Tag Archives: animal homosexuality

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

In trying to understand “natural” sexuality, a look at the world of the bonobo is intriguing. Often loosely described as “chimps”, bonobos are in fact a quite distinct species, closely allied to both chimps and to humans, and may in fact be the closest of all primates to humans in evolutionary development. In addition to physiological and genetic similarities, they also show some features of sexual behaviour that are unusual in animals – but familiar to humans. For example, females remain sexually receptive for far longer than other species. Instead of being physically ready for sex for just a few days in her cycle, the female bonobo is almost continuously sexually attractive and willing for sex. Intercourse is more frequent than in other primates, although the reproduction rate is similar: there is a partial separation between sex and reproduction. Mating is more often face to face, like humans, than in other animals, where the dog-like position is almost universal. Both males and females become sexually aroused remarkably easily. Oh, and there’s a great deal of same sex activity. Frans De Waal, on whose research I base my notes,  says that the most typical sexual pattern is genital rubbing between females:
One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground. The two females then rub their genital swellings laterally together, emitting grins and squeals that probably reflect orgasmic experiences.
Males also engage in genital contact, including “penis- fencing”, and rubbing the scrotum of one against the buttocks of another.
De Waal first became interested in bonobo behaviour not for its sexual component, but as part of a study into primate aggression. In continuous observations of bonobos in a zoo, he found that a standard feature of the behaviour was sexual arousal and intercourse immediately before feeding. As soon as a caretaker approached with food, the males would develop erections, and the animals would invite each other for sex. (This is not just an aberration of captivity. Other researchers have observed the same association between food and sex in the wild: after a group had entered trees with ripe fruit, or after they had killed a young prey animal, there would be a flurry of sexual contacts before settling down to eat.)

De Waal later found that it is not just food that leads to sexual arousal, but anything that gets the interest of more than one animal at a time – in other words, anything that could lead to competition. In the zoo environment, when two bonobos share an interest in a cardboard box thrown into the enclosure, they briefly mount each other before playing with the box.
In some aggressive contexts related to conflicts between animals, there will often be genital contact to follow. Where one male drives another away from a female, the two males may later reunite for some mutual genital rubbing. Or if one female strikes a juvenile, its mother may lunge at the other female – but as with the males, this brief conflict will be followed by the two rubbing their genitals together.
De Waal thus concludes that sexual behaviour among bonobos is a mechanism to reduce conflict:

During reconciliations, bonobos use the same sexual repertoire as they do during feeding time. Based on an analysis of many such incidents, my study yielded the first solid evidence for sexual behavior as a mechanism to overcome aggression. Not that this function is absent in other animals–or in humans, for that matter–but the art of sexual reconciliation may well have reached its evolutionary peak in the bonobo. For these animals, sexual behavior is indistinguishable from social behaviour.

Sexual relationships are also used in a more positive way, to forge social bonds, particularly between the females. As with many animal species, bonobos live in clan groups. In their case, the males remain for life in their birth clans, so they will know all the other individuals. It is the female bonobos who leave, and start a new life as adults in a new clan, where they are strangers. They routinely approach one or two senior females, and attempt to establish a sexual relationship. If this is reciprocated, the association becomes permanent, with the older females acting as guardians to the younger. Later, as the newcomers themselves become established seniors within the clan, they may likewise accept sexual approaches from new female arrivals, and take on their guardianship.
Here we can point out that this use of sexual relationships to promote social bonding and avoid conflict has clear parallels in human society.  At the domestic level, the “kiss and make-up scenario” is well known, in which a quarrel between partners may be followed by particularly intense love-making. At a grander level, for many centuries of European history, formal marriage was usual only for the wealthy classes, to protect property and inheritance rights. At the highest social levels, dynastic marriages were frequently arranged to ensure political alliances between royal houses – and to reduce the risk of war. Elsewhere, other societies have used homosexual relationships between men in the same dynastic way, to promote cordial relationships between clans. This has been noted in medieval Egypt, and in China.
There is one other feature of bonobo sexuality that I found has a remarkable resemblance to some human practice. Freed from the tight connection between intercourse and reproduction,young and attractive bonobo females are able to use their charms for material gain.   Some females have been observed to approach males with an enticing food supply with clear a clearly sexual offer. After intercourse, the male will share his food with the female, who then leaves.
Females offering males sexual favours for profit: sound familiar?
Source:
de Waal, Frans B.M. : Bonobo Sex & Society, Scientific American, arch 1995, which I found on-line here
Books:

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners’ blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in “penis fencing” while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you’ve never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex – forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.
Squirrel Threesome

Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies.

Families and child rearing are diverse. There’s male and female pederasty, incest, and likewise butch/femme female relationships. There are single parents, between- sex parent couples, and same-sex parent couples, who may acquire kids by finding sperm donors (if female), surrogate mothers (if male), or by adoption. (In some species, male couples turn out to be more successful parents than between-sex parents, just like research suggests for humans).

