"Why couldn't she have been the other kind of mermaid, with the fish part on top, and the lady part on the bottom?"
In any work of fiction with mermaids, there's a good chance that a male character will begin a romantic, or even a sexual, relationship with one.
There's just one problem. There's no... obvious point of entry.
That isn't to say, of course, that mermaids are completely lacking in sexual organs. Real fish, of course, have actual genitals. They just aren't compatible with those of a human, let alone easy to find or obvious to point out. A few biologists have a hard time even calling Piscine reproductive organs "genitals" because they are so very different from what we humans would recognize. Many (though not all) fish reproduce externally, meaning that conception happens outside of the body. Females deposit their eggs into the water to be fertilized by the males' similarly free-floating sperm.
Of course, most writers simply disregard the biological impossibilities
. Many writers simply Hand Wave
any difficulties by saying that mermaids have the ability to assume fully human form under special circumstances.
Alternatively, a sufficiently bawdy work — which one is likely to be if it brings up the Mermaid Problem in the first place — may simply point out that lower half aside, well... she's still got a mouth, hasn't she?
This trope mainly deals with the variety where they don't gain human legs. It is equally applicable to mermen, since they'd lack a penis for all the same reasons (a compatible one, anyway - some fish do have penises). Sometimes this problem may be lampshaded
, but others no explanation is given. Compare Non-Mammal Mammaries
. A good number of series and fiction writers just have the fish/human separation dip a little in the front (in a U-shape) to allow for the genitalia, or use other methods to get the same result. Of course, merfolk with dolphin
lower halves would have the appropriate plumbing and explain the mammaries too, but this idea doesn't appear in fiction as often as one would think.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Magical Pokaan has Yuuma falling in love with a pretty boy... who turns out to be a merman.
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch does turn its mermaids human on land... but in the manga, once Kaito gets his memories back, guess what's the first thing he and Lucia do. Underwater. Since it's a shoujo series, it's all offscreen, of course, and the problem is never mentioned.
- The genders are reversed in Slayers. When instructed to kiss Lina, Nunsa comments that he's considered one of the best catches in his school, then sits down and patiently waits for... something. It turns out that, as a fish, Nunsa is only aware of the concept of "kissing" as being vaguely related to mating, so he's waiting for her to lay the eggs.
- In One Piece, we see that when a merperson turns 30, their tail splits into a pair of legs and they can walk on land. The character Kokoro is actually a mermaid past 30, who married and had children with a human. Later, Brook imagines what mermaid panties look like, until he is told that mermaids don't wear panties.
- While the problem is never actually mentioned, My Bride Is a Mermaid avoids it in that mermaids can take human form. Younger mermaids do revert if they get wet, but it's implied that they grow out of that.
- This became a big issue for Master Roshi in an early chapter of Dragon Ball when Goku brought him a mermaid girl.
- The Kyo Kara Maoh manga has a brief episode of this - Yuuri, Conrart, and Wolfram have a conversation about a past love of Conrart's. After a minute, Yuuri thinks they're talking about a mermaid. Turns out it's a maidmer, a reverse mermaid. Yuuri remarks that Conrart's strike range is wider than he thought...
- Beside the obvious problem, Sheila of Hekikai No Ai ON has to deal with the fact that, though she can get legs on land, she can't stay longer enough to have a normal relationship with Tatsuya since her body is a corpse, and without water, it will rot, also, even if Tatsuya does ever love her back, her sisters remind her he's just another human from which they'll get psyque.
- Merpeople in Centaur no Nayami evolved from aquatic primates and their tails begin below the knees, being fully human from the knees up. Interspecies Romance is possible, as they do have human genitals.
- Osamu Tezuka's manga "Triton of the Sea" concerns a race of ocean-dwellers whose males are humanoid and whose females are mermaids. How they reproduce is not explained, but perhaps the mermaids have genitals similar to those of dolphins.
- Of course, there is one very disturbing way that this can be explained.
- Classical mermaids were often depicted with two fish tails with presumably more or less human genitals in between, to get over this trope.
- Quite a few paintings simply portray a mermaid having her fish tail below the pelvis, allowing her to have a human vulva and butt.
- Belgian painter René Magritte has a painting of a reverse mermaid.
- Polish painter Jaroslaw Kukowski has a painting◊ of a mermaid looking fixedly at a photograph of a vulva (NSFW) which might well be hers, as it is surrounded by scales.
- Bette Midler, while on-stage and costumed as a mermaid, once quipped "The question before us is where's her clitoris?"
