I’d rather be a bonobo than a chimpanzees

Just A Little Green has long maintained the belief that human sexuality is polymorphous and infinitely adaptible, and can transform anyone into an object of desire, from juveniles to members of the same sex to other species. We arrive at this belief from self observation of our own sexuality, as it exists under the layers of conditioning, socialisation and repression. There is much “non-subjective” evidence that supports this contention, which is not my intention to cite here. But a corollary of this belief is that when polymorphous human sexuality is too rigidly repressed, and no outlets of any sort are allowed, you get a swampy breeding ground for all kinds of stunted, tortured and torturing acting out such as the paedophilia of the Catholic church, or the extreme violence of fundamentalist societies where sexuality is rigidly chanelled and controlled and where “deviance” is usually punished by death – take Iran and it’s treatment of homosexuals, woman accused of “adultry” etc.

Bonobo mother and child. The mother is 18, and this is her firstborn

I’m not suggesting that permissive societies are intrinsically less violent than repressive ones. I’m not sure that there is overwhelming evidence that this is the case. Acting out can be as big an evasion as repression – in either case what is at the core of desire is avoided and remains unseen. But the link between the unavailability of sex as a release and violence has long been established. Warriors in many cultures had traditions of abstaining from sex before battle, both because levels of agression would rise and perhaps because of subconscious fears about the impurity (and power) of women. Muhammed Ali used to abstain before fights, as did Zulu warriors. Apropriate sex between consenting partners of equivalent power softens and defuses…

In societies where unmarried men are rigidly segregated from women they tend to go around in wolf packs, either clashing with other male groups or predating vulnerable outcast women or men. In barracks and jails and other single sex contexts homosexuality – and not necessarily of the loving sort – may be rife, a stunted and agressive adaptation to the lack of available females (except for homosexual prisoners who will usually  not have the freedom to develop open, intimate and ongoing relationships). But if even the homosexual route is taken away, what happens? I’d be curious to know if there have been any studies done of this. In the absence of mindfulness, with no insight into the mechanism of desire, what do men – and women in single sex institutions – do with that burning itch?

The premise is that a climate of sexual opportunity, and a society where a certain degree of sexual freedom is legitimate, allowed, perhaps even encouraged and facilitated by the arbiters of meaning in that society – that society will be less intrinsically violent than one in which sexuality is ruthlessly repressed into “one size fits all” forms, and where “deviance” is driven underground because the censure and/or punishments are so draconian. A possible proof for this premise-thesis is the observed differences between chimpanzees and bonobo groups.

The bonobo is the “newest “ape,  classified as a species in 1933. Females with their young form the core of bonobo group,s and they get along well with one another and with males. By contrast, chimpanzees females often retreat with their infants to forage alone rather than be bullied by larger males or other females.

A juvenile female and infant male bonobo imitate copulation

Individual bonobos communicate constantly with body language and vocalizations. At least 20 gestures and calls indicate a willingness to copulate. An adolescent female will approach a male, making it clear that she wants to mate. Afterward, she takes some of his stash of cane. Such sexual bartering is commonplace. Sex, suggests Takayoshi Kano, the Japanese primatologist who observed bonobos in Zaire  / the Congo for more than 20 years, is used for apeasement to reduce tensions within a group when it comes upon food or encounters another band. By peacefully coexisting, bonobos can live in large groups, sometimes with as many as a hundred members.

Kano’s team has observed no infanticide or killing of males by males, as is found among chimpanzees. Males survive in equal number with females. Bonobos have rarely been seen hunting for meat in the wild, as chimps do. Froiendly feelings among bonobos may be linked to the sexual receptivity of the female. For almost half of her 46-day menstrual cycle, the female is in estrus or false estrus – signaled by a pink swelling. Like chimpanzees, female bononbos give birth at five -year intervals. Unlike them, bonobo females usually resume copulation within a year after bearing offspring. With females readily available, males do not need to compete for their favours. (parts of this post excerpted and modified from Vol 181, No 3 National Geographic)

In memoriam Peter Esterhuysen, of blessed memory, who based his character Tadashi in his play  “The Chimp Project” on Kano-San.

And see also polymorphousness-of-human-sexuality

This entry was posted in Green sexuality, Human Animal Relations and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply