These Swingers Don’t Need Vines
Metroland - Feb 9, 2006
By Glenn Weiser

Primates at play mirror human sexual behavior (or is it vice versa?)

Bisexuality? Masturbation? Gangbanging? Prostitution? Checking out porn? All well within the range of normal human behavior, you’d probably say, if you were a blue-state type at least. What may surprise you, though, is that scientists have observed all these erotic pastimes and more in monkeys and apes, which share a common biological ancestor with humans.

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution remains under assault by the religious right and, according to polls, is accepted in its purely secular form by an appallingly low 18 percent of the American public, so the visionary English naturalist needs all the help he can get these days. The familiar-sounding lusty monkeyshines of our primate cousins provide anecdotal and often amusing indications that—despite the ranting of television evangelists—the thesis laid out by Darwin in his The Descent of Man remains right on the money.
Even though Darwin’s groundbreaking book was published in 1871, modern research into how primates interact didn’t begin until the 1920s, according to the 1963 book Primate Social Behavior, an anthology of early field studies of monkeys and apes around the world, edited by Charles H. Southwick. It was in the jungles and mountains of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean that scholars first saw an abundance of human traits, including a variety of sexual activities, mirrored in primates.

First, sex and power are frequently linked in monkeydom. In many species, the biggest adult male in a tribe has the first choice of the estrous, or sexually receptive, females, as well as food. Sound like politics? Consider this example: In observations of the Japanese macaque, researchers found the females and their young clustered in the center of the tribe with the adult males, while the adolescent males were relegated to the fringes of the group. As the adolescents grew, they would approach the mothers and hug their infants in hopes of romancing the females. Now, think of politicians running for office kissing babies while working a crowd. Score one for Darwin.

Mating habits vary among primate species, and remind one of different types of people. The typical male gibbon, for example, is a respectable family man, having a largely monogamous relationship with his mate and raising their young with her. That’s more than you can say for a lot of human fathers. The howler monkey is a free-loving hippie, sharing females communally with his fellow males. On the other hand, the adult baboon is a despotic lout—he will copulate forcibly with unreceptive females and keep harems for himself, leaving the younger males deprived until they are old enough to challenge the authority of the adult males.

Humans can be, if anything, more extreme. Many of history’s famous rulers have kept harems, the most celebrated being that of the Ottoman Turkish sultans in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, which numbered up to 800 concubines. As for mass rape by a dominant male, 16 million people in Asia today can genetically trace their ancestry back to an overgrown baboon named Genghis Khan who impregnated thousands of women during his bloody conquests in the 13th century.

Having a stable of lovers is not just for male primates. An aroused female rhesus monkey will have up to three males in a row. Still, that pales next to the purported record racked up by American porn actress Lisa Sparxxx of fucking 919 times in a single day, Oct. 16, 2004, in a three-woman contest at the Eroticon Convention in Poland.

Monkeys and apes don’t limit themselves to heterosexual copulation. Although no exclusively gay primates are mentioned in Southwick’s book, scientists noted homosexual primate activity in the form of oral sex. Males did not stimulate each other to the point of ejaculation this way, though—they reserved that for mating with females. And although males were also observed masturbating (remember the old phrase “spanking the monkey”?), that too was never taken to climax.

Among humans, famed sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey found in the 1940s that 37 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women he interviewed stated they had least one homosexual encounter resulting in orgasm, and that 92 percent of the men and 62 percent of the women admitted to having masturbated.

Primates have a penchant for vice, too—some like porn, and others will pay for sex. Last year, researchers studying male macaques found, that, given the choice between seeing photos of low-status males and getting a greater amount of juice or viewing butt shots of female macaques and receiving lesser quantities of juice, the monkeys opted for the derrieres. (Strangely, a study published last year in the journal Biological Psychology found that human women—but not men—were sexually aroused by watching films of monkeys getting it on.)

In another 2005 study, scientists taught capuchins how to use inch-wide metal discs as money that could be cashed in for fruit. A male was seen giving a coin to a female, who mated with him and then promptly handed in the token for food. Maybe the world’s oldest profession is much older than anyone thought.

The horniest monkeys of all are bonobos, or pygmy chimpanzees, which have sex roughly every 90 minutes. (They also have 98 percent of our genetic makeup.) With their habit of easing social tensions by rubbing their genital areas together in same-sex as well as opposite-sex pairings, bonobos are also the lap dancers of the primate world.

The striking sexual parallels between people and primates give us a glimpse of how the hand of evolution has shaped our desires over the ages, and suggest that much of what some call sin is in fact only the innocent sport of Nature.

Index of Metroland Articles by Glenn Weiser    ©2006 by Glenn Weiser. All rights reserved.  



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