It was such a hot day and I was feeling every bit of the 30 plus degree weather as I travelled up the scenic yet dry mountains, of the Sierras, on my way to meet Robin Baker, the world famous biologist and author of the world wide best-seller Sperm Wars. Was it just the weather or the subject material I was going to engage in? This drive provided generously winding roads surrounded by acres of avocado trees and curiosity was getting to me to find out why this best-selling author would choose to live in this remote part of southern Spain. Then I arrived. Overlooking mountains was a lush garden, swimming pool and a typical white Andalusian home surrounded by pink bougainvilleas in bloom, actually quite a writer’s paradise! The only noise one could hear was the sound of the birds and the bees, a donkey and trickling sounds of water, although maybe he had a water leak.
Robin Baker, has researched a variety of subjects, from migration of our feathered friends, human navigation, to becoming one of the first scientists in the world, with Mark Bellis to find evidence of sperm competition. This accomplished author has written nineteen books, published in 27 languages and over 100 scientific papers, so one could understand why I was so intrigued in getting to know the surroundings that inspired such creativity in writing his novels. He has put his biological knowledge to the test, resulting in four sons and two daughters, three have studied in Spanish public schools. Robin co-wrote Baby Wars with his partner, Liz Oram, who pleasantly supplied us with some Spanish tapas, such as gherkins stuffed in olives.
Regarding the nature we were in, I asked them if they thought the Algarobbo tree (European Carob) smelled… and we simultaneously said, “Like semen.” “Oh yes! Especially in September and October,” and he does not mind it, although Liz would rather wake up to the smell of fresh coffee.
Sperm Wars not only was a best seller, it was very controversial on matters of why the human penis has its shape, masturbation, infidelity in both sexes, and how evolution programmed men to conquer and monopolise women, while women without ever knowing they are doing so, look for the best genes from sexual partners. Basically all you ever need to know about sperm. Baker researched the “suck up hypothesis” and “vaginal flow back.” Happily he mentions “that no one has ever proven anything different”, regarding Sperm Wars, yet many have a hard time with this thought provoking book which often they cannot put down. Sperm Wars was researched in the 90’s and published in 1996, it also happens to be the most talked about of his published works.
Assuming the above I asked Robin, What would you rather talk about?
“It’s a bit frustrating everyone wants to talk about Sperm Wars or they still call me about Magneto Reception and it was so long ago.” It has nothing to do with fact that that Robin is now the age of 71. He would rather talk about his novels, or even his book, Fragile Science: The Reality Behind The Headlines. Fragile Science raises the topic of Global Warming: cheap holidays, future apocalypse or whether it is just hot air. It addresses depression since Prozac emerged, GM foods, Mad Cows disease and Englishmen and what we do or do not know about it all. I should add his family has basically a vegetarian diet. These subjects, according to Baker, go out of date as research moves on.
“My aim as biologist is to find out why some things are so common, to see evidence for or against, like with sun screens and skin cancer, is it causal or coincidence.” He thinks the jury is still out.
Robin, since we are all here by sexual transmission, why do so many people have a hard time talking about it?
“If you go back a few thousand years, people would not have any trouble talking about sex at all. It is a cultural thing. The last 2,000 years we are made to feel guilty.”
You mean therefore religious? “Yes, it is both culture and religion.”
Sex education is a very important topic for various reasons and some countries have more liberal education than others. Robin Baker was born in Wiltshire, England.
How was your sexual education?
“During the mid-forties and fifties you certainly did not talk about sex. It is dreadful how little we were told, if only we would have seen or been educated on the subject.” His Mother was a nurse, but would not discuss it. His father thought “masturbation made you go blind and gave you warts.” So now I understand what is wrong with our vision! Robin added “I knew there was something exciting we ought to be doing, so a bunch of kids would run around chase the girls behind a shed pull our pants down and thought oh that must have been sex. I had all sorts of failures, and I wondered was that sex? I cannot tell you about my first sexual experience as I did not know what I was doing when I was fourteen or fifteen, later I grew to enjoy it more and realized nowhere else to go except novelty.”
Robin Baker was educated at the very same school as the famous author, Sir William Golding, only 30 years later. Golding’s classic “Lord of the Flies” was required reading and his school’s claim to fame. “I was irritated as to why Golding wrote the book with all young boys instead of boys and girls. I always told myself one day ‘I want to write Primal’ and decided to stick with age group I knew students.” Robin Baker had an academic career, as lecturer, at several leading Universities and Reader in Zoology at University of Manchester. His novel, Primal, is a more extended version about older undergraduate students both male and female, along with a Professor and a mysterious tale: how human behaviour takes over when there are no rules. Some say it is what the television series LOST should have been.
