Bonobos, Barnacles, and Evolution’s First Blowjob

In an eerie example of synchronicity, Australian scientist Vanessa Woods’ book Bonobo Handshake (great review here) just showed up in my inbox the day I spotted her post over at Psychology Today on who invented the blowjob.

Now, the last time I discussed Psych Today, the veins on my forehead were later said to have throbbed memorably. This is nothing like that. Woods responds to a reader question:

 

My name is Alex, and I have a question that I hope you can answer for me. The other week my girlfriend asked me who came up with the idea of a blowjob, and how did they think to do it in the first place. She was thinking that it was something invented in recorded history. As an educated guess I told her that it [was] probably something our early hominid ancestors came up with.

[Link.]

 

Alex is certainly not the first person to ask this question; I’ve been hearing about it since at least the ’90s, and if I could find that ’90s-era Cherry Poptart comic I remember with the Clan of the Cave Bear parody, I’d prove to you beyond the shadow of a doubt that Cherry herself went back in time and invented felatio.

Nonetheless, the hominid Alex found most readily when poring through the Google results for crazed monkey hummers was the esteemed Ms. Woods, now a Research Scientist in Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University.

The good-natured Woods is down with that:

It has been my lifelong dream that I come up in the google search of oral sex + monkeys. Now I can die happy.

[Link.]

Thankfully, she does not do so before she answers the question, which she does with a rather graphic photograph of a (clearly) male bonobo astride another bonobo’s face. (Recipient bonobo’s gender undetermined.):

Humans may have perfected the art, but I’m afraid bonobos were there first among primates.

Woods actually (kinda) gives the prize to the barnacles, but…let’s not go there for the moment.

Sadly, following Woods’ illuminating answer, Alex proves amusingly unclear on the concept — in context, a trait somewhat tragic, since he and his girlfriend are already talking about sex (good) and prehistory (even better) and hominid evolution (better still!) and now ape sex (best of all!!!). But Alex responds:

If you were to do a film documentary called “Bonobo Sutra…The Real Wild Sex ” you would have every guy with a TV watching it.  And you know that they would get their wife or girlfriend to watch with them just so they could say “See, it’s natural for me to want to do that…” or… “See, now doesn’t that look better than chocolate?”  Then you could add lots of educational info.

Oh, Alex…Alex, Alex…sweet, naive Alex…W00t! for you on the suggestion about educational info, but boo on you for furthering the myth that women don’t like to give blowjobs. Frankly, guys with girlfriends who share even a passing interest in great ape sexual habits are, I hope, un-clueless enough to realize that some women do and some women don’t like to give blowjobs. And, while we’re at it, some men and some women do and some don’t like female-female tribadism, face-to-face sex, tongue kissing and other bonobo delights.

Charming Alex has fallen prey to the widespread myth that it’s a straight guy’s job to spend his life begging his girlfriend to give him head. For the record, my anecdotal information suggests that straight men tend to get a lot more head when they accept two simple scientific facts facts: first, there is no better than chocolate, and the best thing about blowjobs and chocolate is that you don’t have to choose.

I’m looking forward to diving into Woods’ memoir as part of my academic readings on two of my recent obsessions: 1) The Second Congo War and 2) rampant delirious sex orgies. Isn’t it awesome when our reading can overlap like that?

For that reason, I think it’s worth mentioning a few other things about Woods, bonobos, and Congo.

Bonobo Handshake is part-memoir, part-meditation based on Australian scientist and Discovery Channel writer Woods’ time studying bonobos in both the Republic of the Congo (usually known outside the English-speaking world as Congo-Brazzaville) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as Congo-Kinshasa) with her primatologist husband Brian Hare. The bonobos are a great ape native to that region, having speciated a couple million years ago from the common chimpanzee, with which they share a genus, because of the geographical isolation provided by the width of the Congo River. Bonobos are known as the most peaceful great ape species, far more peaceful than the common chimpanzee. The bonobos enjoy much greater mellow, sadly, than the people of the DRC, who starting in the ’90s suffered under one of the largest and most destructive war in human history, 12+ years of warfare resulting in more than 5 million deaths. There was also a nasty civil war in Congo-Brazzaville in the ’90s.

And how do our cousins the BoBo’s keep things frosty in the jungle? Sex! Sex, sex, sex sex sex! Rampant, unadulterated crazed delirious sex! Sex, I tell you, sex sex sex! Females are in heat for three-quarters of their cycle, and will couple even when they’re not in heat. Additionally, homosexual activity has been observed extensively among bonobos. Seriously, the bonobos appear to bone all the time, reacting to virtually any stress in the environment (including, like, finding a new food source) by having sex in myriad variations. They’re the only non-human species observed to fuck face-to-face, engage in oral sex and French kiss; female pairs have been seen engaging in tribadism both within the family group and without it. They don’t appear to form individual sexual partnerships. Their society is also (probably) matriarchal.

All those things have made bonobos the darling mascot of those of us out here in the fruitcake literati sex-fringe. Susan Block has a great page about the bonobos at Bonobofoundation.org, which also concerns itself with the threat of bonobo extinction. She’s made bonobos one of her many obsessions, as have many other sexual behavior theorists and commentators.

My guess is, Alex, when a male bonobo is attempting to work his boner magic on a female bonobo, he does not pop in Oral Fixation #16 and say to her, “See? It’s a highly evolved act.” I’m not a great ape expert, but I’d lay odds that what Mr. Bonobo says to Ms. Bonobo is, “Hey, baby. How ’bout if I do you first?”

That works wonders in any intelligent species…including, I’ll wager, ones yet to evolve.

Image from Edifying Spectacle.

 

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