So after a lengthy conversation over Twitter last night, Habs fan, professional dick-joke maker, and all-around excellent person Julie Veilleux asked the burning question, “Do zombies have sex? How does it work? Discuss.” Being a graduate student and knowing a thing or two about physiology, I naturally decided to apply myself towards thinking this through scientifically. Because what else would I be doing on a Sunday night?
My first thought was, of course, do their brains even function? My reasoning was that, since sex hormones are regulated by the pituitary gland, you’d need some sort of neural stimulation to the hypothalamus to get them going, right? Especially since the first step of arousal is most likely going to be neurological: pheromones, touch, visuals, etc. But then I wondered, was it possible for spinal/hindbrain mechanisms alone to produce at least some form of arousal? Is it even ethically possible to test for that? (Cue someone linking me to a news story about collecting sperm from a braindead patient so his wife can bear his children.) And would a zombie’s autonomous systems still function?
But then I realized, wait a minute, hormone production is also tied into a bunch of receptor-mediated negative-feedback loops. Too little testosterone? Brew up some gonadotropins and get this party started. Problem is, you’d need blood flow to the pituitary to know that you need it, and blood flow back to the gonads to make the magic happen. So even if the zombie had enough neural function to recognize a sexual opportunity instinctively, without a heartbeat, he’s still screwed. Or not, as the case may be.
(At this point, Julie interjected and wondered if the zombie could just apply a vibrator to his girlfriend. Theoretically, sure, but would he have the higher cognitive function to think of and apply the idea, never mind get anything out of it, make it worth his while? More likely, she’d have to do all the heavy lifting on that one, as it were.)
Of course, we’re not done yet, because we can have heartbeat without cognitive function, or indeed any neural function at all, at least in theory. The sinoatrial and atrioventricular nodes of the heart are capable of generating pacemaker potential in the absence of any sort of external stimulation, thus giving us heartbeat and blood flow without the need for a functioning nervous system. But then we return to the initial problem of erogenous signal transduction: that is, how does the zombie know when it’s sexytime? And how does the zombie “git ‘er dun,” so to speak? You’d need at least some nervous function to shuffle and eat brains, never mind perform any sort of sexual act; gotta stimulate those muscles, right? So without at least some form of nervous system, you’re again SOL.
Thus, we reach the conclusion that in order for a zombie to be able to have sex, he’d need to have at least partially-functioning nervous and cardiovascular systems (and presumably some kind of metabolic function to provide enough energy to drive all these actions and keep hormones in fresh supply, or at least process all the eaten brains and what-not). All of which raises the larger question: at what point is a zombie no longer a zombie? Or put another way, are there any different kinds of zombies that are capable of all this, while retaining their intrinsic zombie nature? (The conclusion of Shaun of the Dead springs to mind here.) The classical reanimated dead zombies of Romero et al. probably have nothing, but the 28 Days Later/Resident Evil virus zombies? Different story, potentially. Voodoo zombies? Different again. And what about consent? Can zombies give or receive consent? Would it be rape? Necrophilia? Would a human be into that? (Silly question; humans will fuck anything.) Do zombies even want to have sex? Do they carry the same reproductive drive as regular humans? Can zombies reproduce? If they can get it up and make it work, can they produce little zombie gametes, too? Would they be compatible with human gametes? Create half-undead children? Would they even want humans, or only other zombies? Is there such a thing as life-ism?
At this point, it seems clear to me that additional research will be required on my part, on the matters of zombie physiology, the minimum neurological requirements for sexual function, and perhaps even a little zombie psychology and philosophy.
Disclaimer: Any errors in physiology are entirely my own. If you’ve found this article, you probably know where to find me and yell at me for being so stupid. Though also consider the purpose of this article; chances are, I’m already taking this way more seriously than you are.