When Peter was fifteen his grandmother had given him a pair of frogs.
“I know how you love animals, so I ordered you a frog aquarium for your birthday,” she told him.
And it was true Peter did love animals. Over the years he had a succession of pets: dog and cat of course, but also turtle, snake, rabbit, hamster—always one of each until the rats. The rats were supposed to both be females, but that turned out not to be the case. He separated them, but Romeo escaped from his cage and impregnated Juliett through the mesh of her cage, and suddenly Peter found himself with eight naked hairless little rat babies. He managed to give away all but one of the babies, mostly to girls at school who found the baby rats irresistibly cute and the idea of a rat for a pet enticing.
The frog aquarium did not come with frogs. But it came with a coupon with which to order a pair of tadpoles. When the tadpoles arrived in the mail Peter dutifully prepared their home, and over the next few weeks watched them grow into frogs. Every other week or so he would pour out their old dingy water and replace it with carefully prepared water which he had de-flourided—tap water with little “rocks” added and allowed to sit for twelve hours.
One day when he arrived home from school he saw that the male frog had climbed onto the back of the female and was fiercely clutching her with what looked like a wrestler’s death-grip around her stomach. The female tried clumsily to swim, while the male seemed determined to prevent her from moving around in the water.
Peter took the straw from his drink and attempted to separate the two frogs. Then it hit him: they were copulating!
If they were having sex, it was quite passive. Peter could not detect any “thrusting action” of the sort he would have expected on the part of the male. He was merely clutched firmly onto the female’s back, conjoined but otherwise motionless. For her part the female propelled her legs in a swimming motion—perhaps in a feeble attempt to knock him off?
They continued in this position while Peter completed his homework. He turned on some music and watched them, wondering how long they would “do it.”
When Peter returned from supper, the frogs were still in mating position. “They must be trying to set the record for sexual intercourse,” he thought.
The frogs were still copulating the next morning, and when he returned from school (where he had bragged about the frogs olympian endurance to his friends) he went immediately to the frog aquarium. Amazingly, the male was still mounted on the female frog as if they had never stopped.
They continued like this the rest of the week, all weekend, and the following week too. At first Peter watched, voyeuristically, for half an hour or more at a time, never detecting any sexual “action,” just the male clutching the female from his position on top, apparently content to have his erect penis embedded forever in the female. For her part the female would periodically propel them through the water with her powerful rear legs, including up to the surface for air or perhaps food. Peter began to wonder if her leg thrusts caused muscular contraction around the male’s penis.
It seemed strange to Peter. In the wild, he thought, prolonged sex like this would surely have made the frogs unacceptably vulnerable to predators. Why did they copulate for so long? Did he do it to prevent other male frogs from having the opportunity to fertilize her eggs? But there were no other males in the little world of the frog aquarium, obviously.
As Peter pondered this, he wondered what it felt like for the male, clutched like that against the female, penis enclosed in her body as if it had become a way of life. It had to be pleasureable—otherwise why keep it up for such a ridiculously long time? Days, weeks beyond what was biologically necessary. Peter felt guilty watching them. Yet it was strangely fascinating. He couldn’t resist.
Day after day he would come home from school and see them still coupled, until how long it had continued became a blur. Had it been two weeks now? or three? more? He no longer remembered.
And then one day it was over. The water had gotten quite dirty. Peter had not wanted to change it while the frogs were so occupied, but had done so once anyway. And the frogs had stayed coupled throughout that ordeal. Now he changed the water again.
The male frog did not survive for long after mating with the female. For her part, the female frog survived another year and a half. There were never any baby tadpoles, but most likely because Peter had so dutifully changed their water. Whatever eggs were laid would have gone into the toilet.
Once during this “frog time” Peter was with a couple of friends—Cindy and Cory. They had gone to a movie together, a matinée, and afterwards wandered over to a park. As they sat on a picnic table talking and joking, Peter suddenly wondered what it would be like to clutch Cindy like some mad male frog, clutching and copulating with her as if that alone was their way of life. They would be facing each other of course, unlike frogs or other animals, forced to look at each other’s eyes while the eternal clutching took place. To be embedded in her like the frog—not thrusting, but wordlessly together, conjoined, bodies doing their silent instinctive thing, while he looked her directly in the eyes and said—what?
What could he say? What could she say? What thoughts would run through their minds? How could their minds put up with this “indignity” of copulating for days on end?
He would love her, he thought. But somehow all the love he could imagine feeling as he faced her in this frog-reality seemed shallow and fleeting. Surface stuff. While their passive frog bodies instinctively and fundamentally underrode everything they thought or might think.
Peter realized that if he loved Cindy—and he wondered if he ever could—it would be on the level of their likes and aversions, their individual personal preferences for things, the compatibility of their thoughts and personalities. They would be drawn together by mutual jokes and experiences, a sort of happy mixing and meshing of their thoughts as individuals. They would love each other because they liked the same bands, the same music, the same food, the same comedians, the same internet videos.
The frogs showed him the possibility of something far more physical and fundamental, a connection that made human love look like only a glint of light on the surface. The frogs sexual connection occurred deep in the water; it was biologically fundamental.
Could he, Peter, ever be biologically fundamental with Cindy? Or any other girl he knew. Or would their minds reject it outright as ridiculous? He knew the answer. Frog-love was out of the question. It would be too embarrassing. It would undo the human mind.
Imaging clutching a woman as if it was life itself. No, there was something about the sex act that was shameless. Too biological. Too physical. Too much life. Too unmental.
Even without ever having had any experience like it, you could watch those frogs and sense the utter shamelessness of sex. But, Peter realized, the human mind could never accept it or allow it, at least not for long. The mind would feel shamed.
He knew that Cindy—really, all the girls in his circle of friends—would be derisive and dismissive at the thought. They would make jokes, as would Cory of course and the guys he knew at school. The human mind had to be in control; the sex act had to be something the mind could stand above. In one’s stream of thoughts, it had to be explainable and put in its place.
With your friends you had to be witty and all-knowing. Intercourse would have to be relatively quick, the mind never absent for long. The witty mind had to stay on top.
Somehow, Peter thought, this was wrong. The frogs were right and people, the human mind, was wrong. Minds were afraid of biological connection, of being subsumed. Sex was threatening to the mental self. But why?
Perhaps Peter says something to Cindy and Cory about the frogs. And they joke. Perhaps he speaks too seriously about the fundamental biological nature of life, about the grounded physical connection his frogs experienced in sex. Perhaps Peter admits aloud that the frogs showed him there was something deeper in life, something that made his interactions with them (even though they were his best friends) seem like surface reflection.
Cory and Cindy cover it up with joking and Peter’s face flushes. With the hint of a tear he shrugs, “I’m just trying to be honest with myself.”
Afterwards Cindy and Cory are wary of him, uneasy. Behind his back they laugh about it. Still, uneasiness persists. Over the next few days both feel a desire to defend Peter, but find themselves unable to bring it up without joking.
After that their friendship gradually fades. The three grow apart.
[Previously published as “The Frogs” at http://thenakedatheist.com – used with permission]