There I was this morning, drinking my coffee and innocently reading the news, when I came across a Daily Beast headline featuring the words “very horny” and “Robert Pattinson” and “mermaid”—and I did what any normal person would do: I clicked. Which is how I learned, without really intending it, that Pattinson has a new film called The Lighthouse, and that it involves human-on-mermaid sex. Before I knew it, I was reading about the movie’s graphic depiction of “elaborate” mermaid genitalia—and then I was thinking about mer-vulvas and mer-dick and mer-sex and mer-babies.
I am, reassuringly, far from the first person to consider such things, as evidenced by a sample of Quora and Reddit queries (including one that reads, very thoughtfully, “I’m going to have sex with a mermaid tomorrow. What should I know about mermaid reproductive anatomy to make it as enjoyable as possible for both of us?”). Having now spent just over an hour sorting through the internet’s mer-sex speculation, I can report back: theories abound, and I am all too thrilled to share them.
A few years ago, HelloGiggles admirably asked a marine biologist to come up with a mer-sex hypothesis grounded in models of fish reproduction. (The Lighthouse took a similar approach: director Robert Eggers tells the Daily Beast that “the design of the mermaid’s” vulva, which was constructed from silicone, was “based on shark labias.”) George Parsons of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago theorized that, in paraphrase, “mermaids and mermen would all have a slit, about halfway down their fin, from which they would release their eggs and sperm, respectively.” This theory may be scientifically sound, but I think we can all agree that fish sex is boring as shit. If we’re gonna imagine mermaids fucking, it better be tawdry and debauched, not some procreative, drive-by fertilization.
Others have suggested a different underwater comparison: Male dolphins have penises that fully retract into a small slit and when they emerge—oh god, they are monstrous and pink and I do not recommend a Google Images search. Female dolphins have a single, larger slit that contains both the vagina and the anus (while male dolphins have a separate anal slit). A Redditor raised this fun fact in a mer-sex thread before writing of mermaids: “On the plus side, it’s like having vaginal and anal intercourse at the same time. On the minus side, it’s like having vaginal and anal intercourse at the same time.” Moving right along.
For the mostly deeply considered, and graphic, renderings of mer-sex, one need not look any further than fantasy authors. Shira Anthony, who has written a series of books depicting romance between mermen, based her imaginings off of dolphin anatomy and mating dances. She writes of her mermen: “They nip playfully at each other, brush their lips against each other’s skin, and even use the sharp barbs at the end of their wrists to gently scrape at each other and arouse their mates.” When they get down to it, well—she writes in her book Into the Wind:
Ian moaned as Taren slipped a finger inside the opening at the base of his tail to coax forth his member. When it emerged, hard and proud, Taren took it in his mouth, ran his tongue over its veined surface, then swallowed it until his lips met the base.
Understandably, some fantasy authors have grasped for a more human-like rendering of mer-sex. In a blog post, D.S. Murphy, author of the mermaid romance Shearwater, explained that he creatively envisioned his merfolk as crustaceans. “They have an exoskeleton over their lower body, which they molt.” As one of his mermen explains in the book’s dialogue: “Under our shells our organs are… nearly identical to humans.” Another writer of mer-fiction, Demelza Carlton, author of Ocean’s Infiltrator, instead suggests that merfolk can “can shift their skin to cover more or less of their legs (and what lies between them)” and, when they do so completely, look “like any normal human.”
In both cases, though, you’re basically just picturing human sex (which, within this particular context, feels about as exciting to me as fish sex).
The most satisfying rendering of mer-boning that I came across was in Melissa Broder’s recent novel The Pisces. The book imagines a human woman’s romance with a merman who has a tail that begins below the dick. He also wears a loincloth-like sash over said dick, because, naturally, “sand, jellyfish, it can all be very abrasive.” (The book also contains this delightful bit of dialogue, “Fuck me with your Triton spear.”) Broder has admitted that she simply built her leading merman “how [she] wanted him to be built” because she wanted a character that would actually turn her on.
But Broder’s preferred vision checks out, according to the experts. In response to a Quora question, a real, live merman explained from his underwater, WiFi-connected home office:
In both the male and female of MOST merfolk (there are many races) the hybridization actually occurs below the hips right below the location of the genitals and includes a small pocket that passes through us. Our genitals are in fact very much human. Why don’t you normally see this? Over the lower half of our human body is an abdominal sheath, our gaaji’feen, that extends from our tail or rrathu (words depend on the dialect, particular language or locality there are MANY). This sheath is a very tough yet very elastic covering that extends up over the human buttocks and genitalia and blends almost seamlessly with our upper body. The gaaji’feen is lowered to relieve oneself, copulate, etc.
Good night, and gaaji’feen.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)