I just spent time watching our closest ape relatives, the Bonobos, at the San Diego Zoo. Just a couple of feet from me behind the glass, an adolescent Bonobo sat with his legs spread open, scooping warm sand and pouring it over his erect penis–then he’d stand up, shake off, sit back down and do it again. The human children watching next to me were jumping up and down, laughing and asking Mama to look.
After an hour of observing delightful Bonobo shenanigans, I witnessed at least a dozen episodes of casual sexual touch. I saw simulated intercourse several times (lasting only a few brief moments). Sometimes after a doggie style go-at-it (was it real, I wasn’t sure?) the two participants would completely reverse positions of humper and humpee–and within seconds go-at-it again. I thought, how many of us would like to try that?!
I saw one ape reached out and stroke the genitals of another as s/he (?) passed by. Neither seemed to make a big deal of it, or even notice. Mostly I noticed the family pod (about fourteen) simply spend their time grooming each other, looking around, watching others play, cuddling, and napping with their bodies intertwined. Not only in the zoo, but in the wild African rain forest (Demo. Rep. of Congo), these foragers spend only a couple hours ‘working’ and the rest is leisure. Gee, when did we get too busy for this kind of life?
These good-natured critters and are rarely observed in conflict. Bonobos sometimes copulate face to face, even though it last only about fifteen seconds. Scientists have recently determined that these apes, smaller and darker than chimpanzees, are their own species. They are biologically more related to us than chimps–actually we’re more like Bonobos than any other thing on this planet! So the mellow ‘chimp’ on the Johnny Carson Show was really a Bonobo! Unlike chimps, Bonobos would rather make love than war, and when needed, they simply offer themselves in a submissive sexual position. Sex seems to be the social glue for their peaceful existence.
The San Diego Zoo is one of only eight zoos in our country that have these critically endangered primates. They have two pods so each pod gets some private time and are on ‘display’ only every other day. The zoo keeper saw my fascination and informed me I’m not the only one. Middle school teachers bring their students to study the behavior of our endearing relatives. What a great lesson for adolescents in sexuality ‘outside the box!’ I was encouraged that we can still observe our natural pan-sensuality antics before we imposed layers of protocol, judgment and shame.
So, do I want to host a Bonobo Party when I return to Austin? As a sex educator and coach I still believe in getting permission, and that means a clear ‘yes’ before any touching (or hug even). I believe one earns the privilege of touching another’s body. Consensual Touch builds trust so you can go deeper. I don’t want someone grabbing my genitals as I pass by. When it comes to my body, I don’t want surprises–I want agreement.
I would like to give a party in the Spirit of the Bonobos–our closest cousins–with their playful touching, grooming, voyeurism, and sexing. We humans are the sexiest of all species (read Sex at Dawn, by Ryan and Jetha), and we are designed for ecstasy (and peace)! We humans get the best of all worlds; we get to express our desires…and fantasies! We get to choose our boundaries…and change our minds! We get to negotiate when it comes to sex…and fine tune the touch we receive! We get to create erotic partnerships and communities that feel safe and consensual. We’re the Naked Bonobos and more!
1 thought on “A Bonobo Moment”
Thank you for sharing your experience watching the bonobos. So very nice to hear about these sweet relatives!