I read with interest your column about the couple who wonder whether they keep getting into fights so they can keep having make-up sex. Are you familiar with the bonobo, a close relative of the chimpanzee, which resolves its conflicts with sex, often before the conflicts have arisen? Bonobos truly make love, not war, and the rest of us primates could learn a valuable lesson from them. Also, they're cute.
Ever heard of 'em?
Funky Monkey: Heard of 'em? I'm practically a member of the species. I happen to believe that if we'd all just take off our clothes and have sex all day long, the world would be a better place. And that's pretty much the bonobo philosophy. When a conflict arises, they resolve it with sex. When there's the possibility of a conflict arising, they ward it off with sex. And when they're just sitting around with nothing else to do? They fill the void with sex. Sex, for the bonobo, is a social lubricant. It breaks the ice. It smoothes things over. And when alliances are being formed, it seals the deal. An estimated 75% of bonobo sex has nothing to do with reproduction. They just like doing it, and like each other more for having done it.
And I do mean each other. For bonobos are not only promiscuous, boring field researchers to death with their constant monkeying around, they're what Sigmund Freud used to call polymorphously perverse but I prefer to think of as exceptionally well rounded. A male bonobo, at one time or another, will make it with each and every female bonobo. He will also make it with each and every male bonobo. And bonobo children are sometimes thrown into the mix, so maybe bonobos are polymorphous perverts after all. But you've got to hand it to a species - yes, they're a species, as close to us as chimps - that's so egalitarian. And so peaceful. Fights are rare. Everybody's too busy getting their freak on.
How has this come about, this sexual utopia? Researchers aren't sure, but it certainly has something to do with the fact that bonobo society is run - well, not run so much as overseen - by the females, who form strong alliances to help keep the males in line. The other way the females keep the males in line is by offering them a veritable smorgasbord of sexual opportunities. What male bonobo in his right mind is going to look around at all those available females, not to mention males (not to mention, though I appear to be mentioning it, children), and say to them, "You know what, guys, this just doesn't work for me." Chimpanzees settle their sex issues with power; bonobos settle their power issues with sex.
That's how Frans de Waal, author of Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, puts it. Because they tend to seek out the densest parts of the rainforest, especially when poachers are around, bonobos haven't always gotten the attention they deserve. And they were largely left out of the Darwinian theories that were floating around at the turn of the last century, theories that attempted to explain humans by comparing them to the nearest branches of the evolutionary tree. Instead, chimpanzees got the nod. But chimpanzees can be vicious critters - aggressive, possessive and just plain mean. How differently we might have seen ourselves if we'd used the bonobo as our ancestral guide. Instead of Man the Hunter, Woman the Slut.
Or something like that. If you ask me, we're somewhere between the chimpanzee and the bonobo, at least when it comes to settling our differences. We're capable of blowing our brains out for no good reason, but we're also capable of screwing our brains out for no good reason. Now, if all of you will please remove your clothes....