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bonobos, humans, sex, kids, community and work: an interminable conversation 1

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just being cosy

 

Canto: We need to face the sex issue, which is such a problematic one for humans, and far less problematic, it seems, for bonobos.

Jacinta:Yes, they don’t need a Me Too movement, coz the males are already scared of them. I mean the boss females.

Canto: Well it’s not just the males hitting on the females. In bonobo societies, it’s males on males, females on females, old on young, kids on kids, but with a minimum of fuss and bother, it seems to me. And it’s not all the time, I don’t want to exaggerate anything. There are no nymphomaniacs, whatever that means.

Jacinta: A pejorative term. The male equivalents are called studs.

Canto: Well, not always. Sometimes called sex addicts. And paedophiles of course. Suitable cases for treatment. And I remember a group calling themselves ‘sluts on bikes’, seeking to retool the term for their own benefit somehow. I think there’s a lot of confusion or uncertainty out there, about whether an overdeveloped interest in sex is good or bad. And of course there’s a big issue about sexual victims, which doesn’t seem a problem for bonobos.

Jacinta: Not a major problem, but the females appear to keep the males in line, if they go too far. After all much of the sexual stuff is just mutual masturbation.

Canto: Yeah, nowadays, human males – and maybe females – get off on porn, or their own fantasies, wanking in the safe confines of their bedrooms, imagining touchy-feelies rather than experiencing them. It’s quite sad. Bonobos don’t have that problem.

Jacinta: It’s certainly true that there are plenty of sexually unsatisfied human apes around. But maybe if they weren’t so aware of sex – especially the hypersexuality of porn – they wouldn’t be so obsessed with what they’re missing out on. Take orangutans. They’re mostly isolated, and I doubt if they spend much time masturbating…

Canto: Ah but they do spend some time on it. If the Gizmodo website is to be trusted, masturbation has been observed in at least 80 types of male primates, and 50 types of female primates, including orangutans. And I don’t quite trust that male-female disparity.

Jacinta: Yes, that’s odd. And the point is that the crotch area is the most erogenous zone for all mammals, surely – and then some. And it doesn’t require fantasising about sexy other members of your species. Think of the first time you masturbated…

Canto: I really can’t recall the first time….

Jacinta: It’s highly likely you found your pubes rubbing against something, and it felt, well, stimulating, so you rubbed some more. Nothing directly to do with sex, for us or for other mammals. When a dog starts humping your leg, it’s not actually humping, or thinking of humping, presumably.

Canto: So it’s all about chemicals, fireworks in the brain, or something? A dog humps your leg because he’s excited, and humping gets him more excited. But it’s the old chicken and egg – does it start with the humping or the excitement?

Jacinta: Well I suppose the main point for us is that masturbation is natural and common for many species, given the evolution of erogenous zones, especially the zone associated with reproduction. But I’m more interested in another phenomenon – reproduction. In spite of their interest in sex, bonobo females are unable, it seems, to produce more than a few offspring in their lives. According to Wikipedia, the most offspring produced by a human female, that we know of, is 44, 43 of whom survived infancy. That’s a woman in Uganda, whose last child was born in 2016. There are recordings of greater numbers in previous centuries, but they’re insufficiently verified. And this woman, Mariam Nabatanzi, wasn’t just showing off, she had a rare condition that caused hyperovulation. Her births included 3 sets of quadruplets, 4 of triplets and 6 of twins, and she might’ve added to the number but a procedure she underwent in 2019, at age 40, put a stop to it all.

Canto: Elon Musk would’ve been proud of her.

Jacinta: Yeah, well, I wonder if he’s helping pay Ms Nabatanzi’s food bills, though hopefully her unwonted fame would help with that. It’s interesting that both Franz de Waal and Jane Goodall mention, in the beautifully photographed Deutsche Welle documentary referenced below, that the ability of humans to reproduce rapidly compared to other primates has been a vital factor in our dominance of the biosphere, with its positive and negative impacts. De Waal suggests that this high reproductive rate is somehow due to the family structure we’ve developed, with the father helping out the mother, not so much directly as indirectly, as material provider and support. But I think this claim needs more support or more fleshing out.

Canto: Yes, it seems to fly in the face of what we know about bonobo culture, where the mother seems to be helped out by other females, and males, in a tight-knit community. Or is this an exaggeration? I recall reading that this community care, or extended family care, occurs in corvids as well. I don’t know how many chicks the average crow gives birth to in a lifetime. Anyway, it seems that the long intervals between births in chimps and bonobos is more psychological, or cultural if you like, than physiological. The mothers do much of the caring and feeding, and it’s exhausting. Humans have bottle-feeding for instance, and anyone can be in charge of that. I did it for my little brother when I was a kid, and even learned to change nappies. Human mothers are sometimes back at work weeks or even days after giving birth.

