♫ OPERA for BONOBOS ♫ Our Amazing 24th Wedding Anniversary at the San Diego Zoo
On special occasions, many people celebrate with family. So do Capt’n Max and I, though we are generally not very “family-oriented” (at least not according to the standard Father-Knows-Best-and-Mother-Takes-Prozac definition of “family values”). But on the special occasion of our 24th wedding anniversary, we decided to get together with a few members of our Great Ape family, our kissing cousins, the bonobos.
Human Apes Celebrate 24 Years of Love & Marriage
We had already celebrated our lawfully wedded, long-term love affair with a bunch of human members of our Great Ape family on the Saturday night just before our anniversary. What an erotic, ecstatic bacchanal studded with stars of the stage, screen and our hearts, including the amazing Daniele Watts and Chef BeLive, Riley Reyes and Eric John, Amor Hilton, Ikkor the Wolf, Ms. Selina Minx and Ron Jeremy, among many others. Ms. Minx (who we have known for almost 20 years) strummed “Whoopy” on the ukulele and Ron (a friend of almost 30 years!) played a medley of romantic classics on our 1926 Steinway baby grand piano, in tune with the “musical instruments” theme of 24th wedding anniversaries as guests—both naked and wearing three-piece suits—danced and romanced through the art gallery.
Many toasts and orgasms later, it was our real anniversary falling smack in the middle of the week on a Wednesday, not a traditional Bonoboville party day. Sappy sentimentalists that we are, we voted—two for two—to spend this day of days with the “Make Love Not War” bonobo chimpanzees who swing through the trees as well as with each other.
Bonoboville BBC Southbound
The closest real bonobos are in the San Diego Zoo, and what better vehicle to transport us from human Bonoboville LAX to Bonoboville at the Zoo than the official 1996 big black Bonoboville stretch limousine (a gift from a fan)? At the wheel: daffy Ms. Dayton Rains, Bonoboville pornstar-in-residence (at the time) and limo driver.
Actually, this was Dayton’s virgin voyage driving a limo. She’d already chauffeured us up to UC Berkeley to give a Bonobo Way talk at the 5th International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy. However, that was in her little Hyundai Azera which is half the size of the limo.
As a porn star, Dayton has handled many large, long, moving objects, but they were just dicks; this was a three-ton saloon car. As it turned out, it was good preparation for handling our BBC (big black cannelloni) of the road.
Since we were San Diego-bound with Capt’n Max at the stern, we wore our Captain’s hats. That is, the chauffeur and I wore Captain’s hats, and the actual Captain wore his current favorite navy baseball cap that says “CAPTAIN.” With all that seaworthy sapphire, I couldn’t resist topping my top with a Yale blue tank. Boola-boola ahoy, bonobo sailor babes!
I like to imagine that Dr. Robert Yerkes (who taught at Yale in the 1920s and sponsored a bonobo named Prince Chim, even before bonobos were officially classified by humans in 1930), would have approved. At least, I think he would have had a good time with us bonobo sapiens (bonobo-loving humans) on our way to visit our great ape cousins.
Bay Club Boogie
Cruising down the coast in the land yacht—a porn star at the wheel, the Captain expertly massaging my feet, and Abe, our brave technical director, unraveling our code under his chic straw fedora—Bonoboville had gone mobile. Wheee! What a way to get out of town.
We arrived at the Bay Club just before the mellow spring sun set over the yachts, which Capt’n Max called “boats,” since compared to the gigantic celebrity yachts in Cannes and St. Tropez, they were motorized canoes.
The Bay Club was also celebrating an anniversary, its 30th, represented by the pearl, jewel of the sea as well as symbol of the clitoris, “pearl” of the luscious “oyster” that is the female genitalia. We had dinner at the Quarterdeck, though I don’t remember what we ate (alas, no oysters!). I do remember falling into bed early for some multi-orgasmic anniversary eve sex. All that limo foot play was great foreplay.
Rosy-fingered dawn came up on us fingering each other’s “musical instruments,” playing those 24th wedding anniversary harmonies that only experienced players can pluck from vintage strings. Yes indeed, hot sex, like cool music, is not the sole province of the young. Not at all. Though it moves a little slower with a lot less outward gymnastics, long-term love has its erotic advantages, like caring about and knowing each other’s bodies, fantasies and souls really, really well.
Then off we limo’ed to commemorate our wedding date with our bonobo friends and family at the San Diego Zoo (SDZ), which had both us and the Bay Club beat, anniversary-wise, celebrating its 100th year of fine zoo-keeping in Southern California.
Like many animal lovers, I have mixed feelings about zoos. The idea—and much of the reality—of keeping nonhuman animals imprisoned for the entertainment and even education of humans is inherently disturbing.
