, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 767-786

Nonconceptive Sexual Behavior in Bonobos and Capuchins

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Abstract

Sexual behavior by infecundable females, and by same-sex and adult-immature dyads, occurs in wild and captive bonobos (Pan paniscus). Proposed functions of these behaviors, in social primates generally, include practice, paternity confusion, exchange, and communication as well as appeasement. We used this framework to interpret and to compare observations of sexual behavior in a captive bonobo group and a wild white-faced capuchin (Cebus capucinus) group. In both species, (a) sexual behavior was no more frequent in cycling females than in pregnant or lactating females and (b) same-sex and adult-immature dyads engaged in as much mounting or genitogenital contact as adult heterosexual dyads did. The species differed in that (a) bonobos engaged in sexual behavior 65 times as frequently as capuchins, (b) only bonobos engaged in sexual contact other than ventrodorsal mounting during focal observation, and (c) bonobo sexual contact was concentrated most heavily in socially tense situations in adult female–female dyads, whereas capuchin sexual contact was concentrated most heavily in socially tense situations in adult male–male dyads. These data and published literature indicate that (a) practice sex occurs in both species, (b) paternity confusion may be a current function of C. capucinus nonconceptive sex, (c) exchange sex remains undemonstrated in capuchins, and (d) communication sex is more important to members of the transferring sex—female bonobos and male capuchins—than to members of the philopatric sex.