Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Afternoon Delight

So, I’m sitting in this coffee shop reading Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods.  Along with the chimpanzee, the bonobo is our closest existing relative.  We apparently share 98% of our DNA with both species!  

As I’m reading, I notice this guy in the cafe pretty obviously checking me out and trying to make eye contact.  I smile and go back to my book.  My friend calls and I take the call outside.  While I’m out there, this guy comes out to smoke a cigarette and plops down right next to me.  It’s a little awkward trying to talk to my friend while he’s sitting there, and I wonder if he’s a psychopath or just has no social filters.  He’s holding out two tootsie roll lollipops.
“Want a lollipop?”
I’m not sure if he realizes this is the universal sign for I’m a Pedophile.  I politely decline and turn away.  He unwraps the orange one and pops it in his mouth.  He keeps watching me, but I purposefully ignore him and he eventually gives up and leaves me alone.

So, if we share 98% of our DNA with bonobos and chimps, why is it that when I mention bonobos, practically no one knows what I’m talking about?  And why are we taught in school that we’re descended from chimps, and bonobos are somehow left out of the picture?  I hypothesize there are two reasons: bonobos live in a matriarchal society in which a male’s rank is determined by his mother, and they have a lot of sex.  In other words, they are Slutty Feminists.

Back inside the coffee shop, the guy turns to me.  This time, he reaches out his hand and introduces himself.  He’s got an interesting name. 
“What ethnicity is that?”
I tell him I met a lot of Israelis backbacking in Guatemala and that I found them intense, smart, and attractive.  This makes him smile and blush.
“What are you reading?”
 “Have you heard of the bonobos?”
Of course he hasn’t.
I explain that I’m thinking of writing a play about them.  I tell him a little about their sluttiness.  He’s genuinely interested. 
I learn that he’s 32 years old and family-oriented.  I also learn that he’s a jack of all trades – he works in a law office, he’s a massage therapist, he went to medical school, and he wants to be an actor.  He stares deeply into my eyes, smiling unabashedly.
“Your eyes are so beautiful.  What color are they?  Honey?”
“Hazel, I guess.”
“I could stare into them forever.”
His honesty and directness are intriguing.  Is this guy for real?  He wants to hang out today.  I’m impressed with his bold proposal, but I’m not sure yet if I’m interested, so I give myself an out.
“I’m meeting friends later.”  Which is sort of true.

Until very recently, scientists further underestimated the significance of bonobos by referring to them as “pygmy chimpanzees” when not completely ignoring their existence altogether.  Woods admits that “even people like me who are familiar with chimps barely even know there are two ‘closest living relatives’ to humans.  Like an embarrassing relative, bonobos are frequently missing from the family tree.  According to Microsoft Word’s spell-checker, “bonobo” isn’t even a word.” (Vanessa Woods, Bonobo Handshake).  We like to think we’re not related to a bunch of slutty feminist primates, but we are.

The coffee shop is going to close soon.  The guy closes his computer and smiles wickedly.
“You’re distracting me.  Wanna get out of here?”
I have to admit I love this line.  We get outside and I suddenly realize I’m noticeably taller than him.  I hate that this makes me momentarily uncomfortable.  I'm a feminist, for fuck sake!  Besides, I should be used to it by now, tall woman that I am.
“Your place or mine?”
This sounds remarkably like an offer for sex but I’m so unused to men being this forthcoming that I assume this isn’t his intention. 
“Let’s go to your place, I want to meet your dog.”  I know this is a game I’m playing, I’m not really a dog person and I don’t really care if I ever meet his dog.  But I want to get off the street and I’m not bringing him back to my place.  Also, I still don’t know what I want from this guy.

