For those that have never heard of bonobos, they are one of the two types of chimpanzee which exist (the other being the common chimpanzee). One of the most interesting differences between bonobos and the common chimp is the way they use sex. From Frans de Waal on Bonobo Sex and Society:
The species is best characterized as female-centered and egalitarian and as one that substitutes sex for aggression. Whereas in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the bonobo it is part and parcel of social relations--and not just between males and females. Bonobos engage in sex in virtually every partner combination (although such contact among close family members may be suppressed). And sexual interactions occur more often among bonobos than among other primates. Despite the frequency of sex, the bonobo's rate of reproduction in the wild is about the same as that of the chimpanzee. A female gives birth to a single infant at intervals of between five and six years. So bonobos share at least one very important characteristic with our own species, namely, a partial separation between sex and reproduction.
And from Wikipedia:
Bonobos are the only non-human apes to have been observed engaging in all of the following sexual activities: face-to-face genital sex (most frequently female-female, then male-female and male-male), tongue kissing, and oral sex. In scientific literature, the female-female sex is often referred to as GG rubbing or genital-genital rubbing, while male-male sex is sometimes referred to as penis fencing.
Sexual activity happens within the immediate family as well as outside it, and often involves adults and children, even infants. Bonobos do not form permanent relationships with individual partners. They also do not seem to discriminate in their sexual behavior by gender or age, with the possible exception of sexual intercourse between mothers and their adult sons; some observers believe these pairings are taboo. When Bonobos come upon a new food source or feeding ground, the increased excitement will usually lead to communal sexual activity, presumably decreasing tension and allowing for peaceful feeding.
Bonobo males frequently engage in various forms of male-male genital sex (frot). One form has two males hang from a tree limb face-to-face while "penis fencing". Frot may also occur where two males rub their penises together while in missionary position. A special form of frot called "rump rubbing" occurs to express reconciliation between two males after a conflict, where they stand back-to-back and rub their scrotal sacks together.
Bonobo females also engage in female-female genital sex (tribadism) to socially bond with each other, thus forming a female nucleus of Bonobo society. The bonding between females allows them to dominate Bonobo society - although male Bonobos are individually stronger, they cannot stand alone against a united group of females. Adolescent females often leave their troop of birth to join another troop. Sexual bonding with other females establishes the new females as members of the group.
Okay, so isn't this weird? There exists an animal, more related to our species than any that exists today, which seemingly enjoys a wide range of sexual behaviour, without any of the downsides that we are dogged by. Jealousy and sexual crime appear not to be a problem, and most commentators on bonobo society believe that they are successful because of the sex and not in spite of it.
Why humans are different, is difficult to say (and probably due to a number of factors). But bonobos show you, that a creature without language can be very like ourselves in some respects, but in others seem a million miles away.Go Top