Sex Would Be Simpler if We Were Bonobos

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Sex is complicated. A lack of communication, psychologists and couples therapists are fond of telling us, is largely to blame. If only we were more open about our desires and intentions, then women wouldn’t be wonder, “Will he ever call me?” and bemused men wouldn’t speculate, “Is she flirting with me?” The era of mixed signals would be over. Though likely too good to ever be true, this utopian vision of human sexual relations could become a reality if only we learned some communication skills from our bonobo cousins.

Like humans, bonobos are Great Apes, a group that also includes orangutans, chimpanzees, and gorillas. However, there is a particular behavioral trait that is quite distinctive among the bonobos. Smithsonian describes it best:

“While chimpanzees and gorillas often settle disputes by fierce, sometimes deadly fighting, bonobos commonly make peace by engaging in feverish orgies in which males have intercourse with females and other males, and females with other females. No other great apes… indulge themselves with such abandon.”

Wow. The free-loving hippies at Woodstock couldn’t hope to achieve such hedonistic levels of orgasmic bliss.

Not only are bonobos liberal in their lovemaking, they also aren’t shy about requesting it. Researchers report in the journal Scientific Reports that wild female bonobos will make blatant gestures asking for genital-on-genital rubbing. Subtlety is not their specialty. The two moves the scientists observed were foot-pointing, in which the female used her foot to point at her genitals, and the “hip shimmy,” in which she wiggled her genitals to mimic rubbing. Some 83% of the time, another female responded, giving the signaller exactly what she wanted.

See? Communication works.

So, what is the point of female genital-on-genital rubbing? It appears to be a mechanism to reduce social tension and to increase cooperation, particularly when limited food supplies are at stake.

Finally, it may be worth noting that despite their rampant canoodling, bonobos are an endangered species, mainly because their human cousins don’t care enough to protect them or their habitat. On the bright side, at least they’re going out with a bang.

Source: Pamela Heidi Douglas & Liza R. Moscovice. “Pointing and pantomime in wild apes? Female bonobos use referential and iconic gestures to request genito-genital rubbing.”Scientific Reports 5, Article number: 13999. Published: 11-Sept-2015. doi:10.1038/srep13999