As in humans, there are a range of “purposes” of sex, from the obvious one of simple pleasure, to asserting domination and status, to procreation. Bonobos even use it as a form of social peacekeeping. There’s also a negative side: rape and sexual violence also occur. I confess I’ve not yet come across the wildlife equivalent of consensual S/M, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Just about everything else is there, including transgender (routine in some species), transvestism, and the use of sex toys.

Yes, sex toys, as in dildos and masturbation aids, but instead of visiting a sex store or going on-line, they just make their requirements themselves. Bruce Bagemihl, in “Biological Exuberance” describes numerous examples among the primates, including female Orang-utans and Bonnet Macaques who manufacture their own dildos from plant materials, males who make masturbation aids by forcing a hole in a leaf, and others who simply use natural materials as they find them, twigs, stones, or fruit, for rubbing against their genitals or for inserting into a vagina. (There are not yet reports of male use of dildos, but no doubt that too will be observed some day.)

The use and manufacture of tools by primates is considered an important example of cultural behaviour in animals, and a forerunner of the activities that are so widespread among human beings.although many different forms and functions are evident in animal tool use, these examples show that nonreproductive sexual activities are part of the overall behavioral pattern: the primate capacity for object manipulation extends seamlessly into the sexual sphere.

Similar types of activities occur among people too, of course, and sexual implements of various sorts have a long and distinguished history in human culture. …Examples have been found from as far back as the Palaeolithic through to medieval times – including some Biblical references – as well as in the ongoing traditions of many indigenous peoples throughout the world.
-Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance.

Related Posts:

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Gay (Wild) -Life

 

At Seed Magazine:

Sex At Dawn The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Long, John A: Hung Like an Argentine Duck: A Journey Back in Time to the Origins of Sexual Intimacy

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .
Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), “natural” sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to “masturbate” – not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this “homosexual society”, almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is definitely not “normal”.

From “Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People ” (Joan Roughgarden):

“The females live separately from the males. The sexes associate only during the breeding season, from mid fall to early winter. A female is receptive for about three days, and will not allow herself outside of these three days.”

This emphatically does not mean that the males endure sexual abstinence for the rest of the year.

The males have been described as `homosexual societies`. Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual intercourse. The mounting male ahs an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation.
The few males who do not participate in male sex are described as “effeminate”,. These males are identical tin appearance to other males but behave quite differently. They differ from “normal males” by living with the ewes rather than joining the all-male groups. These males do not dominate females, are less aggressive overall, and adopt a crouching, female urination posture. These males refuse mouning by other males. These nonhomosexual males are considerd “aberrant”, with speculation that that some hormone deficiency must underlie their behaviour. Even though in physical appearance, including body size and horn development, these males are indistinguishable from other males, scientists urge further study of their endocrinological profile.
This case turns the meanings of normal and aberrant upside down. The “normal” macho bighorn has full-fledged anal sex with other males. The “aberrant” male is the one who is straight – the lack of interest in homosexuality is considered pathological. Now, why would being straight be a pathology, requiring a hormonal checkup? According to the researchers, what’s aberrant is that a macho-looking bighorn ram acts feminine! He pees like a female – even worse than being gay.
(Same sex mountings have also been described in several other species of sheep and goats in North America and Europe, and in farm animals).

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Also The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection (at “Seed Magazine”)


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer,

Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Lesbian Lizards

This is another for your wildlife rainbow collection: lesbian lizards. For a fun take on this from a lesbian site, have a look at “Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards“, at Wish You Were Queer, Girls

In the deepest darkest depths of Vietnam, two new herpetological (reptile and amphibian) species have been discovered. These creatures – dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ and ‘psychedelic geckos’ – were found by expert Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse on a 2 week expedition to Southeast Asia. The lesbian lizards are asexual and arouse each other by mock mating. This in turn causes them to ovulate and lay eggs – and produce clones of themselves.

Or, for a more orthodox, formal news report, try Seattle Times – but the link, which was working fine this morning, is down right now. Perhaps it will be  up again later.
These are by no means the only lesbian  lizards, as this report from Time also shows:

So far biologists have identified 27 kinds of parthenogenetic lizards—all-female species that lay eggs to produce exact genetic copies of the mother. On field trips in Arizona and Colorado, a team of researchers headed by Psychobiologist David Crews found that four of these species engage in mock male-female sex. An active female mounts a passive one, curves the tail under the other’s body, strokes the partner’s back and neck, joins genital regions, and rides on top for one to five minutes. The active female lizard always has small undeveloped eggs, while the passive female has large pre-ovulatory eggs. But there are cyclic variations in behavior and egg size in these reptiles, and roles reverse; the passive female of one encounter can be the active partner of the next. Says Crews: “We are now trying to determine whether this malelike behavior facilitates reproductive function.” Translation: the psychobiologist does not yet know why the females mock the male-female behavior of related two-sex species. The eggs hatch with or without the lesbian courtship.

Now, here’s the thing: Lee Grismer’s finds are recent, but the report in Time is from 1980 – thirty years ago! So how come people still don’t get it that same sex interactions are not in any way “unnatural”?
File it alongside those Bisexual Snails, and those peace -loving bonobos.
Also see additional QTC posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural? Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross