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Why couldn't she have been the other kind of mermaid, with the fish part on top, and the lady part on the bottom?—Fry, "The Deep South", Futurama
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 is... 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 anything we, as mammals, would recognize. Most fish, quite simply, are incapable of sexual intercourse. Their version of reproduction is external, meaning that females deposit their eggs, which are then fertilized by the male's 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, doesn't she?
This trope mainly deals with the variety where they don't gain human legs. Sometimes this problem may be lampshaded, but others no explanation is given. Compare Non-Mammal Mammaries. A good amount 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 (see H-manga below).
Then there's also the fact that just because her lower half has fins and scales doesn't mean that certain organs have to work the way a fish's does. And some fish--such as sharks--do give birth to live young, and thus have internal genitals. It is also possible for merfolk to be half-dolphin or some other marine mammal rather than half-fish (mermaid legends were inspired by distant manatee sightings in the first place), in which case they could have sexual organs compatible with a human's. Though in the original sailor tales mermaids moved like a porpoise, which made them all Unscaled Merfolk, this was probably confused with the fact that all sea mammals were drawn as fish with scales.
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.
- Many H-series suggest that the tail begins at the upper thigh, rather than at the hips. Or that some of her scales slide away when she is aroused.
- 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, Seto no Hanayome 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...
- 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.
- In fact, the Mermaid was used as an Unusual Euphemism for a 'Whore' - Mary, Queen of Scots was referred to one by some of her subjects.
- The Starbucks Coffee logo features a mermaid of this type. She's essentially giving whoever's looking a free show. Apparently this was too risque (what's a flashing mermaid got to with coffee anyway?), 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.
- 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 Rene Magritte has a painting of a reverse mermaid.
- Polish painter Jaroslaw Kukowski has a painting of a mermaid looking in puzzlement at a magazine page showing a vulva (NSFW).
- 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.
- 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.
- Maybe they go for string-bikini-style bottoms, with fasteners over the hip?
- 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...
- A somewhat more psychological version of the problem: in the (definitely Not Safe for Work) Little Mermaid 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.
- Splash used the aforementioned Hand Wave: Madison only had a tail while exposed to water.
- The Boy Who Loved Trolls had a mermaid who had a zipper on her fin, allowing her to easily turn them into legs.
- This parody of a The Little Mermaid song talks about the real aspirations of Ariel...
- Dagon averted this via Naughty Tentacles and large amounts of Squick
- Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides solves this by making the mermaids capable of turning their fins into legs.
- 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.
- A classic Frederick Brown short horror story has a protagonist who 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.
- 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. 
- 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, and the protagonist, Tom, solve this problem elegantly by exploring the obvious alternative.
- 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 Mieville'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.
- in John Varley's The Golden Globe a theatrical director in the far future complains about the difficulty of finding actresses willing to give up sex in order to play mermaids; it seems far future labor laws have replaced CGI with Magic Plastic Surgery.
- One character in Varley's The Opiuchi Hotline is a spacer who has used Magic Plastic Surgery to modify her body until she's literally just a cylinder with an arm on each end. Varley's protagonist gives her credit for coming up with a very creative solution for the question of where a crotchless woman would keep her genitals but Varley (perhaps wisely) doesn't specify what that solution was.
- 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?
- 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."
- 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 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?
- VH-1'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?
- 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..."
- 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.
- 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 video for You and I by Lady Gaga averts this by... ignoring the problem completely, apparently.
- 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 and 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.
- 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, unless you're into that sort of things.
- 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.
- 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.
- In Kingdom Hearts, Sora turns into 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.
- The H-game/Visual Novel Nocturnal Illusion features a love scene between the protagonist and a mermaid, who simply has genitalia like any other woman. The scales on her tail prove to make things slightly less comfortable for the protagonist, however...
- 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.
- ABOBO DEFIES TROPE! ABOBO NO EAT MERMAID, HE MATE WITH MERMAID AND HAVE SONS! SONS PROTECT ABOBO FROM ENEMIES!
- 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 Bog Leech 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.
Web Serial Novel
- 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.
- 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!"
- Fry really makes a break for it after hearing that.
- Family Guy has a similar scenario where 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 him be a regular merman, he becomes indignant and invokes this trope. When she can't answer how she would have sex with a merman without a penis, he forces himself on her. She pushes him over and runs away while he flops around like a normal fish.
- 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 & 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 Cloudcuckoolander 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!
- Nadya Vessey won't have to worry about the Mermaid Problem, as she's just wearing a prosthetic mermaid's tail.
- Somewhat disturbingly, the Mermaid's real-life counterpart inverts this problem, depending on how you look at it. Female Manatees (aka "Sea Cows"), which many historians believe inspired the Mermaid legend, happen to have a set of reproductive organs that would be very familiar to us humans (especially the Dugong). Simply put, "Tab A" would fit into "Slot B" very comfortably (aside from the obvious Squick factor), moreso in fact than with any other non-human creature on earth. The implications of a bunch of lonely sailors discovering this phenomenon (and subsequently mythologizing it) will have you running for the Brain Bleach, if you weren't already. Of course, it doesn't involve the problem from the male manatees' point of view.
- There is a type of fish known as the "fisherman's friend" for broadly similar reasons. It's up to you to decide whether this is better or worse that that activities ascribed to lonely shepherds and the Welsh. Or the New Zealanders, for that matter.
- For children born with the Real Life developmental defect of sirenomelia -- "mermaid syndrome" -- the real "Mermaid Problem" isn't having sex, but surviving longer than a few days without a workable urinary tract or lower intestine. Drastic surgery has prolonged life in milder cases, but reconstructing a sirenomeliac's genitalia isn't much of a priority when planning such life-saving operations.
- ↑ The mer are warm blooded and their babies don't have nearly enough body mass to avoid succumbing to hypothermia if they spend too much time in the water. Since the adults are about as helpless as seals on land (an explicit comparison is made to baby fur seals) mer babies have to be raised in protected nurseries if they're going to have any hope of survival. So anyone who seizes the nursery caves can hold the entire species hostage.