- Demetri Martin had a mermaid in an animated sketch in his comedy special, Demetri Martin. Person., that had an even bigger problem: it was a vertical mermaid, which meant that the left side of it was a fish and the right side was a person.
- Nipsey Russell once commented in rhyme on an episode of Hollywood Squares, "I like mermaids/I don't know why./Not enough woman to make love to,/not enough fish to fry!"
- The screwed-up scansion of that third line implies it's a Bowdlerised version...
- This Cracked piece delves into the subject.
- Mocked on NeverMedia. "You writers have no imagination, do you?"
- A type C mermaid exists for the sake of erotic humor (insert random Playboy cartoon here if necessary), which has two legs (and naturally the stuff in-between), just with the usual fishtails-instead-of-feet. Cue C saying to A: "You don't know what you're missing!"
- Somewhere in Aquaman volume 3, officials in a city of mermaids complain about outsiders "swimming over their eggs".
- In Milo Manara's City Hunter (not to be confused with City Hunter), there's a scene where Odysseus and his friends go off to catch some mermaids. He ends up with the traditional one, and his friend gets her ugly friend, with the parts mixed.
- Mermaids in borderline porn comic Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose get around the issue by having human-style crotches. Not genitals; crotches. As in, human-like hips and legs that merge together into a fish tail somewhere around the knee. The result can be ... disturbing◊. Especially when they wear panties that they have no earthly way to put on or take off.
- A similar issue arises with a lamia (a snake-tailed woman) rather than a mermaid in Ironwood. She reveals that there is a specific split scale that gives access to (presumably) human compatible genitals.
- Played with in a Harry Potter fanfic called Jewel of the Nile in which a couple of characters don polymorphing mer-costumes before splashing about and indulging in heavy makeout sessions underwater. The tails prevent them from doing anything below the waist, but as a temporary restriction that can be quite entertaining...
- Absit Omen, a Harry Potter roleplay site, uses the explanation of 'merman spawn and witch magic' as the parentage of a mermaid half-breed girl who looks like a permanent Gillyweed user.
- A somewhat more psychological version of the problem: in the (definitely Not Safe for Work) The Little Mermaid Fan Fic Ariel's Wedding Night Ariel is traumatized when she discovers rather abruptly how humans reproduce.
- Which suggests she's never spent much time with dolphins, else she'd have seen plenty of demonstrations of mammalian sexual practices.
- Eric is also rather horrified when he realizes she hadn't known what to expect and he'd mistaken her alarm for enthusiasm.
- Here's a longer version with a better ending: Ariel and Eric's Wedding Night. It also explains the dolphin thing: Ariel thought her sister was lying to her about it.
- The infamous Comics Nix fanfic known as "Revenge That Destroys The Heart" posits the following:
Actually, she don't have one
, cause she is half fish. But some nerve endings arrigate her should be crotch area. Pleasue is possible. But only dry ones. Too bad for male species
, woman mermaids screwed were it hurts more...in the dick.
- However, later King Triton and Ursula have normal human genitalia (albeit completly disgusting ones) and, in King Triton's case at least, a normal human butt, making this completly pointless.
- The mermaids in Jack L. Chalker's River of Dancing Gods series are 100% mammal (more half-dolphin than half-fish), and when a male character gets involved with one it's explicitly mentioned that their bits are human-compatible. Conversely, the mermaid-like Umiau from his Well World series are hermaphroditic, not shy about that fact, and not at all interested in sex outside their species.
- In Fred Saberhagen's Lost Swords series, mermaids don't have genitals, and therefore can't mate. The only reason they exist at all is because of a curse on a human family that causes some of their daughters to be born as mermaids. When a wizard looks for a way to cure the condition he only manages to undo it temporarily, just long enough to get one of the mermaids pregnant. When the wizard dies she's left to worry about what will happen when it's time to give birth...
- Piers Anthony
- His novel Mer-Cycle has this as a minor plot point (of course). The "mermaid" the main characters encounter is the product of genetic engineering. The protagonist quickly discovers that her 'scaly' fish-tail is actually a series of overlapping plates that can be lifted like a skirt (!?) to reveal her fused legs and human genitalia underneath. How did he find out? He goosed her, causing her to jackknife and give him the mermaid equivalent of a Panty Shot. (Oh that Piers Anthony)
- Likewise, his book Mute includes a "mermaid" who is actually a mutant woman with legs that are fused from the knees down, allowing her to squat. And yes, he is explicit about why she'd want to do that.
