“Nine Times a Night”


A handsome sailor named "Nine Times a Night" arrives in London after a voyage and is seen by a"handsome rich widow." She entices him to marry her. He "trimmed her sails" five times; she wonders why he can't manage the nine times of his name


Field collections of this seem to be relatively few; I might have suspected A. L. Lloyd of writing it had it not been for the broadsides. It's interesting to note that these generally don't admit of a printer -- perhaps to avoid prosecution?

WARNING: Clinincal biology ahead. Sort of graphic, and also one of the areas of science some religions find offensive.

There are sound reasons of evolutionary biology why males cannot do it "nine times a night." It has to do with something called "sperm competition" -- or, rather, the human lack of same. You can read about this in such places as Richard Dawkins's book _The Ancestor's Tale_, pp. 203-211, and (with a more gruesome side quest into infanticide among monkeys) in Matt Ridley's _The Red Queen_, pp. 213-226.

Dawkins, p. 210, has an interesting little graph, of the ratio of body mass to testes mass in primates -- in effect, of how much sperm each species produces. The interesting thing about this ratio is that the species above average all engage in extremely high levels of sexual activity. Ridley's numbers: "a female gorilla will mate about ten times for every baby that is born [whereas] a female chimp will mate five hundred to a thousand times" (p. 217)

This correlates closely with behavior. Male gorillas, which have small testes and low sperm production, keep harems of (if they're lucky) six or so females. These harems are stable; the female will have no other mate while part of one. So the male doesn't have to have much sperm; if the female get pregnant, he knows he's the father.

It's very different in chimpanzees. Male chimps have been observed to murder the offspring of a female who has not mated with them. The only way for the female to prevent this is to mate with as many male chimps as possible, so that all the males might be the father of her child. So the males inevitably have evolved to produce as much sperm as possible in order to try to out-reproduce everyone else. Fatherhood, for chimps, is partly a matter of luck -- but partly a matter of being able to really take advantage of opportunity when it's offered.

This has been shown in many other species. Gibbons are monogamous and have small testes. Monkeys have all sorts of sexual patterns, with sperm production correlating with the number of partners.

Humans -- well, on the graph they are on the low end of the scale. Not as low as gorillas, but definitely among the species that don't engage significantly in sperm competition. That doesn't necessarily mean that we are meant to be monogamous, but it *does* imply fixed pair bonds -- if not lifelong monogamy, then at least something like (polygamous) marriage or serial marriage: Any male "expects" to have near-exclusive access to a female at the time she conceives. So there is no advantage to a male in doing it "nine times a night"; if the first one or two don't do it, the woman probably is at the wrong time of her cycle to conceive.

The conclusion is somewhat ironic: If women want men able to do it "nine times a night," they have to share their favors around a lot more. And, in that case, they wouldn't *need* someone capable of "nine times a night"; they just need the ability to attract lots of men.

And, yes, I know full well I'm spoiling the song....

As for the actual statistics, Olivia Judson's _Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation_ (I use the 2003 Owl Books edition -- and, for all those of you with dirty minds, this is a book about evolutionary biology, even though it's written as a spoof sex guide), p. 31, notes that the typical human male stores sperm equivalent to one and a half ejaculations. So if Jack really did manage five times in one night, he had three times the average male capacity. - RBW


  • Bodleian, Harding B 11(555), "9 times a night," unknown, n.d; also Harding B 17(219a), "9 times a night," unknown, n.d.


  2. Roud #18411
  3. BI, RcNinNig


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1982 (the broadsides are almost certainly Victorian if not earlier)
Found in: Britain