Animal Homosexuality in Bonobos- Pleasure or Social Bonding?

Bonobo Homosexuality

Bonobo Homosexuality

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Pleasure seeking activities or Hedonic Ethology and it’s association with Animal Homosexuality has been widely documented and debated on the internet and the scientific world. However, it remains an elusive and under-researched topic till today. In this article, we will try to examine a controversial animal, the Bonobo or pan paniscus to unravel the link between their pleasure-seeking activities and their acts of homosexuality.

In Hedonic Ethology, since pleasure-seeking activities such as masturbation and fellatio has no effect on procreation. Why do animals still engage in such behaviour? Scientists suggest several reasons; firstly, pleasure is adaptive and is a product of evolution. Pleasure seeking stimulates complex sensory systems that enable animals to perceive environment and react to different forms of stimuli, the evolutional benefit of pleasure seeking activities rewards the individual for performing behavior that promote survival and bonding.

Secondly, pleasure-seeking encourages animal play, or simply put, having fun. It enables greater social bonding between communities of different individuals and social learning takes place from the observation of these behavior. Since learning stems largely from the observation and the interaction with other animals, animal play becomes evidently important to teach younger offsprings to learn the actions required for sexual behavior when they reach sexual maturity.

Currently, at least 300 species of vertebrates are known to practice homosexuality (Bagemihl, 1999). But homosexuality has been termed as ‘unnatural’ or ‘maladaptive’ since it has no procreational purpose.

In Bonobos, researchers have found that both male and female bonobos engage in sexual behavior with the same or opposite sex. 75% of all their sexual activity are bisexual. Some scientists, such as Paul Vasey, animal behavior professor at the University of Lethbridge, Albert suggests that such behavior are simply acts of animals seeking sexual gratification, much like humans. Other scientists such as  Frans de Waal, author of Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, believes bonobos use sex to resolve conflicts between individuals and reduce social tensions.


Balcombe, J. 2009. Animal pleasure and its moral significance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 118 (2009) 208–216

“Sexploration – Animal Homosexuality” by MSNBC. YouTube Channel, 22 Mar 2008. URL: (accessed on 06 Apr 2010)

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