Monkey Mojo
Step aside, Austin Powers

We all have a hairy, oversexed cousin who is kinky as hell. He jerks off all the time, screws anything that will hold still long enough, believes in female dominance, and gets it on in ways that make Austin Powers look like a eunuch. To top it all off, he's a pygmy!

See also...
... by Ryan McLaughlin
... in the Scope section
... from January 7, 2000

This not-so-distant swinging cousin is actually a great ape, called the bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee. The naming of this horny beast is actually a matter of some debate; some scientists feel he's a sub-species of Pan troglodytes, the common chimpanzee, while others hold the beloved bacchanalian bonobo as a separate species, one who shares more genetic material with humans than any other living thing. The realization that we have way too much in common with short hairy lesbians has been a benchmark in sex research.

Perhaps the proximity of bonobo genetics to our own makes the correlation of our sexual behaviors all the more enthralling. Bonobos are rampant bisexuals, engaging in sex as a solution to conflict, practicing oral sex, masturbation, sex for pleasure, sex as education, and even pedophilia. Face-to-face sex is just one position in the bonobo repertoire. These apes best the Kama Sutra with their varied positions, lesbian clam-bumping, and even circle jerks. Hey, humans do all that, too!

The similarities are astounding, but the differences really raise eyebrows: Bonobos have no reported incidence of murder or infanticide. When bonobo groups meet in the forest, they get excited and hump the strangers instead of fighting. Bonobo society is female-dominated, and because of the frequency of their coupling (eight or more times a day!) with polyamorous partners, paternity is totally ambiguous. Probably the most obvious difference between our erotic cousin and us is that bonobo genitals are HUGE! Dr. Frans De Waal, author of Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape (University of California Press, 1997), suggests that if human labia were proportionally as large as the bonobo's, chairs would need to be redesigned to accommodate the overhang.

Of course, humans with a political agenda have latched on to the bonobo like... well, like a baby bonobo latching on to its mother. Feminists and sex advocates paint bonobos as a hippie society where women rule supreme, screw whomever they want, and nobody gets hurt. It's all a beautiful picture, but not exactly complete. Bonobos do have it pretty good, but there is still an order to this peaceful anarchy. In fact, it's not really the hippie commune we might imagine. Bonobos have a traditional order system in which an alpha female rules the group, and each female is subordinate to the one above her. The males then take their places in the pecking order, with the last male being the lowest in the entire group. If a group of bonobos happens upon some food, they will often have sex to decide who should eat first. After the males get laid, they back off and let the women eat before they do.

Bonobo research has given focus to some revolutionary ideas about human sexual practices, and clearly more study is necessary. As the public eye turns to sex in the jungle, other scientists' work is surfacing with some groundbreaking concepts, too. Many animals apparently get it on in ways we thought were unique to humans.

Dr. Fiona Hunter, a researcher from Cambridge University in England, believes Adelie penguins practice a form of prostitution. Previous scientific thought held that these flightless tuxedoed birds were monogamous, so not only are the females cheating sluts, but whores to boot! Hunter noted that females were not only whores, but also practically giving it away at a price of a few nesting stones. The only consolation for the cuckolded male penguins is that their brides are wily enough to be paid before the act. Of course, some of the john penguins gave the females additional nesting stones as a form of tip after the deed was complete.

Infidelity, it seems, is a part of many bird societies. DNA fingerprinting revealed offspring from extramarital affairs in a variety of songbirds. In cardinals, seven percent of all young result from extrapair matings, with 28 percent in red-winged blackbirds, 35 percent in indigo buntings, and 50 percent in tree swallows. That's a lot of baby birds that look like the milkman.

In trying to explain infidelity, Drs. Baker and Bellis at Manchester University have asserted the idea of the "Kamikaze sperm." Baker and Bellis think some sperm are malformed and misshapen because it is their job to seek out, trap, or destroy sperm from other males. These "kamikaze sperm" occur in humans and many primates, but most other creatures have a nearly insignificant number of malformed swimmers. Baker and Bellis' theory, although possessing a cool name, is not widely supported by their peers.

Scientists also look at the size of the genitals for clues. Male chimpanzees, which are polyamorous, have enormous scrotal testes, proportionately about five times larger than orangutans, which are monogamous, and 10 times larger than gorillas, which keep harems. Chimps also possess a specialized penis more than twice as long as that of a gorilla. Appropriately, the scientist credited with these findings is one Dr. Short.

Chimps apparently can ejaculate at least four times a day, with a relatively huge amount of sperm per load compared to gorillas and orangutans. Sperm production per gram of tissue is unusually low in humans when compared to our simian siblings, but with 6.5 billion people on the planet, it seems to get the job done. Perhaps sperm production is overrated. The testicles of a right whale weigh more than a ton and account for two percent of its body weight, but right whales don't rule the planet.

Out of all this wonderful research, only one thing is clear: Lots of people are watching animals screw -- and they have doctoral degrees and government funding.

Ryan McLaughlin is a freelance writer living in San Francisco and working hard on his doctoral applications and grant proposals.