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Mermaid Problem

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A really good reason why she needed legs to be with Eric.
"If we see any mermaids, I'm gonna ask them where their mer-ginas are."
Tina Belcher, Bob's Burgers

In any work of fiction with mermaids, there's a good chance that a character will begin a romantic, or even a sexual, relationship with one.

There's just one problem for the intrepid sailor looking for a port in these waters: 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 mammal, 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. Most (though not all) fish reproduce externally, meaning that conception happens outside of the body. The female lays her eggs first, which are then fertilized by the male's free-floating sperm. A far cry from what we humans (and most other animals) would recognize as making sweet love.

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. Also, mermaids with two tails—called melusina—do exist, where they would have human genitals in between. On the other hand, authors familiar with biology might give merfolk a cloaca—the shared orifice of urethra and anus used by marine mammals, reptiles, birds, and some fish—and have the genitalia of either sex located within. Lastly, a good number of series and fiction writers might also have the fish/human separation dip a little in the front (in a U-shape) to allow for genitalia.

This trope mainly deals with the variety where they don't gain human legs and have the standard fish equipment downstairs. It is equally applicable to mermen, since they'd lack a penis for all the same reasons. And despite most merfolk having perfectly functional, humanlike hands and mouths, don't expect the human/merfolk pair to explore other forms of sexual gratification beyond plain old penis-in-vagina. Sometimes this problem may be lampshaded, but others no explanation is given. Compare Non-Mammal Mammaries; see also Exotic Equipment.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 an omake of the first volume of the manga Mermaid Boys, the newly-human main character Naru/Nal wonders what that other new thing that came with his legs is. He asks the other male character that he's living with, and gets an explanation, and then the schoolgirl main character comes in, and, well...
  • One Piece:
    • When a mermaid turns 30, their tail splits into a pair of legs and they can walk on land (This doesn't seem to be the case with mermen, as shown with the old King Neptune). 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.
    • Luffy meanwhile asks repeatedly about the rarely acknowledged other mermaid problem. In an SBS, Oda answers the question by starting to say something about scales opening...and then Sanji beats him up in disgust.
  • 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. He did attempt to make the most of the situation by leering at her chest, but he got punched in the face for his trouble.
  • 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 AiON 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.
    • This problem was discused in-universe by two of Sheila's sisters; it was Played for Drama but in a very hilarious way.
  • Merpeople in A Centaur's Life 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.
  • Mero from Monster Musume has human genitalia where a human's would be, but she also has pelvic fins for steering and wears clothes that cover that particular part of her body anyway. It's especially prominent during the "Second D" letter, as she tries to get Someone to Remember Him By before the situation gets cleared up.
    • It should be noted that this doesn't seem to be a problem with the other monster girls either, Miia the lamia has human parts where the tail meets the body, Centorea the centaur has her reproductive organs in the same spot as horses, though not directly stated it is strongly implied that Rachnera the arachne has compatible parts were her spider half meets human half and that her pedipalps are used to hold mates in place. It helps that most "X from the waist down" monstergirls in this series are more "X from the hips down." Lamia and arachne both are all-female species that depend on human men for reproduction, so obviously they'd have to have compatible genetalia.

  • The Starbucks Coffee logo features a mermaid with two tails (a mermaid was chosen to represent Seattle's origin as a port town). She's essentially giving whoever's looking a free show. Apparently this was too risque, so they zoomed in. Now it looks like a woman's face with two random fin things next to her head. This can lead to confusion to those who don't know the origin.

    The original logo itself was merely a less-risque version of an old woodcut in which the mermaid is obviously quite human above the tails. Starbucks, in addition to a few other retouches, covered her with scales from the waist down in order to allay any suspicion that she might actually have a vulva.
  • 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. The Image is a little funny when you think about it.

  • 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 The 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...

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • A horror story in the Vampirella mag has a sailor falling head over heels for a very pretty mermaid. He's a pain in the gills until he finally can marry her. Looks he wanted it all just for the sex, too bad her species reproduces like fish, i.e. laying eggs...
  • Red Ears: One strip addressed this when a sex-starved sailor stranded on a "Far Side" Island catches a mermaid while fishing. After several comically failed attempts to have sex with her, he just decides to eat her instead.
  • ElfQuest: Some of the Wavedancers are merfolk, with fish-like lower bodies. It's left unexplained if they can reproduce or have sex with those of human-like lower halves, and if so how.

