What do we know about where bdsm comes from? 2 Other species

Chimps and bonobos both use submissive sexual display to defuse confrontations. The ape who figures that he or she will lose a fight, if a fight gets started, assumes a sexually receptive position and holds it for the dominant’s consideration.

These are baboons, who are also classed as higher primates. I couldn't find a good bonobo rump presentation pic.

Presentation. These are baboons, who are old world monkeys and not as closely related to us as chimps or bonobos. But I couldn’t find a good bonobo rump presentation pic in which they weren’t already fucking.

Generally, that involves putting hands and feet on the ground, with their rump and genitals up and offered to the ape our chimp or bonobo doesn’t want to fight. Alternatively, the ape who doesn’t want a fight lies on their front, on the ground, with their rump arched up so that their genitals are vertically presented. Hey, they both work.

Usually this is reported as something that female apes and less dominant male apes do to appease dominant males. But it’s more flexible than that: male apes have also been observed offering the submissive presentation posture to dominant female apes, and female apes may offer it to other females.

The dominant ape may accept the display alone as being enough to establish friendly relations, or he or she may mount the submissively presented ape and make a few pelvic thrusts just to drive the point home. But with that, confrontation is over and peace is restored. The dominant and submissive ape may fuck at that point, but they don’t always.

The relevance to bdsm is fairly obvious. The submissive primate experiences fear, and the dominant experiences an emotion that may not have a name: let’s call it “conquest”. That tension builds up to a climactic point, and is then resolved in sexuality. That’s strongly reminiscent of the way human bdsm works, and pleasures us.

Presented. With a dash of color.

Presented. With a dash of color.

The submissive presentation postures that our chimp and bonobo cousins adopt arouse strong sexual reactions in humans, too, especially humans who enjoy bdsm.

It’s not just pleasurable for the human dominant who observes the submissive in that posture; it’s sexy for the submissive to place herself or himself that way.

My own reaction to being offered that submissive posture, at least from a submissive I desire, is very strong and very sexual, and it does seem to by-pass thought.

That’s not to say it’s innate or genetic, whatever “genetic” would even mean in relation to behaviour this complicated. It’s probably largely a learned behaviour and response in chimps, bonobos and humans, and some other apes, and it probably does build on some genetic elements.

But the link between dominance-submission and sex is part of a shared primate culture that doesn’t just pre-date language; it pre-dates hominids. (It’s arguably present in non-primates as well, but I’m only writing about our evolutionary neighbourhood.)   

There’s something else we bdsm-loving humans may have adopted from our primate cousins: an interest in what Aldous Huxley called “the gorgeous buttocks of the ape”. But we can talk about asses tomorrow. 

Bonobos. The bonobo female looking very relaxed. Yhis has no great relevance. I've just always liked this photo.

Bonobos. The bonobo female looking very relaxed. This has no great relevance to the topic. I’ve just always loved this photo.

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