Nevertheless, zoos are entertaining and educational, and the SDZ is one of the most entertaining and educational zoos in the world. It’s big, well-taken-care-of, very green and relatively kind to the nonhuman animals it holds captive. Most importantly, zoos like the SDZ help to keep highly endangered creatures like bonobos from going extinct just by housing them far away from the hunters who shoot them as “bushmeat” in their native habit of the Congo Rainforest.
So Capt’n Max and I support the SDZ, and on our special day, we were grateful and happy to be able to visit with our kissing cousins, the bonobos, up-close and personal again. It was the first time we’d seen them since publishing The Bonobo Way. Too long! We felt as if our bonobo family was chastising us for not coming to visit them more often… Well, families can be like that.
Kasia & the Bonobos
Just as we arrived, we met up with a fellow bonobo sapien whom I’d been corresponding with for the past few months, admiring her skillful soulful bonobo photography, Katarzyna Sądej, aka Kasia.
Tall, graceful and even more beautiful in person than her online persona (with an amazing neon orange pedicure peeking out from under her jeans), Kasia is a frequent visitor to the SDZ Bonoboville, up on all the intricacies of their social situation, which can be just as complex as human sociology, with more hair and less hairspray. She gave us the lowdown as we strolled past the neon-hot pink flamingos, the polar bear with OCD who kept chasing his underwater tail, the clever capuchins cracking their nuts, and into the very deepest, greenest, most central part of the zoo where our pan paniscus friends and family entertain and educate humans every day just by going about their daily lives as best they can.
We arrived to find most of the clan in a cuddle puddle, engaged in what we might call “foreplay,” kissing, massaging, caressing and grooming each other. What a beautiful big hairy group hug of several adults, including Loretta (43) and Lisa (36), as well as the younger set, Makasi (13), Kalli (12), Mali (10) and Maddie (8), plus Belle (4), Lisa’s little princess.
Many of these bonobos were new to us. I missed my old girlfriend Lana whose beautiful flirtatious face is pressed up against mine on the cover of The Bonobo Way. Max and I met Lana in 1996 when she was a randy teenager and I was a newlywed, and visited with her several times as she ascended the ranks to alpha female, engaging in “Profound Interspecies Experiences” (PIE) with her, especially on one amazing occasion. Recently, Lana was transferred to the Cincinnati Zoo, along with her daughter, which I thought to be an odd move, considering that wild bonobo females naturally migrate away from their mothers when they reach puberty, but more on that later.
At least Loretta was still in San Diego. However, she seemed stressed out, maybe even depressed. To a lesser degree, so did all the bonobos. Very soon, we were to discover why.
Opera for Bonobos
But first, we would enjoy a different kind of PIE. This time, I was more of a witness to Kasia’s profound interspecies moment with young bonobo Mali, but theirs was such a strong inter-species connection, it enveloped me, Max, Abe and San Diego zookeeper Mike in its rhythmic, reverberating power.
Mike (who appears on page 29 of The Bonobo Way) ushered us up into the pan paniscus feeding area high above their enclosure. Though we were actually farther away from the bonobos than when we were down in the public area, there was now no glass partition separating us from them, so we could hear them better (hoot-hoot!), and they could hear us. Most importantly, they could hear Kasia.
Kasia is a trained professional opera singer. As a “gift” for our 24th “musical instruments” anniversary, and a pleasure for the bonobos, she sang us all an aria, including parts of Handel’s “Cara Sposa” (which means “Dear Spouse”!) and Saint-Saëns’ “Mon Coeur s’ouvre à ta voix.”
What an aural delight it was to hear Kasia’s mellifluous mezzo-soprano ringing like a heavenly bell through the lush zoo environs, as well as to watch the bonobos listen.
First, sisters Maddie and baby Belle climbed up to the top of a centrally located tree-like pole. Then Belle went back down, leaving Maddie on top, commanding the best view. Suddenly, the slightly older, bigger Mali shimmied up the green pole and gently but firmly pushed Maddie out of the top spot which the older bonobo then assumed as if it were a box seat for which she’d paid good money.
This was quite bold and brave on Mali’s part since Maddie is ranked higher than her, because the younger bonobo is the daughter of alpha female Lisa. Nevertheless, though they hooted a bit, no one pushed Mali out of her box seat. Maybe they all understood that Mali had a special appreciation for opera. In any case, Lisa and Loretta just sat chewing their leaves, like ladies who lunch enjoying their Waldorf salad at a classical music café.
Then, most extraordinarily, Mali the music lover actually applauded Kasia’s concert! Then again, perhaps she was clapping in time to the music. Or both!
Either way, it was a tremendous tribute to Kasia’s talent and her ability to connect, as well as a profound inter-species musical moment for all of us.
Bonobos are very musical. Kanzi, the “rock star” bonobo raised by primatologist Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, has played keyboards with fellow rock stars Peter Gabriel and Paul McCartney. Gabriel called the cross-species musical collaboration “one of my most extraordinary experiences as a musician.”
