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Bonobo Taboos: Examining the Primate Hippy Image

Bonobos have sex with everybody basically all the time. Well, not everybody. 

People always think that when I say “Bonobos have a lot of sex” that they have sex all day long, just like the primate hippy image that they have.  But actually their sexual interactions are very short. They’re mostly like ten seconds or 20 seconds maximum.  They are more like brief greetings or brief reunions or after a fight they may have a quick sexual interaction. 

And they occur in all combinations.  There are really no taboos except mother-son sex doesn’t really occur.  So mothers have sex with their sons until they’re maybe three years old when they’re still little babies.  But after that, nothing happens between them, which is remarkable because Bonobos have sex with everybody basically all the time.

They have sex with their neighbors.  So, for example, the neighboring groups meet.  There’s some hostility between them but very soon there is sex going on and then grooming and so on.  And so Bonobos don’t have a lot of limits on sexual partners.  They can be of the same sex as themselves or the opposite sex as themselves.  They can be of different ages, but mother-son combinations don’t occur.  So that’s suppressed between them.  And that’s the only taboo that I think they have. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


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