A Life’s Work: The Jerk

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A Life's Work: The Jerk by Ross Martin


Amid the sprawling agricultural landscape of California Polytechnic State University, fifty-year-old Dr. Steve Wickler is teaching his students about animal anatomy, equine physiology and the diseases animals can give to humans. He’s also about to show them how to excite a 2,000-pound bull and collect its ejaculate.

Ross Martin

So how do you make a bull come?

Manually, using artificial vaginas. You can train bulls to recognize you walking up with it. They’ll get an erection and mount almost on command.

This artificial vagina, is it rubber?

There’s one called the Missouri AV, which has a leather outlining with a plastic intersleeve. The Colorado AV is plastic. You fill the space between the waterproof lining and the outer shell or jacket with warm water. Just as you might imagine with humans, part of it is getting the temperature right, and part of it is getting the friction.

How do you get him in the mood?

That’s a big issue. First you need to have the female in “estrus,” the period in which she is reproductively receptive. The bull will put his muzzle on her hindquarters, come up and lick the vaginal area.

So then what, you fake him out?

When he starts to mount her, you interfere and grab the penis. Once they’ve kind of initiated the moaning and reflex, they’ll jump up, you divert the penis into the artificial vagina, and they pump away.

Do you wear hockey pads to protect yourself?

We wear a collecting helmet. Having a 2,000-pound bull stomping around is scary. Their forelimbs are up on the female, they start dancing as they try to have intercourse. You’ve got to watch the penis and their feet or they’ll step on you. I’ll tell you, that’ll ruin the moment.

Do they mind your being there?

No — it’s really quite amazing — once they start. But they’re conscious of having people around. It may be very difficult for them to get into the mood if they’re not used to it.

Some airports in Europe blast Aretha Franklin on runways to scare away pigeons. I’d think you’d want the opposite effect, you know, maybe some Al Green?

Did I just hear that on the news the other day, that they were using Al Green — no, Barry White — for some shark reproduction? It doesn’t surprise me.

How long does it take the bull to ejaculate?


Do you have to do some of the pumping or does he do all the work?

He does. You’re mostly concerned with keeping the artificial vagina close to the penis.

And steady.

When it’s 2,000 pounds thrusting, the concept of steady is relative.

Once he ejaculates, do you have to get every drop?

You don’t have to be that comprehensive. It’s a very forceful ejaculation. There’s a collection tube at the end of the vagina so you can see the material going in.

How long is a bull penis, anyway?

Well, they make walking sticks out of the sigmoid flecture. So, you know, a meter?

Do you wear gloves?

Yeah, mostly to prevent you from contaminating it.

Bull semen is even sold online. How do you establish quality?

You actually quantify. There are automated optical methods for measuring motility. We determine what percentage of the population of semen are moving away or moving in a straight line. Some semen spin in circles and that’s less likely to be effective sperm. You look at sperm morphology. Are they normal? Do they have a normal head, normal tail, normal mid-base piece? The total volume is ten cc’s. And of those sperm, ninety percent are progressively motile.

The alternative to the artificial vagina is called “electro-stimulation”?

Yes, a rectal probe goes over the accessory sex glands but sits close to the nerve bed of the spine. If I provide some artificial electro-stimulation, I can produce the same ejaculation reflexes they get normally. You put in an electrical current; they get an erection, they get pre-semen, then they ejaculate. Generally, if you use an artificial vagina, you get a very clean sample, higher concentrations of sperm. Whereas with electro-ejaculation, you don’t get nearly as pure a sample.

How do you make this fun for students?

With the difficulty of talking about sex, when you do it in a very clinical setting, the students are really enthralled. I point out that it’s important for assessment of their reproductive soundness. Everything that is happening is physiologically explainable and it’s anatomical and so they kind of see the whole process. It’s really quite wonderful.

Have you learned anything about sex from your bulls?

I would say no, but I haven’t taught them anything about it either.

Has your wife ever tried to collect? Not from you, but a bull, I mean.

I don’t know, I’ve never asked her. She’s very familiar with the technique, though.

What’s a bull like after he orgasms?

Hard to tell any difference.

He doesn’t get standoffish or want to take a nap?

He’s not like, “Okay, well, now let’s go eat.”

I bet some bulls are turned on by their collectors.

I had a colleague who was collecting dairy bulls and didn’t even have to have the artificial vagina. They would recognize his car. He’d drive up, and the bulls would be standing at the breeding stations, getting erections just from the sight of his Volvo.


Ross Martin’s recent work appears in magazines such as Agni, Bomb, Boulevard, Denver Quarterly, Fence, Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Prairie Schooner, Verse, Witness and others. He has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, The New School University and Washington University in St. Louis, where he received his MFA. His first book, ‘The Cop Who Rides Alone,’ is published by Zoo Press (


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