Bonobos Monkeys Use Sex to Keep Social Order

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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The bonobo, a highly sexual primate, shares 98 percent of its DNA with people. Only found on the remote, densely forested banks of the Congo River in Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo, bonobos, along with chimps, are the closest primates to humans. Unlike chimps, however, bonobos are hypersexual and prone to experimentation.

“Whereas the chimpanzee shows little variation in the sexual act, bonobos behave as if they have read the Kama Sutra, performing every position and variation one can imagine,” biologist Frans de Waal said in National Geographic’s March Issue.

Bonobos have been observed practicing kissing, genital caressing by hand, oral sex, as well as a great deal of homosexual tendencies and sex acts including more than one partner. In an essay by David Quammen, he reports the “genito-genital rubbing by two estrous females, who smoosh their swollen vulvas back and forth against each other in a spate of feverish sisterly cordiality.”

But these sexual escapades rarely lead to orgasm, rather they are social activities that glue together their female-run society. "Their social purpose seems to be communication of various sorts: expression of goodwill, calming of excitement, greeting, tension relief, bonding, solicitation of food sharing, and reconciliation. To that list of benefits we might also add sheer pleasure and (for the juveniles) instructional play. Varied and frequent and often nonchalant, sex is a widely applied social lubricant that helps keep bonobo politics amiable," said Quammen.

These “friendly” behaviors are thought to limit violence and aggression. Unlike chimps and gorillas, bonobos live on the Congo’s left bank maintaining their position at the top of the food chain. They do not have to wage raids on neighboring primates for territory. Living in troops led by alpha females, they forage for food in groups of 15 to 20.

First discovered in 1927, they were referred to as pygmy chimpanzees. Although they share many traits with chimps, bonobos tend to be leaner, with smaller heads and longer legs.

Source: NY Daily News