  • Played with in a Harry Potter fanfic called Jewel of the Nile (also web archive link) 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...
  • The Harry Potter fanfic series "Maira the Mermaid" sees Harry meet Maira, a mermaid princess, in the lake outside Hogwarts during the second Triwizard task. He later returns to the lake using Gillyweed and starts a sexual relationship with Maira, Maira guiding him to the cleft in her tail that seemingly serves the relevant purpose.
  • 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 (1989) Fanfic 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 Pokémon: The Series fic "The Tomboyish Mermaid" has Ash and Misty reunite during a shipwreck where Ash learns that Misty is naturally a mermaid who can assume human form, but when the two have sex underwater Ash is guided to the relevant part of Misty.
  • 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 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 completely pointless.
  • A gender flipped example between Hiccup and Astrid comes up in What The Water Gave Me a few times.
  • In the X-rated comic Jasmine vs Little Mermaid Ariel, Ariel gets out of the water and her tail turns into legs. She and Princess Jasmine then go on to have lesbian sex.
  • The Bridge uses the transformation clause. Mermares are a female-only species that presumably have the proper arrangement as they are dolphin-like instead of fish-like, but when they have "shore leave" to conceive children via shapeshifting into a land form and take a disguise.
  • In the a non-canon side story to Coby's Choice, Nami, in order to scratch off an item on her "Extended Honeymoon Bucket List" actually initiates a threesome between her, Camie and Luffy. It's revealed that like the Dragon's Crown example, mermaid tails begin below the buttocks and groin area, and that the "skin" that goes to their waist are actually a clothing called mertights made to cover the genitalia.
  • Resonance Days features a quick joke where Kyouko keeps asking if Oktavia poops like a human or a fish. (It's the former.)
  • Non-mermaid example played for drama in Daily Equestria Life with Monster Girl where Cerea from Monster Musume. During an emotional breakdown in chapter 10, she winds up convincing herself that no matter how much attraction might be shown to her upper torso, ultimately, she would have been asking Kimihito to have sex with a horse. This story is set before the revelation that her father was actually human.
  • By the Sea: Obi-Wan (human) and Cody (merman) avoid the issue altogether with anal and oral sex, where Obi-Wan is the receptive partner, plus handjobs. Cody actually has a cloaca, but he narrates that it won't stretch well enough to permit penetrative sex.
  • A non-sexual variant is done in On Strangest Tides: A One Piece Mermaid AU. Luffy, Ace, and Sabo had no idea Luffy was a mermaid until she developed breasts at age fourteen. When questioned by Garp how she didn't see the difference between her and Ace, she points out she has a tail. This is the subject of a flashback chapter, where the brothers bathe together a decade ago and Luffy questions their anatomy. Ace and Sabo can't tell the difference between male and female merfolk anatomy and they reason Luffy's ignorance is because mermen simply don't have penises.

    Film — Animated 
  • Barbie in a Mermaid Tale has Barbie's character Merliah be the half-mermaid offspring of mer-queen Calissa. It takes us two movies to figure out how exactly this is possible: a magic necklace that turns her into a mermaid whenever she wishes it (which is also shown to work on fully-human Kylie).