Jacinta: Which would require other carers. Maybe we’re not so selfish as we think. But then again, in the WEIRD world we’re having fewer children, and as other regions become more well-off they’re having fewer children too.

Canto: Except for Elon Musk.

Jacinta: Crows generally lay a clutch of 2-7 eggs every nesting season – that’s one clutch every year. About 40 percent of all the corvid species are co-operative breeders, a much bigger percentage than other bird species. Crows’ lifespans can vary wildly – some can live for more than twenty years, and of course it’s hard to say how many offspring they produce in a lifetime, never mind how many of their chicks survive to adulthood. But returning to humans and bonobos, both species make a habit of having sex for fun, though with bonobos it’s more of a standard thing – they don’t have killjoy religious figures or ’empowered’ celibates spoiling the party.

Canto: We’re certainly a long way from public sex. Even nudist colonies now seem a distant memory, and they were about as sexy as an old fart’s farts.

Jacinta: Well, that’s a bit rough. We’re just so much more diverse than bonobos, you can’t compare. Everything from lifetime vows of celibacy to sex dungeons, about which I know nothing.

Canto: We’ll explore them, no doubt. But of course bonobos, when they’re not eating and sleeping, have a lot of time for play. They’re not trying to create the next exciting technology or to quantise gravity or to become the richest entrepreneur in the jungle or to take over their neighbours’ territory or whatever. All play, even sexual play, and no work can be a bit mind-numbing perhaps. A bit of your old Freudian sublimation isn’t such a bad thing.

Jacinta: How about getting AI to do all the smart stuff and we just play?

Canto: Ahh, now you’re talking about the future, beyond where we’ll be, unless those longevity diets really kick in…

References

https://gizmodo.com/9-animals-that-masturbate-other-than-humans-1723592357

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_with_the_most_children

 

Written by stewart henderson

July 27, 2022 at 8:48 pm

a bonobo world: sex, at last

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Japanese women discuss exploitation in the sex industry

Decades ago I was attending a session at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival, a discussion with the author of a fairly sexually explicit and popular novel. During question time, someone came out, in ‘a voice peppered with petulance’ (a favourite phrase of an old friend), with this query: Why this modern obsession with sex? After all, he opined, the sexual act is trivial and perfunctory, it’s over in minutes, it’s of no greater significance and of probably lesser value than teeth-cleaning. Why not focus on more important matters?

The author and other panellists seemed non-plussed, to say the least, and certainly didn’t find any memorable rejoinder to this attack upon the source of all animal life. I myself was both amused and enraged – amused, because I’d immediately recognised the questioner as a history lecturer at the nearby University of Adelaide, where I was then a student. As it happened, a friend of mine had been dating the lecturer’s daughter, but he’d given up on her, telling me that she was the most sexually indifferent person he’d ever met. A chip off the old bloke, apparently. 

But I was angered and a little shocked at the panellists’ meek reaction to this – misunderstanding? – of the sex act. This obliviousness? This lifelessness? This lack of imagination? My mind spluttered to comprehend such a different mind. I spent the next few days thinking up a series of responses. ‘Well, if you’d care to read Jared Diamond’s pleasant little book Why Is Sex Fun? you might …’ (actually that book hadn’t been written then). ‘Have you never heard of The Joy of Sex? We had that book kicking around our house in the seventies, how about yours?’ ‘Well sex may be perfunctory for you, but many species put a helluva lot of energy into having it – far more than into keeping their teeth clean. Australia’s little antechinuses actually fuck to death when the time is ripe. And what about octopuses?….’

Anyway, trying to convince the odd oddity of the pleasures of rumpy-pumpy is probably a waste of time. Today there’s a massive sex industry catering for the converted and perverted, and it doesn’t seem to have led to the fall of civilisation. At least, not yet. 

Today’s online sex video industry (I eschew the term ‘pornography’) is clouded in myth and misinformation. For example, just how exploitative/life-affirming is it, compared to say, other service jobs such as bar or barista work? What does it mean for the status of women? And of course – just how ‘big’ is it? In the following posts, I’ll explore this minefield as best I can. 

First, let’s look at the question of the bigness of the business. As anybody who has ‘looked into it’ knows, anyone, young or old, with an electronic device, can access more sex video material than they could consume in a lifetime for absolutely free, to the point that one would have to question the sanity of anyone who would bother paying for the stuff. So my first question would have to be – how do these businesses make any money at all? 

