Yes, the Fish Monster in Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water Is Going to Have Sex With a Human

Image: Fox Searchlight
Image: Fox Searchlight

Have you ever actually considered how the mechanics of having sex with a fish-person (mermaid or otherwise) might actually work? Guillermo del Toro certainly has, and we’re all going to get a chance to see how he conceptualizes it in his upcoming adult fairy tale The Shape of Water.


The Shape of Water prominently features the story of forbidden love between a mysterious humanoid fish creature (Doug Jones) being held in a secret government facility and Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a technician who works there. When they think nobody else is watching, Elisa sneaks into the room where the creature’s tank is housed, brings him eggs that he likes eating, and begins to forge a bond with him that begins platonically before blossoming into romance.

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Jones and del Toro were frank in discussing their vision for the human-monster relationship. Specifically, they were open about how The Shape of Water does not shy away from the idea that Elisa and the creature will have sex at some point during the film. Jones was required to shoot some of his scenes with full frontal nudity, he explained, because The Shape of Water is going for authenticity.

Said Jones:

When I asked [del Toro] why this time does it need to involved full-frontal nudity — I mean, we’re going for it! — and he harkened back to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Frankenstein and any of the classic monster movies that helped develop his love of monsters.

There was always a romantic side to these characters and relationships on film that never got actualized all the way. Guillermo said this time, the monster’s going to actually fuck the girl. A gentler way to say it is that this is the creature from the wet, black lagoon who actually gets the girl this time.

Del Toro’s told stories about relationships between humans and monsters before (see: Hellboy), but the topic of sex has rarely been breached beyond vague allusions to the characters’ sex lives presenting something of a unique challenge for them. It’ll be interesting to see how The Shape of Water handles Elisa and the creature’s intimacy given that, well, fish sex is kind of complicated and disgusting.

Do you know how fish have sex? It’s neither pretty nor particularly romantic. Then again, different strokes for different folks.


Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.


Calli Arcale

“Do you know how fish have sex?”

Well, that depends on the fish. For instance, in my fishtank we have two types of fish: guppies and small plecostomas. They’ve been happily breeding, and illustrating two different strategies.

The plecos are egg-layers, with the male providing all of the childcare. The dominant male in the tank, if he is provided with a cave to his liking, will entice females to come into the tank and lay their eggs. Once the female has deposited her eggs, he fertilizes them and then drives her out — he will no longer tolerate her presence. Now he devotes himself to guarding the eggs and fanning them with his pelvic fins to ensure they get a continuous stream of fresh water. He continues to watch over the young for about a week after they hatch, at which point they have absorbed their yolk sacs and are able to forage on their own.

The guppies (sometimes referred to as “the gift that keeps on giving”, so much so that pet stores usually will refuse to stock females) are different. They’re livebearers, and you can easily distinguish males from females by three traits. First, the males are much prettier. Second, they are much smaller. Lastly, while the female’s anal fin is perfectly normal, the male’s is a spike. That’s because he has a second use for it. While he will use it as a control surface when swimming, just like the female, that spikey structure is also hollow and serves as his intromittent organ. That’s the fancy word for his dick, basically. Yep, these guys have internal fertilization. The males will dance for the females, chasing them endlessly until finally one accepts him (or gets sick of his pestering) and allows him to mate. Fertilization is internal, and the eggs hatch internally. The female becomes pregnant, and eventually gives birth to a startlingly large litter of fish fry, which immediately make for cover, since most of the adults will be quite happy to eat them, potentially including their own mother.

There are a huge range of other strategies too. It’s not just one thing. ;-)