Actual assertions of researchers: mild and specific in comparison!
Length of article: brief!
Impact overall: minimal!
The cries one calls out during sex can serve as status symbols advertising just how popular your partners are, according to new findings in the sexually promiscuous chimpanzees known as bonobos.
Automatic application of findings in other primate species to humans: obligatory!
For reference, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans are the three descendants of a common ancestor some millions of years back from all three of us; neither chimps nor bonobos are our “ancestors”, we’re three extremely different derivatives from that unknown common. Bonobos and chimps look enough alike and occupy a similar enough ecological niche to have not been identified as a different species until relatively recently, but their behavior- especially their mating systems- are extremely different. It should not be necessary to point out that humans are physically, socially, and sexually very different from both, but sadly it often is.
“Despite being our closest living relatives, bonobos are still one of the least understood of the great apes, whom we still know very little about,” said researcher Zanna Clay, a primatologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “This study sheds light on one of the most neglected aspects of their behavior, their vocal communication.”
I’m really only quoting this to point out that the researchers themselves know exactly who their results may apply to and exactly how significant this is, i.e. to bonobos only and not very. Any and all stupidity in this article can be sourced to the reporter, who sadly is probably doing exactly what Live Science and other pop-sci newswires tell them to.
And she’s right, bonobos are tragically understudied outside of their “hippie ape” image.
During sex, female bonobos cry out loudly. Females in many primate species give out “copulation calls” that are typically seen as ways of showing off how successful they are at sex, perhaps to attract more mates and improve their chances of having offspring.
However, female bonobos give out these calls even when having sex with other females, whom they cannot have offspring with. Now scientists are finding that just as bonobos often copulate for reasons having nothing to do with reproduction — much as humans do — so too can these calls serve a broader social role beyond just breeding.
This is mostly just here for folks who don’t want to bother clicking through and read the actual article, but this was a great species to study something like this in; bonobos are the poster children for “sex being more social than reproductive in a wild animal”. There are other animals that could probably qualify seen in the right light, but researchers are less resistant to ascribing a clear primary social purpose for sex to primates than they are in, say, birds.
After a year of study, Clay and her colleagues found that during same-sex mating, the lower-ranking partner always made the copulation calls. At the same time, among these lower-ranking individuals, the chances of crying out generally increased with the partner’s social rank, regardless of whether that partner was male or female. In this way, the apes are advertising they might be “in” with Mr. or Ms. Popular.
Also mostly here to fill in the blanks. This is also a really interesting result, especially as, noted earlier in the article, couples go off and hide out of view to have sex.
“Female bonobos achieve power by forming coalitions with other females as well as males, so getting powerful female friends, and advertising it, matters,” Clay told LiveScience. “Like humans, sex among bonobos is not only used for reproduction, it is also important in other ways, such as friendship and bonding, and keeping close to powerful others.”
This is a very important note to make, as bonobos are quite unusual among apes for having this social pattern. In most apes that live in large groups, males disperse from their birth troop and form coalitions with other males for social power in their new group, while females stay in their birth troops and are essentially born into their social order. Exceptions are more common among monkeys than apes, but it’s still the rarer pattern. (Judging by “what actually happens”, rather than “intuitive supposition based on home culture of supposer”, humans will do either or neither.)
If we were to apply this result to, say, north American humans, the logical conclusion would therefore be that the shy math nerd boy getting it from the star quarterback would be biologically inclined to holler about it as loudly as possible mid-act.
Future research can analyze whether these calls are indeed meaningful to listeners.
The most important note of all: the hypothesis is merely that until they’ve confirmed whether it means a damn thing to the listeners. The finding regarding social status is very interesting, but not entirely conclusive; the sample size is still fairly small, and it could be that the explanation is as simple as “all primates are intensely vocal animals and inclined to yell about it when experiencing any strong emotion, and getting with the popular dude/chick is exciting if you’re not as popular”.
Could this interpretation- advertising that you’re getting awesomely laid, uncoupled from any reproductive advertisement- apply at all, in any light, to humans? My experiences with dorm and apartment life say yes… but definitely not because of this study.