This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
Unformatted text preview: ere is a virtual cornucopia of Sex Versus Reproduction 43 sexual activities. For example, dalliances are also common between two
females. In this interaction, one female lifts the other into her arms and
carries her like she might a child. Arranged like this, the two females
can and do rub their clitorises together with exactly the same frequency
that males thrust into females during copulation. Scientists who study
bonobos call this genito-genital rubbing, or GG rubbing, and among
the apes, only bonobos do it, and they do it a lot.
Other times, two female bonobos will face opposite directions, one
lying on her back with her legs spread, the other backing up to her and
squatting until their genitals make contact, and then they stimulate one
another with sideways movements of the genitalia.
Not to be outdone, males engage in similar sorts of contact. Both
males remain on all fours and back up against one another until their
rumps and their scrota come together. This action, called rump-rump
contact, is usually brief, but clearly pleasant for both partners.
Males also have sex facing one another. One of the partners lies on
his back, and the other, usually older, partner straddles him until their
penises come together. Both males have erections, and the older one
thrusts his penis rhythmically against the other male’s penis. De Waal
says that he has never seen either of the males in this sort of interaction
achieve orgasm. Nor has he ever seen any attempt at anal intercourse.
Others have also described “penis fencing” between male bonobos—
a much more rarely observed activity in which two males hang from a
tree branch facing one another and rub their erect penises together like
These activities are not restricted to adults. Juvenile bonobos also
often participate. De Waal describes one infant female who would often
jump on top of adults engaged in intercourse, sometimes press her
genitalia against her mother’s while her mother was engaged in GG rubbing with another adult female, and would climb on top of adolescent
males and press herself against their penises. The males would usually
respond with a few thrusts but no penetration or orgasm.
Bonobos also kiss, face-to-face, open-mouthed, tongues fully
entwined. Chimpanzee kisses, on the other hand, tend to be rather
perfunctory in nature. Chimpanzees never French kiss. According to 44 Between XX and XY de Waal, “this explains why a new zoo keeper [at the San Diego Zoo]
familiar with chimpanzees once accepted a kiss from a bonobo. Was he
taken aback when he suddenly felt the ape’s tongue inside his mouth!”
Bonobos have a fondness for fellatio—one male taking the erect
penis of another into his mouth to provide pleasure. Fellatio happens
frequently during juvenile play among male bonobos.
Masturbation also plays a big role in bonobos’ lives—both solitary
masturbation and masturbation with partners. Often a young male will
present his erect penis to an adult male who will “loosely close his
hand around the shaft, making caressing up-and-down movements.” In
addition, both sexes engage in solitary masturbation. The most regular
participants are young males and adult females.
Here again, it would seem that Desmond Morris’s claims for the
supremacy of human sex and for the sole female orgasm of all the species in the world rings hollow. For, as de Waal asks, why would female
bonobos masturbate if not for pleasure? Beyond that, studies by de
Waal and others show that physiology and behavior of female bonobos
during intercourse and masturbation are consistent with orgasms.5
Sex Before Surrender
But there is more to bonobo sex than play and pleasure. For most primates, life is competition, and the outcomes of their competitions often
determine the length and quality of primates’ lives. One of the most
routine of these competitions involves the fight for food. Who gets to eat
first, and who gets the most food? Often physical violence or the threat
of physical violence—dominance of one ape over another—resolves
these food issues. Bonobos, however, seem to have found another way.
According to de Waal, when zookeepers approach bonobos with
food, the males sprout erections. And before the food even hits the floor
of their enclosure, the bonobos start thinking about sex. Males engage
females, females seduce males, other females are GG rubbing, and a
near orgy ensues. No one fully understands why bonobos exhibit this
sexual frenzy, but experts like de Waal have suggested some possibilities. He suggests that, in this instance, sex eases social tension and is a Sex Versus Reproduction 45 surrogate for confrontation and fighting, which, as he points out, is not
unheard of in other species, including humans.
Competition for food is not the only conflict that triggers bonobo
sex. An encounter with a cardboard box or even a simple unexpected
piece of rope may be enough. When two bonobos spot the box or rope,
a little lovemaking or GG rubbing often precedes exploration of the
item itself. And bonobo females sometimes tra...
View Full Document
This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.
- Spring '14