The Sciences

Just How Much Sex Are We Talking About?

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyJun 4, 2010 12:59 PM


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This is the last in a series of guest posts from Vanessa Woods, author of the new book, Bonobo Handshake. Vanessa is a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and studies the cognition of chimpanzees and bonobos in Congo.

So there is some doubt floating around like a bad smell, that bonobos don't even have that much sex. For a species that only 25% of people know is a great ape, and those that do know them only really know about their great sex life, taking the sex away from bonobos is like taking the mojo from Austin Powers. Don't let anyone tell you bonobos have equal or less sex than chimpanzees. Like this article in the New Yorker or scientists like Stanford 1998: “Female bonobos are frequently portrayed as hyper-sexual, but mating frequencies in the wild are actually quite comparable for the two species of Pan.” When I was at Lola, I did a study. I compared the infant bonobos in the Lola nursery to infant chimpanzees in a chimp sanctuary. The nursery groups are isolated from the adults, so they can’t learn their sexual behaviors from adults. And they are wild-born, some of them just arrived and they live in a forest, so any sexual behavior is not from captivity and confinement. I observed the nursery in the context where the most sexual behavior occurs, when they eat together: Each morning morning, half an hour before the food, then half an hour during the food, then half an hour after the food. This is my histogram for the different positions I saw the bonobos babies having sex

And these were the results:

And if you don't believe these results, Harvard student, Tory Wobber analysed the hormone levels of bonobos and chimps. Bonobo babies have incredibly high levels of testosterone compared to chimps, explaining their sexual behavior. So for everyone trying to take away bonobo mojo - how do you explain this? *My new book

Bonobo Handshake is out now. It's available on Amazon, or through my website

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