by Susan Block, Ph.D.
Deep in the soul of the hot, wet swamps of the Congo, there is a tribe. It is here, in their wild, erotic Garden of Eden, that our closest cousins, the bonobos, live and share a powerful kind of pleasure, and make an extraordinary kind of love.
Just in case you don’t know a bonobo from a bonsai tree, bonobos, classified as Pan paniscus in the textbooks, are also called pygmy chimpanzees in primatology circles. I call them the horniest apes on Earth. Some scientists say they’re closer to humans than common chimps, though that’s debatable. They certainly look more like us, with their longer legs, smaller ears, more open faces with higher foreheads. Sexually speaking, the genitals of bonobo females are rotated forward like those of human females, so that they can have face-to-face sex rather than just "doggie style," with the male mounting from behind like most other primates. Basically, bonobos can do "it" in almost as many positions as we can, and they do do it--a lot.
Bonobos have some kind of sex almost every day, usually several times a day.
Females are in heat for three-quarters of their cycle, and many of them copulate even when not in heat, a sexual pattern more like human females than that of any other mammal. Though common chimpanzees only partake in basic reproductive sex, bonobos share all kinds of sexual pleasures, including cunnilingus, fellatio, masturbation, massage, bisexuality, incest, body-licking, sex in different positions, group sex, and lots of long, deep, wet, soulful, French kissing.
Like tantric sex practitioners, or just like two people very much in love, copulating bonobos often look deeply into each other’s eyes.
|Such loving passion, such sexual dexterity,
such clever, horny playfulness is found nowhere else on Earth except among
But that’s not all that makes our kissin’ cousins, the bonobos, so worthy of our attention—worthy enough to be the official mascots of the Dr. Susan Block Institute (the staff of which we often call the "Bonobo Gang")! It’s not just how they have sex, but how they use sex-- to maintain friendly relationships, to ease stress (e.g., Don’t be nervous, come here and sit on my face), as a form of commercial exchange (e.g., I’ll give you a blowjob if you give me a banana), and to reduce violent conflict. That is, they seem to use sex to make peace. And that, in a coconut shell, is why I love bonobos.
Scientific observation has revealed that social
interactions among bonobos are far less hostile than among common chimps.
This is not to say that bonobos never fight--they just do so a lot less.
Unlike common chimps (and humans, of course), bonobos have never been
observed deliberately killing members of their own species. Among bonobos
observed both in the wild and in captivity, sex and mutual pleasure
are keys to keeping the peace, reinforcing social relations based upon
the give and take of sensual, erotic pleasure rather than on pain and
force and fear.
Apparently, all that hot sex just cools ‘em
|The power behind this astonishingly peaceful, highly erotic "paradise" lies in bonobo social organization. Unlike common chimps and the other great apes, bonobo society is not male dominated; females are on essentially equal footing with the boys. "Female power is the sine qua non of bonobo life," writes Dr. Richard Wrangham in Demonic Males, "the magic key to their world." Female bonobos have strong relationships with each other, creating a chimp version of "solidarity" or "sisterhood," even though adult females in any one group are generally not sisters, or blood-related at all. Bonobo female solidarity helps to keep the males in line; if a male is so arrogant as to attack a female, her "sisters" will all jump on him. By contrast, the males almost never form alliances with each other, either to defend themselves or attack females.||
Bonobo "ladies" strengthen their friendships
through "lesbian" sex, frequently performing what researchers call "genito-genital
rubbing." The Mogandu people have a much cuter, more expressive name
for this act of rapidly rubbing their large sensitive clitorises and
labia against each other: hoka-hoka. Sounds like a sexy sort
of dance, doesn’t it? That’s what it looks like, the bonobo tango, but
it’s quick vulva-to-vulva action rather than slow cheek-to-cheek. Bonobo
females grow closer to each other as they do the hoka-hoka, consolidating
their social connections along with their orgasms. These highly sexed
females are also far more likely to initiate sex with the males than
any other great ape females (including humans!). So the bonobo guys
get a pretty good deal: Give the ladies some respect, and get plenty
of sex, all year ‘round.
Moreover, since the males do get plenty of sex—from confident, horny females who disguise their ovulation time—they don’t compete with each other so much. That is, male bonobos don’t seem to partake in the deadly "wars" and raiding parties so prevalent among male common chimps, and humans. They also tend to resolve any conflicts they might have by mounting each other or engaging in oral or manual sex. As Dr. Franz de Waal points out in Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, "common chimps resolve sexual issues with power. Bonobos resolve power issues with sex." The latter seems to be safer and more fun for everyone. I guess that means I’m not a Republican..
What I call "The Bonobo Way" is a very simple philosophy (after all, these aren’t geniuses, they’re chimpanzees) that we all know deep in our bones, but that we seem to forget in the midst of our busy, lonely, fearful, stressed, repressed, polluted, violent lives:
My philosophy of Ethical Hedonism applies the principles of The Bonobo Way to the far more complex, civilized lives of human ladies and gentlemen. Ethical hedonism supports the repression of violence and the free, exuberant, erotic, raunchy, loving, peaceful, consensual expression of pleasure. Every day, as ethical hedonists, Max and I, the Bonobo Gang and our circle of friends try to practice the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure. It’s a worthwhile path, has occasional potholes, but is lots of fun to travel.
But meanwhile, the actual bonobo chimpanzees are extremely endangered. There are only between five and ten thousand in their natural habitat in the Congolese jungle, plus a few hundred scattered around zoos and primate centers throughout the world. That’s all. As war, the logging industry and environmental problems wreak havoc with their lives, their chances of survival drop further. Even though it’s against the law to kill bonobos, many desperate hunters do so anyway, killing adult bonobos for meat which they sell on the black market, and occasionally capturing babies to sell as pets to people who usually can’t take care of them.
The current war in the Congo is especially devastating to all forms of life in that rain forest, including the bonobos. Time is running out quickly. Our hairy, horny, kissin’ cousins will simply die out very soon if we humans don’t make an active effort to help them.
There are various attempts at bonobo preservation by primatologists like Japan’s Takyoshi Kano in Africa, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh’s Bonobo Protection Fund in the United States and Sally Coxe's new Bonobo Conservation Initiative. Gay Reinartz at the Milwaukee Zoo is working to conduct a bonobo census, so we can get a clearer idea of just how endangered they are. Dr. Tony Rose and Karl Ammann are working through the Bushmeat Project to help save the bonobos and other Great Apes.
I hope that what you have learned here about the bonobos inspires you to practice the Bonobo Way of Peace through Pleasure, and to do what you can to help save the actual bonobos in the jungle.