In A Nutshell
The innocuous house cat is a symbol of laziness and disinterest. But beneath this nonchalant exterior lies a horrifying sexual attribute: Male cats are equipped with painful barbed penises to scrape out rival semen.
The Whole Bushel
We’re just going to say it again: A male cat’s penis is barbed. And cat sex hurts.
Most mammals seem borderline complacent about sex, but if you’ve ever seen cats mate, you might notice that the female seems downright furious about participating. The male bites down on her neck, keeping her from fleeing. That seemingly melodramatic behavior isn’t because she finds boys icky. Cat sex is excruciatingly painful. The cat penis is essentially a horrifying engine of pain covered in a dozen tiny fishhooks.
But these tiny daggers serve a purpose. Ovulation starts 20 to 50 hours after mating, giving rival suitors enough time to scrape an opponent’s semen out of the womb. They probably won’t get all of it. Males mate with multiple females, and it’s common for many kittens of the same litter to have different fathers.
Additionally, ovary maturation cannot even occur without consent from the barbs. The painful scraping activates the hormone necessary to get things rolling in the ovulation department. Not every session causes ovulation, so the pair needs to try multiple times—as much as possible—to get things right.
None of this bodes well for the hapless female. Despite being actively driven to pursue it (survival instincts and all that), she’ll try to hiss and scratch her way out of sex. What’s worse, mating season lasts from January to August, and the female can mate before turning a year old. But this method of mating can produces fierce competition, helping to ensure that the next generation of cats gets the best of the current gene pool.
Barbed penises are a feature of all members of the Felidae family, which includes all cat species. Tigers, lions, leopards, lynxes—all have barbed penises. Lions, the only truly social cat, will pair up for several days at a time, ignoring everything else and copulating upward of 100 times a day. Other species mate briefly with strangers.
Show Me The Proof
NatGeo: Barbed Cat Penis (video)