- In Xanth, mermaids and mermen can assume human form, but when they mate with each other, they prefer to do it underwater, in their half-fish shape. When a (human) character asks how it's done, she is told to mind her own business.
- Meanwhile, in Incarnations of Immortality, a mermaid states that "My scales are only external; I am mammalian inside." The mermaid in question is a Half Human Hybrids born from a wizard's curse that made her father see human women as fish and fish as human women.
- The protagonist of Fredric Brown's classic horror short "Fish Story" falls in love with a mermaid. It isn't until after he successfully petitions Triton to turn him into a merman that she informs him merfolk spawn like fish, causing him to regret that he can no longer drown.
- Alida Van Gores' 1989 novel Mermaid's Song takes the dolphin-based mermaid route straight into soft-core porn territory.
- Wittily averted in John Ringo's Emerald Sea: "Blood Lord" Herzer Herrick tries to use the Mermaid Problem as an excuse for his lack of romantic adventures among the merfolk (Herzer eventually gets over his shyness) Later Elf-babe Bast comments on their obvious genital slits. Interestingly, it's the post-partum aspects of mermaid reproduction that form the major MacGuffin of the story. note
- The classic L. Sprague deCamp short story Nothing in the Rules features a dolphin-based mermaid who was sufficiently compatible (and sufficiently drunk) to share a "romantic interlude' with the protagonist in the back of a limousine.
- In a possibly-not-true-inside-the-overall-story story in deCamp's Reluctant King Trilogy a mermaid and a human attempt to have sex. Since the mermaid is dolphin-based, finding the opening isn't a problem. However, almost drowning is.
- The sea people in Vonda McIntyre's The Moon and the Sun are aquatic humanoid mammals (and, apart from their aquatic adaptations, have a lot of anatomical similarity to humans), not hybrid creatures. They have two "tails" (actually hind limbs adapted for swimming) and human-like genitalia. (In fact, Sherzad shocks a 17th-century human crowd by flashing them at one point.)
- Similarly, McIntyre's genetically-engineered "divers" are more like humans with a few seal or otter traits (fur, claws, webbed hands) than traditional merfolk.
- In Francesca Lia Block's short story "Mer" from the story collection Nymph, the title character, Mer (who might or might not be a mermaid and regardless stays in a wheelchair) and the protagonist, Tom, solve this problem elegantly by exploring the obvious alternative.
- His alternative is the obvious one; hers is reach orgasm via stimulation of her nipples, which is actually how some paraplegics of both sexes actually can learn to do, and some non-paraplegics (mostly female) do naturally.
- In Kit Whitfield's novel In Great Waters, the problem is averted by having merfolk be entirely mammal, closer to sea lions than fish.
- Tanith Lee's short story "Mermaid" portrays a young man who discovers a mermaid and decides that he must have sex with her. The physical part isn't difficult; she has a "flowerlike opening" on the upper part of her tail. The problem is that she's all fish: lipless mouth, lidless eyes, fine tentacles for hair, and cold to the touch.
- A comparable problem not involving any merfolk confronts a young man in love with a Remade woman in China Miéville's The Scar, as her legs are permanently embedded inside a steam engine. Lucky for them, her actual genitalia are still human, and both of them are pretty flexible.
- A less prurient version is implied in the Doctor Who Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Blue Angel. The mother of an alternate version of the Doctor is a mermaid, and it's implied that he wasn't hatched from an egg. Also, he mentions an ex-boyfriend of hers, and that he's the seventh son of a seventh son.
- John Varley:
- The section on mermaids in The Encyclopedia Of Fantasy: People of the Light has a solution for the mermaid's point of view, should she seek pleasure: it's all in the hair. Probably this counts as Fantastic Arousal, although for that you would expect the secret to be in the tail.
Ismael Merindol reveals that mermaids spend so much time combing their hair because it that is their erogenous zone, and a source of incomparable pleasure. He writes: "In my youth I had a mermaid for a lover, but I was unable to give her pleasure in the usual way. However, if I scratched her scalp in a certain way she would very quickly swoon away. For what other women have between their legs, mermaids have in their hair."
- This means that all those mermaids you see innocently combing their long tresses are in fact masturbating. Who needs privacy, anyway?
- Discussed and averted in Mercedes Lackey's Fortune's Fool, where the mer-princess heroine falls for a human and has to endure some ribald joking from her father about how it's fortunate her ancestors were sirens and not mermaids.