    Film — Live-Action 

  • Jack Chalker:
    • The mermaids in the 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 the 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 MerCycle 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 does he find out? He gooses her, causing her to jackknife and give him the mermaid equivalent of a panty shot.
    • 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 donenote , 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 Hybrid 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 de Camp 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 The 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.
  • Vonda N. McIntyre averts this:
    • The sea people in 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" (which appear in a number of her novels) 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....
  • Double Subversion in the eighth Spellsinger novel. A mermaid offers to have sex with protagonist Jon-Tom and she's got equipment that's apparently compatible with human males... but she's sufficiently similar to a fish that she sets off his seafood allergy, giving him a sneezing fit.
  • In Tales of MU, Feejee and Iona, the two mermaid characters, can shapeshift between a fish-tailed form and human legs. This is played straight by Feejee having a human boyfriend, and subverted by the mermaids revealing that humans are a delicacy and Feejee repeatedly mock-eating the main character while emphatically denying that she is gay.
  • In The Mermaid Of Black Conch by Monique Coffey, this is the point. Aycayia was cursed to be a mermaid by the women of her village, and the fact she can't have sex is very much part of it.
  • Addressed with Lin, a lamia (bottom half snake instead of fish), in WIEDERGEBURT: Legend of the Reincarnated Warrior. Her genitals are located just above where her human half's skin transitions to scales; she usually wears a sarong over them.
  • Inverted in a flashback in The Deep (2019), with wajinru trying to find a drowned pregnant slave's birth canal and settling on her bellybutton. They're surprised when the baby's head emerges from between her legs instead.
  • The Syrena Legacy: When Syrena are in their underwater form, they have a fish tail and no reproductive organs. In order to mate, they have to go onto an island and turn into their human forms.
  • In Mermaid Moon, merfolk's genitals are on the front of their tails, hidden by a belly fin. The trope is also inverted, as Sjældent explains to Sanna how sex between humans works.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an Imagine Spot from Scrubs, JD imagines falling through a portal into a fantasyland where a mermaid is waiting to have sex with him. But he can't figure out how...
    • And then Satyr!Turk points to a gill and starts to get freaky.
  • Parodied in Red Dwarf. When the crew were in a VR machine, Cat waved to his new girlfriend, who was a mermaid. She had a fish head and human legs. When asked, "Shouldn't it be the other way around?", Cat responded, "No! That's the stupid way around," while flicking his tongue out afterwards. Hmmm...
  • Craig Charles' little-known sitcom Captain Butler also parodied this. He asks the mermaid girl-of-his-dreams to have sex with him — so she lays a pile of eggs and leaves him to inseminate them. Not exactly what he had in mind...
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Marshall asks Barney if he'd make out with a classic mermaid or an inverted mermaid. Barney answers, "That depends. Is she fat?" Marshall responds that since she's part fish, it's the good kind of fat.
  • Ricky Gervais parodies the hell out of this trope in animals.
  • The Night Gallery episode "Lindemann's Catch" explores this with tragic results. The hardassed Captain Lindemann has netted a mermaid in his latest catch, falls in love with her, and is faced with the usual problems (though in this case it's more about how to keep her alive out of water). A frequently abused crewman offers a magic potion to remedy this, but Lindemann should have kept the "frequently abused" part in mind... it gives her human legs, but a fish's head.
  • The Disney Channel series Pair of Kings apparently uses this trope, as there's a preview airing where one of the main characters encounters a mermaid and says something along the lines of "I prefer my women to have legs!" Seems a bit blatant for a Disney Channel tween sitcom to actually make a "mermaids don't have vaginas" joke, don't ya think?
  • VH1's I Love The 80's discusses this problem in reference to the movie Splash. It gets pretty dirty:
    Rich Eisen: I don't really mind the fish smell...Oh shit, I just said that out loud, didn't I?
  • During her first HBO concert special, Bette Midler made a joke involving four sailors who catch a mermaid, culminating with the punch line, "The question before us is where's her clitoris."
  • On The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon mentions that he is working on several subjects at once, including figuring out how mermaids reproduce. When Raj asks if she just lays her eggs on a rock, Sheldon finds himself with one thing less to think about.
  • A 2001 Saturday Night Live sketch featured Reese Witherspoon as a mermaid singing about her mucus-lubricated fish genitalia. She reveals that her dad is a human and her mother is a fish.

  • 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!"
    (and later...)
    "...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" is about a sailor falling in love with a type A mermaid, her breaking up with him, and then him 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..."
    • The song was covered by Great Big Sea. The album containing the song, "The Hard and the Easy", even features a fish with women's legs on the cover in reference to this trope.
  • 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 because�because they don�t apparently have� "
    Kurt Anderson (interviewer): Well, to second base.
    John Linnell: Yeah, there's second base.
    John Flansburgh: We're talking about second base on PRI.
  • 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 "compatible") 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.
  • Oscar Brand ignores the problem in "Clean Song". Apparently, the mermaid has not only genitalia, but STDs as well.

    Myth and Legend 
  • Sirens, despite not really being mermaids (no matter how much the media tells you they are), still had the problem, at least in theory; from the neck up, they were women. From the neck down? They were birds.
    • Maybe not as much of a problem, as they were almost always hostile to humans.
  • Averted by the Scythian Dracaena/Echidna, who stole Hercules' horses and said she would return them after he impregnated her. She was described as a woman down to her buttocks, with a snake tail below that, and thereby probably having the adjacent female human reproductive equipment attached. The legend goes that she had three sons from Hercules, the youngest of which became the first king of Scythia.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In the 2-July-2021 installment of Bizarro, they solved the problem by having the mermaid lay unfertilized eggs. Presumably, the human would fertilize them the way a male frog does.