I suggest to Baker he write another version of Primal with adults over the age of 50 years and of course no Viagra on the island. He chuckles and admits “That could be tedious although it would not have to be. My interest all along is what is inside us humans and what is driving us. How much is shut down by culture, religion and inapt human behaviour.”
He thinks it really would be more interesting to have babies grow up on an island with no cultural influence and see how they would behave. “I believe people would behave as chimpanzees.” That is why he featured chimpanzees in his novel Primal. “Religion shapes our sexual instincts.”
A recent Harvard University study suggested that regular ejaculation helps reduce risk of developing prostate cancer by 20% for men over the age of 40. Men who ejaculated at least 22 times a month were shown to have 20% less risk compared to males who ejaculated only four to seven times a month and masturbation, it suggests, helps flush out ailments for those without partners. Smiling I ask Robin ‘should the Pope raise this issue?’
Are there any animals that masturbate?
“Oh yes, virtually all mammals that have been studied, masturbate.” Both males and females alike? “Females masturbate less, and males more so. Male dolphins rub themselves against rocks to ejaculate, Stallions gradually get worked up stomping feet until the penis comes out and they ejaculate.”
What is the biological reason for this?
“This maintains the flow of seminal fluid. Fresh sperm are more fertile, like you mentioned, in the prostate cancer study. Female masturbation is as I say and stand by in Sperm Wars. It is more of cervical housekeeping by changing the acidity of the mucous and keeps the elasticity to maintain ease for sperm to go through. Although the opposite can be true, orgasms between male ejaculations seem to block semen going through. Women can use, through masturbation, the ability to influence what sperm can get through, versus ‘this male or that male’ so you can set up blocks. Orgasm just after an ejaculation eases the flow of sperm from one minute up to twenty minutes after, thus helping conception. Orgasm pattern does not seem to make any difference to conception. We studied more the flow back, which we collected. Our argument is that sperm retained in the crypt of the cervix stays form 4-5 days and flows out one by one. Not many get to the ovarian ducts as 90% of sperm is not to fertilize anyway, some is to kill off the others, which is not very popular idea but not been disputed.”
“I am curious to know what proportions of children are conceived by trying, and what proportions are conceived by spontaneity?” I think trying to conceive is a good contraception Robin! In his study of animals and promiscuity he compares humans with different species and most animals are not monogamous, apparently only the Gibbon primate couples.
In several of your books you mention rape and date rapes as well. How is it people can get away with rape? Is it because they are in a powerful position, or wealthy celebrities?
“Do they accept it? Years ago they did, but now seem to be the target, at least politicians. I think they are going back many years and prosecuting, hunting them down, but you’re certainly right, they are not investigating politicians, and should not brush it under the carpet,” and brushing away the bees on the Iberian ham he continues, “Are they any different? It is more what you can get away with. I think if you put anyone in a higher position they would do things they would not normally do! Human Nature, unfortunately is so that when you get into a powerful position, you use it in all they ways you can, in whatever appeals to you”
I mention to Robin that in the USA there is a statute of limitations and it should be changed, even more so when several people come forward. They do not go back past statute of limitations, unless it is with a minor. Every state has a different time limit.
Regarding predators, I would like to ask you. Biologically what is behind the mind of someone such as a famous celebrity who could pay for prostitutes but prefers to drug and rape women?
“It is not the amount of sex that is important or to have more sex, who knows, individually speaking. I prefer to talk about issues generally speaking. It could be the novelty, maybe it is the drive to do something different, but why, biologically they would do that, I do not know.” He pauses, “Hmm, it reminds me of the time I spoke with the editor of Playboy magazine where we discussed why couples try to re- invent their sex life to stay together. They are thinking sex should be more interesting than it really is. A person would think why isn’t sex more interesting, ‘I should find my partner the most exciting person there is’! Sex is what sex is. It is just an act! Hidden from you as a child, a taboo subject for so many years and when you start discovering sex you’re often very disappointed. Questioning, is this what it is all about? It is not as mind blowing as they thought it would be”. He continues to tell me, “Just try this or that new thing and sex could be maybe more than what they thought it ought to be, but it never will be.” I could not help but respond ‘well the best sex organ is the mind.’ Robin grins and agrees with me. “Of course, yes it is!”
