Earth will exist despite what human beings can or cannot do; it’s hardy stuff. It will exist till it gets swallowed by the sun when the big star that sustains you with its light becomes a red giant (this event will probably happen - I am sorry if you didn’t know – in about 5 to 7 billion years3), or till it gets sucked into a black hole taking a trip around the Milky Way (this has a very small probability), or till the universe finds another way to fry earth or tear it apart in case the planet manages to survive the sun and black holes – but none of that is likely to happen any time soon. Our planet is here to stay for quite some time, be happy.
The same goes for the existence of your micro organic brethren. I don’t think anything can kill all the bacteria on this earth (who by the way outnumber you by a mindboggling number – according to a few University of Georgia microbiologists, there are about 1021 of them for every single one of you4). They may survive even the earth getting torn apart bit. Ok, maybe the insides of a black hole can puree them all or they will meet their Maker when the sun swallows our planet, nevertheless you get an idea of their robust constitution.
But the existence of life as we know it today – about that there is a bit of a doubt. Because what may happen soon, and some of which is happening right now, and if some scientists like Paul Martin are to be believed has already happened before5, is that the actions human beings take as a consequence of their powers begins to affect life - terrestrial, avian, oceanic, all kinds of life - in significant ways.
I will not go deeper into this. I know this is a matter of heated debates and bitter conflicts, and I don’t want to enter the battlefield. I don’t want to antagonize anyone. I am already not the most loved of things among many members of your species even though that hasn’t stopped them from deriving guilty pleasures out of me.
Which is why I decided to write an autobiography – to put my point of view across to you in a gentle way. And gentlemen and ladies, to tell the truth, this is not an honest autobiography. This is not where I bare the dirty secrets of my two billion years. (Not that I believe there are anything called ‘dirty secrets’; there is nothing dirty in nature, nor are there any secrets as long as you are inspired enough and perspire enough to uncover them, but for as long as I talk in these pages, I will talk your language, not mine).
I am kind of like at a job interview. In many interviews, there is a common question: tell me about yourself. Well, here I am voluntarily telling you my story, telling you about myself. And like in an interview, I am trying to put my best foot forward if you will pardon me the use of that cliché.
Why? I know you have a mixed opinion of me. There are some of you who feel the best way to deal with my existence is to pretend I don’t exist, some on the other side of the spectrum who are exhilarated at my mention but think I only exist in the bedroom, and some more who are not quite sure what to make of me and swing wildly from treating me the like the first group to treating me like the second, and back and forth depending on what event is currently occupying their mind the most. Then some who even consider me downright evil.
But more or less all of you agree on one thing, in deeds if not in words: I am something not normal. For example in many biology textbooks for teenage students across the world, human sexual reproduction is taught alongside respiration and digestion – all of them being functions of the body in the service of the same ultimate purpose. But while you would encounter no book that goes straight to the events happening in the lung or the stomach while skipping to tell you how we breathe through our noses or ingest food through our mouths, you would find a number of textbooks that go straight to the fertilization process and meiosis and the rest while never explaining how the sperm got to the egg in the first place. Of course hardly a teenager doesn’t know even if they are not told.
I am not criticizing this. I am the first to agree you can’t treat me normally. Very few would pay a dime to watch others breathe or eat; but billions of dollars are paid by people on this planet every year to watch others have sex6. I am the basic reason why you search for a life-partner, and I create your next generation (and your previous one too). I am even indirectly responsible for a lot of hurt in this world, especially to women. I am why Othello killed Desdemona. I don’t deny that.
And yet, believe it or not, there is something to be said about treating me as nicely as possible - not be afraid of me or pretend as if I don’t exist. I believe human cultures that treat me nicely are more advanced and prosperous; or perhaps it’s the other way round: cultures that are more advanced and prosperous treat me better. By the end of this book, using the arts, the sciences, both physical and social, and a little bit of logic, I will try to explain why.
I will also try to explain why that could be good for life on earth as a whole. I am concerned. These are the creatures I have had a hand in creating, both at the individual and the species level, like I have had a hand in your creation, both at your and species level. I would like to see them live and multiply to the best extent possible like I would like to see you live and multiply to the best extent possible. That needs some thinking about.
But for the most part of this book, I will focus on you. The powerful you. This book is essentially about human sexuality and the history created between me and you even though there are ten times more bacteria on this planet than there are millimetres to the edge of the observable universe (there are only approximately 4.4 * 1029 millimetres between you and the edge of the universe while if you remember the estimated number of bacteria is 5 * 1030). Bacteria are no less powerful of course. The last time a mass extinction killed more than 90% of the species I had evolved on our planet (a disaster called the Permian-Triassic extinction), some scientists suspect it was partly them and their love for acetate that was responsible7. And it took me almost ten millions years to make things right.
Then along with evolution I made magnificent creatures like the dinosaurs. And along came an asteroid to screw up things again!
Creating life, so much of life on an everyday basis for billions of years, trust me, is hard work. This time, I don’t want the culprit to be you.