Fun, Human Nature, Play, Sex, Sexuality

Bonobo Handshakes

(About a 5 minute read)

Back around the turn of the 20th Century, there was in both North America and Europe a scandalous free love movement.  At one time or another, it seems nearly everyone on the political left either condoned or espoused it, just as nearly everyone on the political right secretly envied it and dreamed of someday encountering it.

Of course free love meant different things to different people.  For some folks — perhaps a majority of those who endorsed it — it meant little more than people ought to have a right to shack up without getting married.  For others, I’m sure it meant sex should be just as available and casual as quarters in the sweaty hands of incognito fundamentalist elders attending dimly lit peep shows on a Saturday night.

I myself once thought free love was grand and the freer the grander.  That was mostly back in the days when I was so young and naive I dreamed of becoming a Baptist elder so that I too could conscientiously attend peep shows I’d…um…always have enough quarters for the parking meters.

It was also before — around mid-life — I became aware of just how much free love disadvantages young women especially by almost forcing them to compete sexually with each other for young men.  That is, I began to see that many of my young female friends felt they had no choice but to go further sexually than they felt emotionally ready and genuinely willing to go.

Add to that, I became at least somewhat concerned that some of my young male friends were missing out on quality sex in pursuit of quantity of sex partners.  To be sure, that wasn’t a problem for most of them — who like young men at all ages of humanity, always seem to find it difficult to find even one partner, let alone thirty — but it was a real problem with a few of my friends.  Even though none of them were complaining about it anymore than I had when I was their age, I had since my youth come to regret the superficiality of most of my sex life back then.  I didn’t wish the same to happen to them.

So around mid-life I turned into a cranky old man when it came to sex reevaluated my fondness for free love, and found it wanting.

None of which means I entirely gave up on my dreams of it.  It’s just that I reinvented them.  I no longer dreamed of rampant free love.  I began to dream of rampant bonobo handshakes.

As many people know,  humans are just as closely related to bonobos as we are to chimpanzees.  About six million years ago, we had a common ancestor.  That ancestor spawned three lineages almost simultaneously.   Chimpanzees.  Bonobos.  And Humans.

In a whole lot of ways, humans seem to be half way between chimpanzees and bonobos.  For instance, we are arguably more egalitarian than chimpanzees.  At least we are when we live in small hunting/gathering bands.  But we are less egalitarian than bonobo — who live in what appear to be almost perfectly egalitarian matriarchies.

Again, a key difference between the three of us is sexual.  Chimps tend to be ruled by “strongmen” who jealously try to sexually monopolize all the females.  Humans tend to be led by individuals who have little or no real power over others, but who rather rely on their ability to verbally persuade others to go along with them (again, at least, that’s how it is in the hunting/gathering bands we spent most of our evolutionary history living in).

And bonobo — bonobo tend to be ruled by females who freely use sex to achieve the same results that chimps try to achieve via aggressive behavior.

To illustrate, it is said that if you throw a banana into a group of chimps, the chimps will fight over it until one of them — almost always a male — defeats the others and seizes the fruit for himself.  But if you throw a banana into a group of bonobo, the banana will not touch it at first.  Instead, the bonobo will have wanton sex with each other, only after which they will sit down to more or less equally share the banana among themselves.

Of course, if you throw a delicious banana into a group of humans, the rich guy will claim a right to nine tenths of it, then whisper to the poor white guy that the poor black guy is trying to steal “his” one-tenth rightful share of the banana from him.  Divide and conquer.  Works every time with the smartest species on the planet.

Chimpanzees use aggression as a means to get things, such as sex.  Bonobo apparently use sex as a means to defuse aggression before sharing what they have.  In fact, sex is used to bond bonobo together in so many ways, and so often, that it is called the “bonobo handshake”.

And that brings me to my fondest, most cherished dream that women’s rumps would swell up periodically like a chimp’s or bonobo’s in heat that we humans had evolved to use sex more or less like bonobo.

Of course, I wouldn’t want things to work out exactly like that.  I’d want us to have magically evolved some way in which pregnancies were totally voluntary.  And I’d want there to be no STDs.  But with a few such qualifications, I think it would be neat if we were a species psychologically equipped to “make love, not war”, and “shake hands” by shaking certain other parts of us.

It just strikes me that sex would be a wonderfully intimate way to bond and become friends with folks.  “Great!  We agree on which movie to go to this evening.  Let’s seal the deal!”  Or, “I’ve got a dollar, you’ve got a dollar, let’s split a fudge sundae!  But first, let’s shake hands!”  I mean, who can argue against great sex and half a sundae?

Questions?  Comments?  Naughty offers to split a sundae?

2 thoughts on “Bonobo Handshakes”

  1. Paul, you come up with some really interesting topics. I once did a research paper at high school on the sex life of the anopheles mosquito. Don’t ask me why I chose that as I have no idea! But I do remember it was rather interesting. I learnt a lot about mosquitoes. And tonight, just before reading this post I had the most hilarious chat on Messenger with a friend. About sex – phone sex in fact. Or rather, to be more specific, a substitute for it. The sound of a vacuum cleaner blowing would you believe. Until that morphed back to the sex thing. And here I am now learning about the sex lives of monkeys! What is in the ethers tonight ?!

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