In the 1980s, Frans de Waal studied bonobos in the San Diego Zoo.  “He saw tongue kissing, fellatio, and a kama sutra of sexual positions.  Before de Waal, people thought that nonconceptive sex, or ‘sex for fun,’ was unique to humans.  But bonobos were having sex in all sorts of crazy ways, including the missionary position, which no one had ever seen in an animal.  De Waal also concluded that bonobos were female-dominated and that compared to chimps, they committed very little violence.  He suggested that here was another model for human behavior, one that didn’t include war and bloodshed.” (Woods)  Of course de Waal’s findings inspired much backlash from the scientific community, who felt that his “image of the ‘make love not war’ hippie ape was an exaggeration.” (Woods)

I walk in the door of this guy’s studio apartment and I’m accosted by a sea of boy crap under an unfortunate case of overhead fluorescent lighting.  I feel like I’ve stumbled into a chimpanzee habitat.  I try not to look at the rumpled and dismal gray bedspread as I step over a pile of dirty boxers, heading straight for the only thing I feel comfortable focusing on in this room: a photo of two little boys on his refrigerator.
 “Who’s this?”
“My nephews.”
I stand awkwardly, feeling like I’m invading his space by staring at the mess, not sure where is safe to look.  He clears a big ol’ pile of clothes off the only chair in the room so I can sit down.  Then he starts packing a bong.  I try to make small talk as he takes a huge bong rip and starts hacking coughing.  I talk louder.  He puts down the bong and goes in for a kiss.  It’s wet and sloppy.  I pull away.  This room has really done a number on my libido.
“I don’t even know you.”  Honestly, I don’t care if I know him or not.  I just suddenly feel like I’m in over my head and I’m not sure what I signed up for.  Did I agree to this when I agreed to come over here?  Was I giving my unspoken assent?  He apparently enjoyed the kiss and goes in for another, crawling on top of me in the process.  I can see every pore.

He then makes the move that changes everything.  He turns off the fucking overhead light.  And leads me to the bed.  Is this really happening?  I met this guy in a coffee shop in the middle of a hot Monday afternoon and now we’re going to have sex in his messy apartment.  I have to say, the idea of this seduces me more than anything else.  I decide to go for it.  I kiss him back.  I like his directness, I like his passion, the way he touches me. 

A bonobo handshake refers to the array of sexual behaviors bonobos engage in as casually as humans do a handshake.  And coffee shop guy and I bonobo handshake the shit out of that afternoon.  We do it all.  Front to back, face to face, upside down and backwards.  And it’s really fun, casual, playful.  We roll around in bed like a couple of bonobos getting to know each other – occasionally stopping to talk and switch positions.  And neither of us orgasm, but it doesn’t matter.  It’s almost better that way because it’s never over – it’s this continuous game that has no finish line, no beginning or end.  It feels comfortable and mutual, and like a perfectly legitimate way of getting to know someone. 

I wish we could let go of our Puritan roots and get back to something older, more primal.  Accept the bonobo in us.  I’m not saying we should live totally in a free-loving, non-competitive society because, as my male friend put it “nothing would ever get done.”  But I love the idea of some balance.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if both sides were considered?  If we knew we came from both a patriarchal/ competitive/ violent society and a matriarchal/ cooperative/ sexual society?  Maybe we would stop slut-shaming.  Maybe we would have more women in powerful positions.  Maybe we would have more fun.  And meet in coffee shops.  And have more sex.  Lots and lots of sex.

Want to know more about bonobos?  This book is awesome...


  1. Lovelovelove this, as usual. I have also loved Bonobos for a long time----happen to know an expert in the field. She LIVES off and on with the ones in the San Diego Zoo. And I have often wondered why they're MIA in our genetic history. This is illuminating. And having jst returned from 3-months in South America, I completely agree about our persistant Puritan roots. Everything mechanical works here, and not there. True, nothing would ever get done, but.....I dunno....maybe a lot doesn't NEED to get done.

  2. If you haven't already read it, you might enjoy the book "Why is sex fun?" By Jared Diamond. Admittedly the book leaves out several ideas and scenarios regarding non-procreational sex including homosexuality and old-age sex etc. I have heard that "The Third Chimpanzee" is a more complete presentation. Missing pieces aside it is a fun and interesting read on the evolution of human sex/sexuality as we know it.

    1. Sounds interesting, I'll check it out- thanks! Also, about to start reading "Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships" by Christopher Ryan. About monogamy, should be interesting...

  3. Luckily Bonobos don't seem to judge a filthy room. Bravo to you. I'm a guy and I know I would have aborted the mission if faced with that studio apartment mess.

    1. YAY MALE READERS!! You make me smile... yes, the room was NOT hot, but I was able to block it out. Especially with the lights out... thanks for reading!


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