- Averted in One Hundred Years of Solitude, which mentions that "The great swamp in the west mingled with a boundless extension of water where there were soft-skinned cetaceans that had the head and torso of a woman, causing the ruination of sailors with the charm of their extraordinary breasts." Seemingly these beings didn't have intercourse with their victims.
- In the second book of The Princess Series, Lirea and Gustan prove that it's possible for the two species to have sex, although Lirea, being a royal, has two tails instead of the usual single one. At one point, Snow starts to wonder out loud about how merpeople have sex, but is cut off by Talia.
- A Little Sacrifice short story from The Witcher series (published in Sword of Destiny) deconstructs The Little Mermaid. The merfolk reproduce like fishes and their ways of life are completely alien to land dwellers. In addition the prince and the mermaid don't speak each other's languages and need Geralt as a translator. The solution is simple, but drastic: the mermaid becomes human, sacrificing her familiar way of life.
- "I love him too, and I want to raise fry with him, but how can I do that if he refuses to become a fish like me? Where, then, am I supposed to leave my spawn, huh? In his hat?"
- Fritz Leiber, in his short story "Under the Thumbs of the Gods",describes mermaids thus:
"They came close enough to see the slowly pulsing gills scoring their necks where they merged into their sloping, faintly scaled shoulders, and farther down their bodies those discrete organs which contradict the contention, subject of many a crude jest, that a man is unable to fully enjoy an unbifurcated woman (though any pair of amorous snakes tells us otherwise.)"
- In Wilson and Shea's The Illuminatus! Trilogy a character with a mermaid statuette admits to himself that it's metaphor for fellatio.
- In David Brin's The Uplift War an human and an alien who can at will (and with time) modify herself somewhat are stated as not being able to get beyond petting only a few pages after it's stated that she's bothered to grow lips for him....
- The infamous Poxy Boggards sing about this in the rather explicit song, "Nelly the Mermaid"
...Her hips were a swayin', she was a work of art, the sad irony, her legs wouldn't part!
...They asked us to follow, so we turned and headed south, they had no lower half... but they still had a mouth!
- Shel Silverstein's song "The Mermaid", recently covered by GreatBigSea, is about a sailor falling in love with a type A mermaid, breaking up with her (not, however, for the reason you're all thinking), and then falling in love with a type B.
"But I don't give a damn 'bout the upper part / 'cause that's how I gets me tail
- In an interview, John Linnell of They Might Be Giants referenced this.
John Linnell: "I mean the whole idea of mermaids as erotic is really weird I think becauseï¿½because they donï¿½t apparently haveï¿½ "
Kurt Anderson (interviewer): "Well, to second base."
John Linnell: "Yeah, there's second base."
John Flansburgh: "We're talking about second base on PRI."
- The album cover for Great Big Sea's The Hard and the Easy even shows a fish with women's legs in reference to it. The song "The Mermaid" is about a mermaid with a human top half and the lower half of a fish.
- Ignored completely in The Lonely Island's "I'm on a Boat" when T-Pain claims to have done it with a mermaid somehow. The mechanics are never questioned.
- Brenda Sinclair Sutton's "End of the Tail" is narrated by the fiancee of a sailor who falls in love with a type A mermaid. She tells him of course he can break their engagement and marry the mermaid.
- Apparently not a problem in the classic sea chantey "Eddystone Light"
My father was the keeper of the Eddystone light
And he slept with a mermaid one fine night
Out of this union there came three
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me!
- The mermaid was most likely a porpoise (and thus mammal "compatable") in her lower half, as the first of her triplets indicates.
- The video for You and I by Lady Gaga averts this by... ignoring the problem completely, apparently.
- In an interview on the topic, Lady Gaga talks about that scene as referencing this trope specifically as metaphor for a relationship where you can't make it work.
- The Bonecage song "No Mas Mermaids" is about this.
- In Madonna's "Cherish" music video, the merfolk have cetacean rather than fish tails, which means they probably also have compatible genitals. Moreover, the merboy with whom Madonna does some snuggling during the song apparently transforms into a human at the end, which makes these matters even simpler.
Myth and Legend
- Averted by the mermaid on the "Neptune" table of Pinball Dreams 2, who has clearly-delineated buttocks despite having a tail.
- In Changeling The Dreaming, mermaids grow legs on land, averting the Problem. They also have a reproductive cycle that involves kissing, making them understandably shy about it while willing to have sex at the drop of a hat. (They still need to have sex to have babies. It's just that kissing "stimulates" the women in ways that sex alone doesn't, making pregnancy possible.)
- Castles And Crusades resolves the problem by giving mermaids mostly human legs and butts, except, with scales and fishy-fins starting on the upper thighs.
