The Bonobo Way: Peace Through Pleasure

Okay. Some of you will say, “This is not political news, why is it here?”  The answer is that it is political. No, we are not all going to “go Bonobo” (But maybe we should) but there are things being learned from these close relatives. There is no recorded instance of one Bonobo killing another either in the wild or in captivity.  

I don’t know enough about Bonobos, but there are good indications that their sexual life has been a great influence on their peaceful nature.

The Bonobo Way

Peace Through Pleasure

By Dr. Susan Block

Deep in the soul of the hot, wet swamps of the Congo, in the middle of war-torn territory, there is a tribe. It is here, in their wild, erotic Garden of Eden, that this lost tribe of peacemakers, humanity’s closest cousins, the bonobos, live and share a powerful kind of pleasure and make an extraordinary kind of love.

The Horniest Apes on Earth

Just in case you don’t know bonobo from bonsai, bonobos, classified as Pan paniscus, are also called pygmy chimpanzees in some primatology circles. Many scientists say they’re closer to humans than common chimps, though that’s debatable. They certainly look more like us, with their longer legs, smaller ears and more open faces with higher foreheads. Sexually speaking, the genitals of bonobo females are rotated forward like those of human females, so that they can have face-to-face sex rather than just “doggy style,” with the male mounting from behind, like most other primates. Basically, bonobos can do “it” in almost as many positions as we can, and they do do it—a lot.

Bonobos have some kind of sex almost every day, usually several times a day. Females are in heat for three-quarters of their cycle, and many of them copulate even when not in heat, a sexual pattern more like human females than that of any other mammal. Though common chimpanzees stick to basic reproductive sex, bonobos share all kinds of sexual pleasures. Several studies, including those by Brian Hare (2010) and Takyoshi Kano (1973), show bonobos partaking in various kinds of nonreproductive sex with multiple partners in a multitude of positions, including cunnilingus, fellatio, masturbation, massage, bisexuality, incest, body-licking, group sex, sex play with objects, and lots of long, deep, wet, soulful, French kissing.

Like tantric sex practitioners or two people very much in love, bonobos often look deeply into each other’s eyes as they copulate or engage in a wide variety of sexual behaviors we might call “foreplay.”

But that’s not all that makes our kissing cousins, the bonobos, so worthy of our attention (special enough to be our official mascots here at the Dr. Susan Block Institute, where the staff is known as the Bonobo Gang). It’s not just how they have sex, but how they use sex—to maintain friendly relationships, to ease stress (e.g., Don’t be nervous, come here and sit on my face), as a form of commercial exchange (e.g., I’ll give you a blowjob if you give me a banana), and to reduce violent conflict. That is, they seem to use sex to make peace. This might sound fanciful, but it seems to work, as—so far—bonobos have not been observed deliberately killing each other in the wild or captivity.

Apparently, all that hot sex just cools them out…

Scientific observation has revealed that social interactions among bonobos are far less hostile than among common chimps. This is not to say that bonobos never fight; they just do so a lot less. Unlike common chimps—and humans—bonobos don’t make war or murder members of their own species. Among bonobos observed both in the wild and in captivity, sex and mutual pleasure are keys to keeping the peace, reinforcing social relations based upon the give and take of sensual, erotic pleasure rather than on pain and force and fear.

And that, in a coconut shell, is why we love bonobos.

Bonobo Sisterhood through Sex

The power behind this astonishingly peaceful, highly erotic “paradise” lies in bonobo social organization. Unlike common chimps and the other great apes, bonobo society is not male dominated. Females are on essentially equal footing with the boys. “Female power is the sine qua non of bonobo life,” writes Dr. Richard Wrangham in Demonic Males, “the magic key to their world.” Female bonobos have strong relationships with each other, creating a chimp version of “solidarity” or “sisterhood,” even though adult females in any one group are generally not sisters, or blood-related at all. Bonobo female solidarity helps to keep the males in line; if a male is so arrogant as to attack a female, her “sisters” will all jump on him. By contrast, the males almost never form alliances with each other, either to defend themselves or attack females.

