Bonobos Use Sex to Resolve Conflicts, Diffuse Tension

Image: Wikimedia

Bonobos: they’re just like us.

Researchers studying the sex habits of bonobos say sexual activity plays a crucial role in the social society of the primates.

Bonobo society is a bit more peaceful than that of their cousins, the chimpanzee, but, like in any group that lives closely together, conflicts do arise. When it does, bonobos use sex to diffuse the tension, according to research led by Zanna Clay and Frans de Waal at Emory University.

Bonobos are famously social primates. Image: LaggedOnUser via Flickr

In one study, they analyzed post-conflict sexual contact between 36 bonobos at the Lola Ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The bonobos frequently engaged in sexual behaviors like rubbing their genitals against each other, touching other’s genitals with their hands or feet, and occasionally, actual copulation after a fight to reconcile with their opponents and console victims.

“Bonobos are unusual among mammals in that they habitually use sexual contacts for purely social purposes, beyond their pure biological function,” Clay told journalist Mary Bates for Wired. “Rather than allowing a fight to escalate, it is interesting to compare, even to our own species, how bonobos employ sexual contacts to diffuse tension and restore peace.”

One hypothesis for this behavior is that cortisol levels are reduced when the bonobos rub their sexual organs, resulting in an increase in the “bonding hormones” oxytocin or vasopressin.

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