- The Problem must've somehow been averted in the Mystara Dungeons & Dragons setting, in which the queen of Aquas is a Half-Human Hybrid of human and merfolk. Shapechanging magic by one or the other parent is implied to have been involved.
- Lampshaded here at the where it simply goes "WHERE ARE THEIR REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS?!!!". The art is even CALLED "The Mermaid Problem".
- And this strip from Penny Arcade.
- Here's one in Atland.
- Solved in Boobs Ahoy, where it turns out that their navels function as genitalia.
- Invoked in, of course, Accidental Centaurs. The heroes are turned into merfolk in order to cross the sea and when Alex says he's looking forward to weeks of kinky mermaid sex Sam asks him if he remembers exactly how fish mate. Cue the disappointed Alex.
- Yuan-tis in Goblins mate similarly to snakes, but Dellyn somehow found a way to rape one. It's still uncertain how this works, but it's since become clear that they can also engage in consensual sex with humans (although the only couple portrayed thus far was from an alternate universe.)
- It's definitely worth noting that unlike the vast majority of fish, all snakes engage in internal fertilization. Male snakes have a twin organ, and though the internal biology is somewhat different, they still engage in "insert tab A in slot B" sex.
- The short-lived comic WCI High had one female student who was an inverted Mermaid; she had a fish head, tentacles for arms, and was human below the waist. As a member of the "Student Organization of Superhumans" (S.O.S.), her code name was "Maidmer".
- We probably aren't the only ones confused here.
- Solved in this Bogleech comic. WARNING: Squick.
- The Comic Pearls of Mer solves this with the Splash method.
- Alluded to in Ansem Retort when Sora asks Ariel where mermaids come from. Her reply suggests that merfolk do not reproduce themselves, but are the product of a man loving a dolphin more than society says he should.
- When Anais of Curvy wants to get busy with merman Johnathan, they get around the problem, courtesy of Johnathan strapping a peg-leg to himself a stand in...man part.
- Non-mermaid variation in Homestuck: sprites have a similar appearance, with a human (or animal, or whatever it was prototyped with) top half and a ghostly bottom half. John lampshades the problem here, while making some suggestive hand-gestures:
JOHN: and also...
JOHN: how do things even work if you marry a sprite?
JADE: what do you mean
JOHN: i mean...
JOHN: ok, he has a ghost butt, for one thing.
- Meanwhile, the fandom has come up with its own array of solutions to the problem, such as Davesprite gaining avian genitalia from the rambunctious crow he merged with.
- Spoofed by Hardly Working when Dan introduces everyone to his fiance, except the problem is inverted because she's a maidmer with a fish head and a human lower body. The others point out that the Interspecies Romance implications of this variation only makes it worse.
Web Serial Novel
- The above quote from Futurama, of course. The mermaid in question explains that her people do it fish-style.
"I'm not your first time am I? ...I lay my eggs, and then I leave, and you release your fertilizer!"
- Invoked in Family Guy when Lois is rescued by a reverse merman. She declines his invitation to have sex with him as his upper half is too repulsive. When she mentions she'd rather he be a regular merman, he replies that then he wouldn't have a penis. When she can't answer how she would have sex with him in that case, he tries to force himself on her. She pushes him over and walks away while he flops around like a normal fish.
- In a cutaway gag in "Partial Terms of Endearment", Peter was trying to have sex with a mermaid with mixed success.
Peter: There we go!
Mermaid: That's not it!
Peter: (threateningly) It's gonna be.
- In an episode of The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario was rescued by a mermaid named Holly Mackerel, who fell in love with him. Complicating matters was the fact that she was a reverse mermaid, and that she saw him in his frog suit which made her think he was a frog.
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Laughing Fish", the Joker seems to be flirting with Harley Quinn by asking her to "be [his] little mermaid." He then puts a giant fake fish head over her head, to which Harley responds, "You're really sick, you know that, boss?" Funny this got past the censors.
- In the French cartoon Zig And Sharko, Marina's parents are revealed to be a mermaid and a human sailor. Subverted in that this trope isn't called attention to, partly because every episode is a No Dialogue Episode.
- Briefly discussed in Bob's Burgers, in a total non-sequitur from Cloud Cuckoolander Tina on being told they're going to take sailing lessons;
Tina: If we meet a mermaid, I'm gonna ask her where her mergina is!
- Played with for laughs in The Dating Guy. After V.J. successfully haves sex with a mermaid, he wonders afterwards how exactly he accomplished that.