Baker also wrote a book, Sex in the Future, published in year 2000. I asked him if he predicts any changes, apart from those he had published in the book, taking into account the internet, Viagra and technology today. He said, “People will keep having sex, but not for reproduction. Sex and reproduction are becoming more and more divorced until it will eventually become all through clinical methods like IVF. More and more women are choosing to conceive by IVF with the growth over internet ordering from egg banks, and sperm banks. A good idea is to bank sperm and eggs from adolescence, resulting in better quality and in case something happens. Of course once you do that you can be sterilized and choose to have children when you want.” The perfect contraception!
We speak of the very grey area between people who not only want healthy offspring but also want to change a mutant or to have the perfect child. The book “Sex and the Future” discusses such subjects.
“It is only a small step from avoiding having a child with cystic fibrosis and so on; to I want to have a child with blue eyes. I used a scene in the book with which surrogate mother. Do you want them to become a good tennis player? How tall do you want them to be? Internet does not make a difference except to order eggs or sperm. Pornography is just an aid to masturbation most of the time.” As I am laughing, I add, Robin I do not think it is for viewing high quality movies, or reading magazines for good prose.
Some areas of Spain are very liberal, producing leaflets to teach school children to masturbate, which I was informed by Robin. Spain started to speak of this much earlier than the UK ‘to talk about it.’ Although I have been informed by a few of the IVF clinics they are not always so well received in a formerly quite Strict Catholic country.
As a Biologist are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
“Neither, the future will be what future is. It will evolve. I don’t have the confidence to predict the future.”
How will it evolve regarding people and animals over the next 100 years?
“We now are worried about some Islamic state trying to take over, at least the parts that are Islamic and life would be completely different if they did. A world run by the Americans or the British is not too terribly good either. Regarding reproduction and biodiversity, sex will be purely recreational and decreases the importance, maybe people will lose interest.”
Do you think we will have Anti- Viagra? People spend so much time looking for the ideal partner or spouse? “Possibly”
“I do believe biodiversity will decline, it has to decline. I am very pessimistic how people feel they are justified in killing off half a population. I am not sure how much I like the human species. Today we have certain groups decapitating people. It is easy to think their separate types of people. Basically they are the same people just put into a different environment”
So how is it that some religions degrade half the population as in women?
“Well we don’t have to go back so far only to the ancient Greeks, everybody thought women were a different species, but gradually society to society we have come to restore males and females and almost equality.”
The sexes are different, so how do you get equality?
“With equal rights, and independence, not having one person or sex being dependent on the other.”
Independent from the other, we will achieve more?
“Hunter gatherers were hardly together, the whole group would share food, and only met up for sex. No one was dependent upon the other except the children dependent on mothers and grandmothers and I feel that is the equality we can achieve by not being dependent upon a person. Muslims would argue that their women had more independence, (not sure I would agree with that) than western women it was not until 1920, women in America and the UK were treated terribly.”
Does that mean you are admitting men are always trying to control and have the power is the problem?
“Inequality started between the sexes only 5,000 years ago. Before then, they did not know where the babies came from believing it was a ‘spirit’ and not realizing the significance of sex in this, or understanding semen means seed. When the truth was discovered, men did not want their women to be promiscuous and before, promiscuity was the norm.”
So what about animals, do they couple?
“Not many of them do, and very few of our closest such as apes form couples. Only the Gibbon, certainly the Chimpanzees and Gorillas do not. The female Chimpanzees spend most of their time fighting off the males from killing offspring.”
Robin if we are like monkeys what does that say about men?
“They are sperm on legs, and socially redundant. More redundant in the future, when you can make sperm from any cell in the body”
So, when any organ can be made from stem cells, we might all be redundant.
What is next for Robin Baker?
I was secretly informed what his upcoming non-fiction book is about and I do believe it could out sell Sperm Wars.
Finally I’ve discovered what Robin Baker is really like. Previously I had imagined him to be a sort of Dr. Jessup type from the movie ‘Altered States’, looking at his old photograph and considering his background, but I found him to be a very down to earth, interesting man, with great stories to tell. He leads quite a reclusive life of writing, and I am honoured I was able to have the day with him and his family, more so since he is not taking interviews until he finishes this long awaited book that the world I’m convinced will find very astonishing, and even more thought provoking.
He wrote Primal in the bathroom with a view over the mountains, as it was the only place he could have closed off in the open plan home, to put callouses on those fingertips although he quiet enjoys writing from bed. How ironic is that?
I brought along my dog assuming since he is a zoologist, he would love all animals but he prefers to be surrounded by his pussy cats.
Robin Bakers books are sold on Amazon, and in major book stores.
Photo of Robin Baker: Amelia Baker