From what I can gather, the sex video industry (which for brevity’s sake, I’ll call the SVI) is mostly divided into two spheres of production, Euro-American and Japanese. At least those are the two areas I’ll be focusing on – I suppose anyone, in any country, can put their own videos online, as long as they don’t have a heavy-handed government to deal with. 

I note that most articles I’ve looked at use the term AVI – for adult videos – bur as a teacher for many years of NESB young people, and also as a former foster carer, I can categorically state that non-adults are accessing sex videos online in large numbers. These sites used to ask viewers about their age, a kind of autumnal fig leaf, but this has since died of shame. Of course, there is the question of SVI performers, and the concern that young people, whether above or below the 18-year-old divide, are really giving free consent to have their bodies and antics gawked at. This is a vital issue given the given the rise of child sexual exploitation via social media in recent times.

But to return to the mainstream SVI, I’m not so much interested in how lucrative, or not, it is, as in how popular it is. First, I want to look at the Japanese industry, which, it strikes me, is less extreme, more accepted by the community, and generally more story-driven and certainly more eccentric and comedic than its Euro-American counterpart. This isn’t to say there aren’t disturbing elements, including a lot of fake-rape scenes, in a nation where rape stats are only one twenty-seventh those of the USA. In fact, reported cases of rape in Japan reduced by some 50% in the decade between 2003 and 2014, though they have increased slightly since then, probably due to a widening of the legal definition of rape in 2017.  

Unfortunately, it’s hard to get reliable data on the Japanese SVI. One website, for example, claims that about 14,000 sex videos are produced annually in Japan, compared to about 2000 in the USA, but provides no references. Still, it’s pretty clear that Japan has a massive sex video market, probably the biggest market in the world – certainly for its size.

To me, the most interesting feature of the Japanese SVI is that it appears to be less hidden, more mainstream than the Euro-American. It’s more ‘ordinary’, with scenes taking place in basic homes and hotel rooms rather than in the ‘palatial’ seaside residences of, presumably, Los Angeles or San Francisco. Many of the young women look like any attractive youngsters you might find in any shopping mall, and don’t feel the need to be tizzied up with ‘pornstar fingernails’ or revealing outfits. In fact, some are also in J-pop bands or mainstream movies. The atmosphere in these videos seems collegial, with a lot of beforehand-chit-chat and laughter. Yet, there are signs throughout of a male-dominated society, not so much in the role-playing – the female stars are often teachers or office managers, as well as ‘schoolgirls’ or bewhiskered cosplay cuties – as in certain giveaway behaviours, such as putting their hand in front of their mouths and giggling shyly when, presumably, asked a sexual question in interviews (I don’t understand Japanese). This may seem a minor thing, but in fact it’s endemic in Japanese SVs, and not found in other cultures. The noise they often make during intercourse  – squealing like a stuck pig, if I may be so blunt – is also something of a problem. It just doesn’t happen with Euro-American performers, and it’s surely not a sign of empowerment. It also tends not to be such a feature with veterans of the industry. 

The story-lines of Japanese sex videos are mostly absurd and somewhat formulaic. There’s the time-stop vids, the bus or train frottage leading to full-blown sex vids, the classroom-rape vids (whether of teacher or student), the vids of the kids having sex on the sofa while the family is chatting, oblivious, at the dining table in the same room, and so on. All good dirty fun, no doubt, but though the Japanese SVI world is almost mainstream, it still involves the compartmentalism that bedevils the human approach to sexuality, where there’s a place for everything and everything in its place. Is this compartmenting, or closeting, of sex, absolutely necessary to human civilisation? Opening the closet would surely reduce the exploitative aspect of the business – and allow us to examine just how exploitative it is, compared to say, the gig economy that many young (and older) people have to negotiate today. That’s an issue worth exploring.  

References

https://www.statista.com/statistics/864883/japan-reported-cases-rape-and-forcible-indecencies/

https://www.quora.com/Why-does-Japan-have-such-a-big-porn-industry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornography_in_Japan

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/japan-porn-industry-preys-young-women-113928029.html?_fsig=agO9hQSFSs0hFQMNGJpBIw–&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAALzI-DHcjFzVb52FKmkx_tAu21KNRP60E0o6Dy3BWkf5IYShInY8XWZDAVbzL7z1vHXkT7LeHtbOLJhDlGNtAykE7h2zbTCWFM9ceEVoW0d-zArmS6W2Zyiv06ZtKO9Wx092okhIV5CAP3UTpP8GBXjNfOnpLPByie1afoWV5V15

Written by stewart henderson

August 25, 2021 at 6:51 pm