Nine Times a Night
DESCRIPTION: A handsome sailor named "Nine Times a Night" arrives in London after a voyage and is seen by a "handsome rich widow." She entices him to marry her. He "trimmed her sails" five times; she wonders why he can't manage the nine times of his name
EARLIEST DATE: 1982 (the broadsides are almost certainly Victorian if not earlier)
KEYWORDS: sex bawdy marriage sailor humorous
FOUND IN: Britain
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Bodleian, Harding B 11(555), "9 times a night," unknown, n.d; also Harding B 17(219a), "9 times a night," unknown, n.d.
cf. "The Miller's Daughter (II)" (theme: male sexual ability or lack thereof)
NOTES: Field collections of this seem to be relatively few; I might have suspected A. L. Lloyd of writing it had it not been for the broadsides. It's interesting to note that these generally don't admit of a printer -- perhaps to avoid prosecution?
WARNING: Clinical biology ahead. Sort of graphic, and also one of the areas of science some religions find offensive.
There are sound reasons of evolutionary biology why human males cannot do it "nine times a night." It has to do with something called "sperm competition" -- or, rather, the human lack of same. You can read about this in such places as Dawkins, pp. 203-211, and (with a more gruesome side quest into infanticide among monkeys) in Ridley, pp. 213-226.
Dawkins, p. 210, has an interesting little graph, of the ratio of body mass to testes mass in primates -- in effect, of how much sperm each species produces. The interesting thing about this ratio is that the species above average all engage in extremely high levels of sexual activity. Ridley's numbers: "a female gorilla will mate about ten times for every baby that is born [whereas] a female chimp will mate five hundred to a thousand times" (p. 217).
This correlates closely with behavior. Male gorillas, which have small testes and low sperm production, keep harems (if they're lucky) of six or so females. These harems are stable, at least in the short run; the female will have no other mate while part of one. So the male doesn't have to have much sperm; if the female get pregnant, he knows he's the father.
It's very different in chimpanzees. Male chimps have been observed to murder the offspring of a female who has not mated with them. The only way for the female to prevent this is to mate with as many male chimps as possible, so that all the males might be the father of her child. So the males inevitably have evolved to produce as much sperm as possible in order to try to out-reproduce everyone else. Fatherhood, for chimps, is partly a matter of luck -- but partly a matter of being able to really take advantage of opportunity when it's offered.
This has been shown in many other species. Gibbons are monogamous and have small testes. Monkeys have all sorts of sexual patterns, with sperm production correlating with the number of partners.
Humans -- well, on the graph they are on the low end of the scale. Not as low as gorillas, but definitely among the species that don't engage significantly in sperm competition. That doesn't necessarily mean that we are meant to be monogamous, but it *does* imply fixed pair bonds -- if not lifelong monogamy, then at least something like (polygamous) marriage or serial marriage: Any male "expects" to have near-exclusive access to a female at the time she conceives. So there is no advantage to a male in doing it "nine times a night"; if the first one or two don't do it, the woman probably is at the wrong time of her cycle to conceive.
The result of all this: "while women are physiologically able to return to a state of sexual arousal and even to achieve orgasm again [in a short time], men experience what is called a postejaculatory refractory period. This may last several minutes [for the very lucky guys!], hours, or even days. During this time, men cannot experience another orgasm and have difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection" (Gray/Garcia, p. 201).
The conclusion is somewhat ironic: If women want men able to do it "nine times a night," they have to share their favors around a lot more. And, in that case, they wouldn't *need* someone capable of "nine times a night"; they just need the ability to attract lots of men.
And there is a down side: Chimps, because they engage so heavily in sperm competition, average only seven seconds from the beginning of contact to ejaculation! (Roach, p. 285). Allowing them four times as long to get out after that, "nine times a night," for a chimp, still totals only five minutes and fifteen seconds.
And, yes, I know full well I'm spoiling the song....
One thing that bears thinking about is that the human reproductive system seems to be changing rapidly. At least, Jones, p. 104, reports that a tenth of human sperm carry chromosome errors, and fully a third are abnormal in this or some other way. Such extreme rates of defect apparently have not been found in other species; chimpanzee sperm, for instance, seem to be fine. This clearly implies some sort of change is happening. Maybe more and more women are demanding "nine times a night," and the testes are struggling to keep up as best they can....
As for the actual statistics, Judson, p. 31, notes that the typical human male stores sperm equivalent to one and a half ejaculations. So if Jack really did manage five times in one night, he had three times the average male capacity. Although Jones, p. 103, notes the curious fact that, when spouses are reunited after a relatively long separation, the male's output doubles (he is not clear on whether this is semen or sperm). On p. 105, Jones adds that a man who ejaculates six times in the course of 24 hours is "firing blanks" by the end -- i.e. although he may still be producing seminal fluid, of actual sperm there are almost none.
Interestingly, being a sailor helps, and for reasons not related to just having a lot of biological pressure to work off. Sailors generally ate a lot of fish, and fish is rich in zinc -- and zinc is important to the production of seminal fluid, according to Emsley, pp. 48, 69. A sailor might also have had higher exposure to other chemicals which might enhance sexual performance, but in this regard, much depends on where he actually sailed.
Finally, in the days of sail, sailors were unlikely to bathe, especially in hot water -- regular baths in hot water can dramatically reduce sperm production (Jones, p. 120). And they generally dressed in loose clothing, and would not have encountered much extreme heat at sea. Heat depresses sperm production; fertility is lower in summer even in fairly cool climates (Jones, pp. 213-214). Thus a sailor, for many reasons, is likely to be more sexually effective than a landsman. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Dawkins: Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale, 2004 (I use the 2005 Mariner Books edition)
- Emsley: John Emsley, Molecules at an Exhibition: The Science of Everyday Life, Oxford, 1998 (I use the 1999 Oxford paperback)
- Gray/Garcia: Peter B. Gray & Justin R. Garcia, Evolution & Human Sexual Behavior, Harvard University Press, 2013
- Jones: Steve Jones, Y: The Descent of Men, Houghton Mifflin, 2003
- Judson: Olivia Judson, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, 2002 (I use the 2003 Owl Books edition)
- Ridley: Matt Ridley, The Red Queen, Penguin, 1993
- Roach: Mary Roach, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Norton, 2008
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