The Bonobo Factor: Intro

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“It’s humans that have the hang ups. Sex in bonobo society is a mechanism to reduce tension. Sort of like a handshake!” Quote from a Youtube video posting. Here’s a quick view of bonobo sex.

Bonobos. Have you heard of them? More and more of us have. In Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s thought-provoking book “Sex At Dawn” we read this:

“Genetically, the chimps and bonobos at the zoo are far closer to you and the other paying customers than they are to the gorillas, orangutans, monkeys, or anything else in a cage. Our DNA differs from that of chimps and bonobos by roughly 1.6 percent, making us closer to them than a dog is to a fox, a white-handed gibbon to a white-cheeked  crested gibbon, an Indian elephant to an African elephant or, for any bird-watchers who may be tuning in, a red-eyed vireo to a white-eyed vireo.”

 

Pretty amazing… and sobering at the same time. Bonobos have only been studied fairly recently. When they were first discovered they were considered a ‘sub-group’ of the chimpanzees. For a long time most scientists considered the chimpanzee hierarchical, power-focused model of ‘society’ most like humans. Ryan and Metha point out that with more study of the bonobos and early human matriarchal societies, and deeper understanding of human physiology, comes evidence that we may in fact be much more closely related to them than chimps. Their book includes this passage:

Crucially, human and bonobos, but not chimps, appear to share a specific anatomical predilection for peaceful coexistence. Both species have what’s called a repetitive microsatellite (at gene AVPRIA) important to the release of oxytocin. Sometimes called “nature’s ecstasy,” oxytocin is important in pro-social feelings like compassion, trust, generosity, love and yes, eroticism. As anthropologist and author Eric Michael Johnson explains, “It is far more parsimonious that chimpanzees lost this repetitive microsatellite than for both humans and bonobos to independently develop the same mutation.”

 

Oxytocin is worthy of a blog post on its own. Maybe several. But for me this is a significant find.

So what if we are more closely related to bonobos than chimps? What does this mean? Well, first it means a lot of resistance. Why? Because bonobos are notoriously free and open in their sexuality. Bonobos have been observed to, “engage in sex to ease tension, to stimulate sharing during meals, to reduce stress while traveling, and to reaffirm friendships during anxious reunions.”

In other words, they have sex a lot. And it is primarily female-driven, because their societal construct is matriarchal in nature. They even have sex with males from neighboring communities, or tribes, when they cross paths. Make love, not war. This does not sit well in our ‘modern’ patriarchal world, with all its embedded hierarchies, where loving sexual energy is extremely ‘narrowed’ and constrained and often becomes power exchange rather than honoring union. The paradigm shift required to embrace a “bonobo-like” human existence would be huge! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask ourselves the question: would life be better if we embraced our bonobo-like nature?

Here’s a quick preview of that list:
1. More sex = less conflict.
2. Feminism can be very sexy.
3. Sisterhood is powerful.
4. Jealousy isn’t romantic.
5. There’s promise in promiscuity.
6. Good sex needn’t always include an orgasm, and “casual” doesn’t mean “empty” or “cheap”.
7. Sex and food go better together than love and marriage.

You can read Christopher Ryan’s original post here, or here.

Over the next few blogs posts I will reiterate Christopher Ryan’s comments about each point, and then follow with a response as to what I think that means for us, if we, indeed, embraced the ‘Bonobo Factor’.

Read Part Two HERE