Bonobo apes have sex that is fun and friendly

If you were a bonobo, you would have a wonderful life. You would live in old dense rainforest in a place where the Congo River makes a soft turn. It is a hot, humid and fertile spot, and you would have enough food – fruit, leaves, and whatever you would want.

You would enjoy life in the forest with your group. You wouldn’t fight, because there is enough food for all of you. You’re a peaceful crowd. And you would have sex. Several times a day, regardless of gender and age. Oral sex, vaginal sex, caressing and cuddling. Maybe only as a short intermezzo – but enough to give each other a nice time. It is your way of saying hello, bonding, solving conflicts and in general socializing with your mates.

You would not have any enemies besides humans, but there are not many of those where you live. You actually resemble humans a lot yourself – you have at least 98% of your DNA in common with humans.

If you were a female bonobo, you would probably be pregnant, or you would have a baby to take care of. Who the father is, is not important – it may be all the males in the group. You would take care of your kid until it is five years. If it’s a male, he would stay with you till you die, so you could have several grown-up sons in the group. Your daughters would leave home and find another group when they reached puberty.

As a female, you would have a kind of sisterhood with the other adult females in the herd. You would decide, for example, who should have the most delicious fruit. If you had high status, your sons would too – until you died. They would then lose their inherited position in the group, never to get it back.

What about intruders?

If you were a male and you encountered another group of bonobos, you and the other males would form a front against the others, and you would all shout and make a lot of noise. But you wouldn’t kill each other. Meanwhile, females from both groups would get together, and when you and the other males were done shouting, you would all be together in one large community group. You would enjoy yourselves together and have sex across the groups in a week’s time, only to go separate ways again after that.

The guys on the other side of the river? Well, they would live a completely different life. They would not be bonobos, but chimpanzees and gorillas. They would have to fight over food. They would not have sex with anybody in the group and not for fun at all. Females would have nothing to say with respect to when and with whom they had sex. They just had to accept what the alpha male and the others did. They would be lowest in the hierarchy and treated brutally by the males. The alpha male would kill infants he hasn’t fathered. Males would have to watch their back and always be prepared to defend their position in the hierarchy. Between different groups, there would be violent and bloody gang wars.

What can we learn from this?

If there are resources enough, it is not dangerous to share, and not necessary to have power over others to enjoy life. You don’t have to be the physically strongest individual to have a say in the group. And you can have sex with anyone without making anybody feeling threatened.

In the light of our own culture and everyday life, that’s kind of funny to think of…