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Barbed Pricks, Scary Vaginas and Good Family Sex

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Paris -- this city's annual autumn arts festival includes everything from the unparalleled and ubiquitous global Photo Expo to the greatest ever and most complete Edward Hopper show at the Grand Palais to the gaspingly magnificent Setari Collection at Maison Rouge, just off the Bastille (including a royal Day of the Dead marriage tableau that Princess Diana might still be enacting).

But none of the dazzling art shows can top the XXX animal sex show at this city's premier science museum, the Palais de la Découverte just around the corner from the Hopper show. "Sexy Beasts: Seduction in the Animal World" starts with snails -- which generally prefer opposite sex partners but are perfectly capable of hermaphroditic auto-generation if no one else is available -- moves along through herds of battering rams, frisky cats and bunnies, aged spawning salmon, pudic ducks and of course our ancestor-cousins, the bonobos, whose standard form of hospitality is to offer their guests a quick screw before settling in to a long discourse on Plato, Aristotle or the quality of the new crop of pineapples.

The Paris show was mounted first at the London Museum of Natural History, which doubtless accounts for much of the deliciously ribald humor that keeps the daily hordes of parents and children glued to each display: peacocks raising their magnificent Technicolor fans to seduce prospective mates, a pheasant preening over the grand extension of her tail, seals wrestling on the rocks, two coyotes tangeled in penis bone torment or gorilla papas pleasing their ladies while their sons in training grab hold of their shoulders.

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Meanwhile, in a rather darker green vein, comes the march of the long stick-like preying mantis whose fate in the midst of conjugal conquest has been much mythologized but seldom filmed in such excruciating detail: no "little death" for him as his female mate marks his success by gnawing off his head until she's fully consumed it.

Along with all these graphic tableaux possessed of Da Vinci quality detail comes plain, simple language -- in English and French -- of how the sundry seduction and mating dances serve each clan's procreative and evolutionary destiny, or in short, how the much more prudent females survey their suitors' capacities as good breeders.

Lest all this seem too much like a dreary biology text, the now famous Sundance Institute GreenPorno series created by author-actress-filmmaker Isabella Rossellini, appearing in various creature costumes, is simply a scream. Comporting herself variously as a polyfocal bee; a slithering snail; a frighteningly priapic whale; a tired, sniffling old-lady salmon, among others Rossellini brings us deep into the intimacies of creature seduction. Most charming of all is her sleek duck who finds herself accosted by scads of clumsy young males, one of whom even succeeds at unwanted penetration.

"Ouch! Ouch!" her duckliness exclaims.

"One of them is raping me. Well, I don't care. My vaginal structure is a twisted tunnel. A labyrinth."

She chuckles. A meandering dark tunnel fills the screen.

"I can discombobulate the culprit. I can trick [the invader]." A clucking chorus bubbles up and we are taken to an especially handsome duck, and her tone of voice changes.

"Hey you -- I want you to be my husband." She coaxes him on and into herself. Here is where much conventional American television would surely flip from Triple-X to outright banishment as she guides her suitor on. "A little to the right," her throaty voice counsels. "A little to the left. More. Ah! There are my eggs. You will father my babies."

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Aside from the clever clips and politely salacious word games, the display is as scientifically exacting as it is visually beautiful and often startling, while the sound is as droll as the imagery -- ranging from Claude Debussy to Marvin Gay, ABBA and Barbara Streisand. Nor is human seduction and its parameters absent. One display points out the ubiquity of homosexual seduction and behavior in more than 450 species, another confirms DNA testing has shown so-called monogamous birds to be notoriously polygamous, while a concluding role of comely humans notes than 22 percent of British women say they find shoulder blades men's most seductive feature.

(Above photo credits: A. Robin, Sexual Nature / London's Natural History Museum)

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(photo Frank Browning)

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