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Thor The Masturbating Walrus Is Not Alone Among Self-Pleasuring Animals

Sexual self-pleasuring is common among animals, but some are particularly partial and others (we're looking at you, Thor) are just more noticeable.

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Stephen Luntz

Freelance Writer

clockJan 17 2023, 17:18 UTC
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A walrus giving sexy side-eye to the camera for a feature on which animals masturbate

Draw me like one of your French girls. Image credit: Mats Brynolf/Shutterstock.com

Masturbation was once widely considered “unnatural” and is still labeled that way in some circles today. Yet if nature is what is done by non-humans then nothing could be further from the truth. Although presumably not the domain of plants or rocks, self-loving is widespread across the animal kingdom (and queendom for that matter).

When a walrus named Thor camped out on the shore at Scarborough, UK, recently the town was so concerned about his wellbeing that it canceled its New Year’s Eve fireworks. What made Thor world-famous, however, was the way he subsequently polished his substantial penis with his flipper, before making the sage decision to vacate Scarborough in thyme

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If Scarborough residents were shocked by Thor’s activities, they shouldn’t have been surprised. A video of a walrus cranking the shank by flipper was even on Youtube a decade ago, although has since been “Removed for violating Youtube’s policy on nudity or sexual content.” No doubt you can still find it somewhere if you look hard enough, but IFLScience has chosen to skip that piece of research. Curiously, however, a video of a walrus engaging in autofellatio has so far not fallen foul of the same restrictions.

Masturbation in male walruses is easy to spot because they are so substantially endowed in both the penis and the flipper department. Most creatures don’t have these advantages, but nevertheless, will frequently find a way.

A walrus baculum (penis bone) carved with the image of a walrus on it
A carved walrus baculum (penis bone) demonstrating how hard they are to miss when aroused. Image credit: Vladimir Melnik


Do animals (other than humans) masturbate?

Not long ago we learned human-made tools, specifically plastic bottles, have been pressed into use so one innovative chimpanzee could go ape, as it were.

Many dog owners will be familiar with the way some canines spread their affections between people’s legs and cushions when no speciesmate is at paw, and similar behavior has been recorded even among species that get less attention. Some manage to be a little more discrete about it; for example stallion (and even gelding) horses swing their hips so their penis brushes against the fur on their abdomen, although alternative techniques also exist. The casual observer is probably more likely to be confused than scandalized.

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Many family zoo visits have led to questions parents might not have been prepared for. Observing behavior in captivity doesn’t necessarily mean it happens in the wild, however, as if enclosures are too small animals may alter their actions to cope with boredom. That may be a particular problem for intelligent species like dolphins. 

On the other hand, the invention of scuba equipment has exposed an ocean-load of dolphin debauchery to our view, including one oft-repeated account of a bottlenose male wrapping a live wriggling eel around its penis, blurring the boundaries between bestiality and sex toys.

A smiling dolphin
There's a reason dolphins always looks so happy. Image credit: Pannochka/Shutterstock.om


Birds And Reptiles Too

Mammals didn’t invent having a party of one. Many birds will use whatever handy object seems suitable to stimulate their cloaca. Even among species that have not been officially recorded taking a self-guided tour, there’s no certainty they don’t. A journal recording sexual behavior among Adelie penguins was suppressed for almost a century as too shocking to public morals to publish. That account also recorded necrophilia and other practices still frowned upon today, but masturbation was definitely up there, despite the limited options for creatures that live mostly on bare rock and ice with uncomfortably short flippers.

Christmas dinner can look different after watching a turkey dance that may have a specific purpose.

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You can’t even attribute this all to hot-blooded passion given there seems to be an entire genre of online videos of pet turtles and tortoises enjoying some genital-ground contact. It’d be quite surprising if at least some dinosaurs weren’t in on the act, although sadly it's bones, not boners, that have survived from the Cretaceous.

Not Just The Males

Evolutionary psychology claims males want to spread their sperm everywhere while females are exceptionally choosy, but the pleasures of genital stimulation are not so restrictively allocated.

Female dolphins are partial to a sandy sea bottom, and mares have been reported to find fence posts useful for rubbing against. 

There is nothing close to sexual equity accounts of animal self-pleasure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean downstairs DJing is an overwhelmingly male pastime for most non-human species. Perhaps it’s just more obvious when the males do it. After all, an elephant hard-on is even harder to miss than Thor’s, while female pleasure can be more discrete. (Side-note too good to miss. That video featured an ad for “top 10 toys for boys” below). Socially ingrained biases may also have led to people not recognizing acts of female masturbation, or to accounts being suppressed, like the penguin tales.  

Reasons Why

The old joke runs: “Why does a dog lick his balls?... Because he can”. Not the peak of wit perhaps, but it may highlight a truth many biologists have missed.

Over-zealous followers frequently take Darwin to an extreme and seek an evolutionary advantage to explain every behavior, but often activities can also be fairly neutral side effects of other evolutionary processes

For example, by flushing out old sperm male squirrels may ensure the load they transfer to the next female is fresh. There are even claims the process reduces the transmission of STIs. On the other hand, evolution has done a very good job of making sex pleasurable for most of those who participate in it. If a consequence of that is that other forms of genital stimulation feel good as well, and animals partake when no suitable mate is available, we shouldn’t really be surprised.


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