  • This is the apparent image behind the French expression finir en queue de poisson, "to end in a fish's tail," meaning to end in a disappointing or unpleasant way after a promising beginning.
  • One of the "R-rated" submitted covers for Longmire Does Romance Novels references this ever so discreetly with its title: Darling, Where's The Hole?
  • Averted by, of all places, the Mirage casino and resort in Las Vegas. The main entrance is flanked by two bronze mermaid statues, with the lower fish half beginning right below their buttocks.
  • Automatic in-name trope reference in the German language: "Meerjungfrau" (mer virgin).
  • Old joke: Two men are quietly fishing on the bank of a river. The first man hooks something and reels it in. To the astonishment of both, it's a mermaid! The first man looks it over from end to end, and throws it back into the river. The second man is stunned by this action, and asks: "Why??". The first man simply answers: "How?".

  • Averted by the mermaid on the "Neptune" table of Pinball Dreams 2, who has clearly-delineated buttocks despite having a tail.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 & 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.
  • Magic: The Gathering avoids this and the associated problems (like how mermaid PCs are supposed to do anything on land) via the expedient method of simply having its merfolk be humanoid Fish People with legs and — presumably — all the necessary equipment.

    Video Games 
  • In Harvest Moon DS, there's a cutesy mermaid named Leia whom you can marry. She never gains human legs, and manages to get pregnant despite living in your duck pond and being unable to leave the water for extended periods of time. Also, the pregnancy resembles that of a human, even though she's part fish. The child is normal enough, but still, It's best not to think about any of this for too long.
    • The Distaff Counterpart of DS, Cute, averts this if you 'best friend' Leia. Since two girls can't biologically have children, the Harvest King makes one of you pregnant (or was it the baby just being born?). You can choose to be the pregnant one, thus averting this.
  • Rune Factory 3 averts this with Pia. Like other half-monsters in this series, she can shapeshift between fully human and monster form. You usually only see her as a mermaid when it's raining.
  • Partially averted in Pokémon: several Pokemon in the Water 2 Egg Group, made up of fish-like creatures, are also in other Egg Groups like Dragon (dragons and other reptiles), Field (mostly mammals), and Water 1 (mostly amphibians and creatures living near the water), and thus can do it with other Pokemon in those groups.
  • In Kingdom Hearts, Sora turns into a half dolphin, which actually averts this, since cetaceans have mammal genitalia. So any porn fanfics involving Sora as a merdolphin and a human are actually correct.
  • Sidesteped in Yggdra Union. The mermaid-esque Undine race are a One-Gender Race that reproduce via some kind of reincarnation fueled via a MacGuffin. Needless to say when this gets stolen, all hell breaks loose.
  • In the third game of The Spellcasting Series by Steve Meretzky, the player character is required at one point to turn himself into a merman, and the opportunity for sex with a mermaid arises. The game states that the PC is interested to learn how mer-people do 'it' with no apparent genitals, but will reveal only two facts about the act to the player; Firstly, that it would be impossible without the buoyancy effects of water, and secondly, that it ranks above human sex on the pleasure scale to the same extent that human sex ranks above brushing your teeth.
  • In Tales of Monkey Island, Guybrush learns that Winslow and an ambiguously gendered merperson are in a relationship, and wonders aloud "how that works... logistically."
  • In Neopets, the Water and Fountain Faeries have their tail extending higher to cover their breasts, making it look more like a dress than a tail.
  • Not directly mentioned, but figures in the symbolism in Rule of Rose chapter "Mermaid Princess". The titular 'mermaid' is Clara who is all but confirmed to be a victim of sexual abuse, and takes a mermaid appearance by having her legs tied together with coils of rope, invoking either her sexual subservience, or attempt to protect herself, depending on whom you ask.
  • Defied by the title character in Abobo's Big Adventure. He can still mate with a mermaid, so the offspring can protect him.
  • Chrono Cross never really explains just how the human Fargo and the mermaid demi-human Zelbess not only had a relationship, but managed to have two kids!
  • Subverted in the Visual Novel Nocturnal Illusion, the main character finds a representation of Hans Christian Andersen's version of the The Little Mermaid in a well. When the H-scene occurs, the entry is right where it should be on a human woman, although considering the mermaid's body, it requires a rather odd position for penetration to happen.
  • Dragon's Crown, being that kind of game, averts this. The mermaid you come across has her fish tail start right under a very human butt and hips. This was handily lampshaded when the Best Friends Zaibatsu played the game.
    Matt: This game is innovative, because it stops the debate!
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, at one point Link gets accidentally engaged to Ruto, Princess of the Zoras, a mermaid-like aquatic race. Despite being seemingly naked, neither Ruto nor any of the other Zoras have any visible genitals (though she does have Non-Mammal Mammaries). Even weirder, Majora's Mask shows that female Zora (or at least the ones in Termina) lay eggs, raising the question as to whether they would be biologically compatible with a Hylian even if they can have sex.