Why is this? One reason seems to be that bonobo females strengthen their friendships through “lesbian” sex, frequently performing what researchers call “genito-genital rubbing” or “GG Rubbing.” The Mogandu people have a much more appealing, expressive name for this act of rapidly rubbing their large sensitive clitorises and labia against each other: hoka-hoka. Sounds like a sexy sort of dance, and that’s what it looks like, a kind of bonobo tango. But it’s quick vulva-to-vulva action rather than slow cheek-to-cheek. Bonobo females grow closer to each other as they do the hoka-hoka, consolidating their social connections along with their orgasms. These highly sexed females are also far more likely to initiate sex with the males than any other great ape females (including humans!). They also tend to get first dibs on food. Why, you might ask, do the males, who are bigger and stronger than the females, put up with all that female power? Primatologists are still debating this question, but maybe it’s just that bonobo guys know they’ve got a good thing going: Just give the ladies some respect, and get plenty of sex, all year around.

Moreover, since the males do get plenty of sex—from confident, horny females who disguise their ovulation time—they don’t compete with each other so much. That is, male bonobo “sperm competition” or “sperm wars” go on mostly within the reproductive tracts of female bonobos, not between the males themselves. Bonobo males don’t partake in the deadly “wars,” raiding parties and other acts of ape “terrorism” so prevalent among male common chimps, not to mention humans. They also tend to resolve any conflicts they might have by mounting each other or engaging in oral or manual sex. As Dr. Franz de Waal points out in Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, “common chimps resolve sexual issues with power. Bonobos resolve power issues with sex.” The latter seems to be safer and more fun for everyone.

What I call “The Bonobo Way” is a very simple philosophy (after all, these aren’t geniuses; they’re chimps!) that we all know deep in our bones, but that we seem to forget in the midst of our busy, stressed, repressed lives:

Pleasure Eases Pain * Good Sex Defuses Tension And You Can’t Very Well Fight a WarWhile You’re Having an Orgasm.

The Dr. Susan Block Institute & Block Bonobo Foundation is dedicated to protecting, promoting and researching bonobos, as well as educating people in The Bonobo Way; that is, how these chimps use sex to maintain peace in their societies and how we can learn something from that about sex, love and peace on earth.

The Bonobo Way is an alternative Great Ape paradigm for human sexual behavior. Humanity has long been understood to have murder and war wired into our genes. John Mitani’s studies of common chimpanzees in Uganda (2010) are among the most recent revealing our pan troglodyte cousins deliberately murdering members of their own species and even making “war” on each other. Anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists have long used common chimp paradigms such as this to explain human behavior. But do they tell the whole story? Perhaps now bonobos, who are at least equally close to humans, can also help us understand ourselves, especially our sexual behavior, identity, fantasy and desire. The Bonobo Way extrapolates insights gained from primatologists’ empirical research observing bonobos, applying them to a human philosophy of keeping the peace through sharing pleasures. Indeed, bonobos can help us understand why we do some of the silly sexual things we do, without really making monkeys of ourselves. Of course, bonobos are animals (like us!), not angels, and we shouldn’t try to live just like bonobos (or we’d break our necks). Nevertheless, knowledge of the bonobo way can help us understand our own “wild” desires and bisexuality, help us cultivate female sexual power, turn violent feelings into peaceful, consensual behavior and more. Meanwhile, the actual bonobo chimpanzees are extremely endangered. At most, there are just a few thousand in their natural habitat in the Congolese jungle, plus a few hundred scattered around zoos and primate centers throughout the world. There may be even less right now. As war, the logging industry, human overpopulation and environmental degradation wreak havoc with their lives, their chances of survival drop further. Even though it’s against the law to kill bonobos, the bushmeat trade continues, with hunters killing adult bonobos for meat which they sell on the black market, and occasionally capturing babies to sell as pets to people who usually can’t take care of them. Fortunately, Lola ya Bonobo, under the direction of Claudine André, provides sanctuary for orphaned babies. But it and other bonobo conservation efforts need your help. The wars in the Congo are especially devastating to all forms of life in that rain forest, including the bonobos. Time is running out quickly. Our hairy, horny, kissing cousins will simply die out very soon if we humans don’t make an active effort to help them. For more information about what you can do to help, call  213.670.0066 or email us at Please report any broken links to

“The Bonobo Way” is a revised excerpt from Dr. Block’s book, The 10 Commandments of Pleasure.

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