The Bonobo Factor: Promiscuity

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 05 - There’s Promise in Promiscuity

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

All the casual sex among bonobos is arguably a big part of what has made them among the smartest of all primates. Until human beings came along and messed things up for them, bonobos enjoyed very high quality of life, low stress, and plenty of social interaction in hammocks. In fact, of the many species of social primates living in multi-male social groups, not a single species is sexually monogamous. Each of the arguably smartest mammals—humans, chimps, bonobos, and dolphins—is promiscuous.

What does this mean for us?

Whether said tongue in cheek or not, what Ryan is suggesting is that the bonobos show us that we can potentially enhance our ‘intelligence’ as a species by embracing a healthy multi-partner approach to sexuality. If that’s true, we have a long way to go. Most modern cultures consider women who openly sleep with multiple partners as “sluts”, or worse. And men, who seem to ‘get away with it’ more easily, do it mostly in secret, dishonoring their partners. Perhaps we humans are getting ‘dumber’ as a result.

Interestingly, Naomi Wolf, in her recent book “Vagina”, describes research that shows that women have a highly complex pelvic neural network that works with their brain to affect their consciousness, confidence, risk-taking and autonomy.

Clearly the female neural network is far more diffuse than the male and has a lot more going on: in women, there is a tangle of neural activity at the top of the uterus, at the sides of the vagina, at the top of the rectum, at the top of the bladder, at the clitoris, and along the perineum. ... [The female neural network] looks like the tangled skein of a hundred thousand golden threads that has been drawn upward.

What a beautiful description. She also notes how male pelvic neural networks are quite similar from man to man, but that “no two women are alike”. The pelvic neural network varies greatly from woman to woman. That is why each woman’s path to orgasm, and the type of orgasm she has, is so variable. It will be as unique as her wiring is.

The evidence shows that both male and female pelvic neural networks are strongly wired into our consciousness, and therefore affect our ‘intelligence’—the way we think about ourselves, about others and about our world. To have this wiring stimulated in different ways by different people, who each bring a different ‘energy’ and ‘resonance’, can only benefit us. While men can grow and learn from intimate interactions with a variety of partners, I believe women, with their far more profound and varied wiring, can benefit even more greatly from multiple, honoring, intimate interactions.

So perhaps, like the behavior of the bonobos suggests, we humans need to openly embrace the idea of healthy male and female promiscuity to continue to evolve as a “smart” species.

Neither male nor female promiscuity are currently conceived as a healthy practice, however. While male promiscuity is quietly tolerated, female promiscuity faces massive cultural barriers.  Research published this year by Zhana Vrangalova, at Cornell University, shows there is still virtually no tolerance for female promiscuity. Not even by females, who swim, like all of us, in the waters of patriarchy.

Perhaps this goes back to Ryan’s previous “sisterhood is powerful” point. The bonobos suggest that women need to rediscover the way they are naturally wired, to embrace desires they have been made to feel shameful for, to fully embrace the power of loving sexual energy, and join together to embolden a renewed, rich femininity. Change will not come by one woman acting in the face of the inevitable tidal wave of patriarchal judgment.

And enlightened men need to reassess their possessive tendencies. They need to see benefits to setting their female partners free, while still loving them deeply. And they also need to elevate their own promiscuous predispositions to a place of openness and honesty; honoring each woman they have the beautiful grace to be intimate with.

Read Part Seven HERE