Ain't no shame in the bonobos game

I love me some bonobos, and since this blog is about the movie Science Sex and the Ladies...and since bonobos are somewhat relevant to science, sex, and ladies, I thought I'd spend a blog on them.

Who are these crazy bonobos? They're great apes, also called Pygmy Chimpanzees. They, along with the common chimp (the ones we just call chimps), are equally our closest evolutionary relatives; with our paths likely splitting from the bonobos and chimps about 8 million years ago. . Bonobos are endangered and only found naturally in the Democratic Republic of Congo (you know, the rape as a weapon of war capital of the world right now).
I'd hope a lot of people have heard of bonobos, but they don't get the press that the chimp gets. My guess, and I don't think I'm the only one, is that they are just too damn sexy for your family nature shows. Bonobos sexuality, make-love-not-war ways, and matriarchal society are, I'll admit, exaggerated at times, but it can't be denied that they are an interesting species in these regards.

Our bonobos friends have a sexual side that is uncommon in the non-human animal world. They have oral sex, face to face coitus (about a third of the time). They tongue kiss, manually rub genitals, display genital touching between old and young, male/male, female/female, female/male within family (but not so much between mothers and sons). They have been known to engage in quick sexual encounters when confronted with food or objects that need to be shared; very possibly as a means to break the tension and alleviate a need for fighting. They also have a practice so common it's given a nickname, GG rubbing (Genito-Genital Rubbing), which is where one female bonobo wraps her arms and legs around a 2nd female who is on all fours. The 2nd lifts the first off the ground and they, well, rub their junk (clit and vulva) together. They smile and squeal as one would when rubbing against something.

This brings us to another point, female bonobos are good at creating strong bonds with each other. There is a general anthropological rule that our lady bonobos break. It says that the sex that stays in the natal group develop the strongest mutual bonds. In bonobo culture, as well as chimp culture, females leave their families and enter as strangers into other groups during adolescence. We would expect that the males, who have been together throughout life, create the strongest alliances. This is what happens for chimps, but bonobo ladies do a little grooming, a little GG rubbing, and they are in. The bonobo ladies stay a united front. Male on female violence is rare for bonobos, yet common and harsh in the chimp world. Bonobo ladies are physically smaller than the males, but they team up to ward off violence. Plus, female hierarchy seems to be the dominate one. The most dominate males are often sons of the dominate female. Males seem to defer to females in the group when it comes to getting food and other conflict raising things.

The bonobos adds diversity and richness to our perspectives on primate behavior. I always find it frustrating to watch a cool TV documentary on primates and not a peep is said about bonobos. The show is full of variety and adaptions that make each type of primate so interesting and unique, but our bonobos friends have to be left out because of too much GG rubbing and scrotal to scrotal rubbing after conflict. You can't show that on television. Granted, they aren't constantly doing it. Their sexual encounters last in the seconds on average, but to talk about them and their uniqueness would be almost impossible without discussing their use of sexual touch in their normal cultural interaction. I think it's just not worth the hassle for a lot of networks. Too bad - I think just knowing that bonobos exist could change the very narrow understanding most people have about primate behavior.

P.S. Bonobos are also super sweet because they sometimes look kinda like humans dressed up in big foot costumes - check out some pictures, and some interesting info about their similarity to orangutans at this site. Plus there is some really intriguing research being done with bonobos and language check out a a cool interactive audio slide show HERE

The info I have here can also be found at this site which houses an 1995 Scientific American article called "Bonobo Sex and Society: The behavior of a close relative challenges assumptions about male supremacy in human evolution" by Frans B. M. de Waal.

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