  • 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 one Bogleech strip, where a mermaid and her lover have a child by having a fish baby burst its way out of its father's chest.
  • 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 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.
  • Avoided by Manly Guys Doing Manly Things: turns out there's a reason manatees and mermaids are mixed up so often. Jared's disturbed that anybody would want to tap that.
  • Averted and discussed, along with Non-Mammalian Mammaries, in Oglaf's Isle of Tits storyline (not linked due to NSFW).
    "Fish-folk breed by spawning. Why would they need tits?"
  • In Siren's Lament, the Sirens' tails turn to legs on dry land.
  • In Darwin Carmichael Is Going to Hell Pat tries hitting on a mermaid at a party, only to be horrified when he wakes up the next morning next to a reverse mermaid.
  • Books of Adam: In "The Facts of Life," a young mermaid (who resembles Ariel) asks her father (who resembles Triton) where babies come from. His answer is very fishlike: her mother laid thousands of eggs, most were eaten, and she was one of the few who survived.

    Web Original 
  • 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.
  • In Cracked After Hours this is brought up by Michael for a reason that, long-term, a relationship between Eric and Ariel will fall apart. He mentions the Futurama take on the problem; when they need to make royal heirs, Ariel is just expecting to lay a clutch of eggs in a bathtub and let Eric fertilize them and will inevitably be disgusted at the idea of human intercourse.
  • The mermen in Three Little Fish and a Bird are a gender-flipped aversion, having male genitalia that are usually kept retracted into their bodies like actual marine mammals...though Varden, one of the mermen, is a bit of a shower....
  • In the Tales From the Internet video about the website selling supermodels' eggs, Whang says that to breed with The Little Mermaid you'd have to jiz over eggs she's laid because that's how fish work.

    Western Animation 
  • Shows up in the Futurama episode "The Deep South" when Fry falls in love with the mermaid Umbriel. He eventually decides to stay and spend the rest of his life with her... until they try to have sex, and she explains that merfolk do it "fish-style":
    Umbriel: What the hell is that?
    Fry: Yeah, I'm a little confused too. How do I... you know...with the tail and all?
    Umbriel: I'm not your first, am I? I mean, I lay my eggs and then I leave, and you release your fertilizer.
    [Cut to Fry bolting from her house]
    Fry: Why couldn't she be the other kind of mermaid, with the fish part on top, and the lady part on the bottom?!
  • Family Guy:
    • Invoked 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 explains 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 tries to have sex with a mermaid with mixed success.
      Peter: There's nothing but a fish tail down here!
      Mermaid: Keep looking!
      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?"
  • In Gargoyles, Goliath of the titular gargoyles has the same problem as the Sirens of Greek mythology mentioned above if he ever pursues his romance with Elisa further. Gargoyles are mammalian, but they reproduce by laying eggs, meaning they're monotremes. Monotreme reproductive parts are mostly like avian parts, which would make Elisa and Goliath's prospective wedding night rather problematic.
  • In the French cartoon Zig & 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.
  • In Bob's Burgers, Cloudcuckoolander Tina mentions wanting to find mermaids' "mer-ginas" in a total non-sequitur on being told they're going to take sailing lessons.
  • Discussed in an episode of Code Monkeys, where Dave puts an Easter egg into his latest game where you can do the deed with a mermaid. Jerry asks the obvious question, and Dave's response is "Uh, you do her on her flipper."
  • Played with for laughs in The Dating Guy. After V.J. successfully has sex with a mermaid, he wonders afterwards how exactly he accomplished that.
  • A Noodle Incident in Rick and Morty implies that mermaids do have "puss", and they plan on doing it again.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Mermaid Problem


Fry's Bed Troubles

Fry leaves the Planet Express crew, to be with his new mermaid girlfriend Umbriel. He quickly regrets his choice, when he finds out, having sex with a mermaid is harder than he thought.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (36 votes)

Example of:

Main / MermaidProblem

Media sources: