Yes, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Sex Can Hurt and Extinction Isn’t Automatically the Consequence

I suspect Neil deGrasse Tyson thought this tweet sounded very clever when he sent it out:


It sounds like it should be true. But it’s not how evolution works. Not even close. Hell, there are plenty of people who can share stories about how sex hurt the first time they did it, or because they were in a wrong position, or because it just does sometimes. (Sex, I’ve heard, can also lead to childbirth. Which is also painful.)

Emily Willingham, writing for Forbes, explains why sex can indeed hurt for some species and how that in no way poses a challenge to natural selection:

  1. Nature doesn’t give a rip whether or not sex hurts. All that matters is that sex happens. In the reproductive Olympics, successfully producing offspring from the union of gametes gets you ahead in the race.
  2. Many species literally die for sex. Sometimes, they even get eaten in the middle of it.

There’s a lot more where that came from.

I’m sure Tyson just wanted the tweet to be amusing, and he wasn’t really thinking of the biological truth of it. But as someone who has a huge platform as a science communicator, you’d think he’d care about both of those points.

***Update***: Tyson just tweeted a link to Willingham’s article, which is at least an admission that he didn’t have all the facts:

He followed it up with another attempt to curry the favor of biologists:


It worked in 2012. It should work now.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.