Demonstrating that other bonobos “got rhythm” too, UNC Greensboro’s BioMusic Program director, Dr. Patricia Gray, and University of Connecticut psychologist, Dr. Edward Large, teamed up to create a “bonobo-friendly” drum that could handle 500 pounds of thumping, kicking, gnawing, rocking and rolling so the bonobos could bang out a beat. Interestingly, bonobo percussionists prefer a tempo of 280 beats per minute, the syllabic rate at which most humans speak. I can only imagine the percussive possibilities if the San Diego Zoo clan got hold of one of those bonobo-proof drums, especially when they’re feeling a need to express themselves.
But the greatest “musical instrument” is the human body and its parts, whether a lovely voice, a charming whistle or the simple, satisfying sound of two hands clapping. Mali clapped with great passion, rhythm, focus and open hands. A musical talent in any species, that Mali.
After the concert, I signed a copy of The Bonobo Way for Mike, and we strolled back down to the glass partitioned area. The bonobos literally jumped for joy to see us… especially Kasia. It was as if they were opera groupies celebrating their favorite diva’s concert with a great party which, being bonobos, soon turned into a sex party.
Bonobo Sex: Hoka-Hoka
In this case, it was a “lesbian” sex party. Virtually all female bonobos enjoy female/female relations, performing what primatologists call “genito-genital” or “GG” rubbing, rapidly swishing their swollen pink vulvas against each other, often resulting in profound orgasms.
The Bongandu people of the bonobo’s native habitat in the DRC rainforest call this primal sex dance “hoka-hoka” which sounds like a bonobo tango, and that’s just what it looks like, only it’s rapid vulva-to-vulva rather than slow cheek-to-cheek.
PHOTOS 1-9: ABE. PHOTO 10: KATARZYNA SADEJ
Hoka-hoka lubricates life in Bonoboville, shaping politics along with orgasms, creating a sexy sense of sisterhood among bonobo gals who aren’t even sisters. This empowers them in their communities, resolving conflicts, relieving stress (such as we’d witnessed before Kasia’s aria), motivating them to stick together to keep the rape rate down and the murder rate nonexistent, as well as ensuring that the ladies get first dibs on food and other goodies.
As soon as we reached the window, Mali and Maddie greeted us in a hoka-hoka flurry of fur, fun and conflict resolution. Indeed, they had “quarreled” over who got the best seat at the opera, with Mali winning the prize and Maddie skulking away, but bonobo gals don’t stay mad long. In fact, hoka-hoka is the best make-up sex on the planet.
Back and forth, they wiggled and giggled in their hot hoka-hoka fiesta of reconciliation, appreciation, celebration and joy, joy, joy… plus ticklegasms!
Trouble in Bonoboville
This exuberant erotic display was in pleasantly stark contrast to what we’d seen earlier in the day, when the clan had been fighting, slapping, pouncing and grabbing each other. Things never spiraled into serious violence; still, these bonobos didn’t seem to warrant their epithet of the “Make Love Not War” great apes.
One problem may have been that the zookeepers had separated all the males of the clan from all the females. So we were only seeing the females, and they were only seeing each other. The males were being kept inside. The reason given was that one of the females, dear sweet Loretta, had bitten the butt of a male named Vic (16) so seriously that it required stitches. That was bad enough; however, it got worse. After Vic was sewn up and returned to the community, Loretta deftly slid her finger up his incision when he wasn’t looking and pulled out his stitches!
As I’ve often said, and as this incident sadly shows, bonobos are not angels. They’re animals, like we are. Sometimes they fight and hurt each other, like we do. They just don’t kill each other… like we do.
At least, not so far. Hopefully, all their recent exposure to human culture won’t teach them to kill. Hopefully, we’ll learn the “Bonobo Way” of peace through pleasure before they learn the human way of homicide through lack of imagination.
In the meantime, bonobos struggle with many of the same anger, frustration, jealousy and rivalry issues with which we humans struggle. Sometimes they express these negative feelings through violence, but (so far) they stop short of murder and the primitive but deadly types of warfare in which their common chimp counterparts—and we—engage.
Why Did Loretta Bite Vic’s Butt?
Loretta’s bite was a far cry from murder, but still, it was cruel. Don’t be ashamed if hearing the story of Loretta biting Vic’s butt makes you laugh nervously and/or clutch your butt. That’s natural for humans and bonobos alike. This was a vicious, deliberate and disturbing act.
So why did Loretta bite Vic’s butt… and then yank out his stitches? The cagey old lady was taking a big risk, since Vic, like all bonobo males, is bigger and stronger than she is. Moreover, while her bite is just front teeth and molars, his includes sharp fangs.
Not being Loretta’s therapist, I’m not privy to her innermost thoughts and motivations. However, based on what I picked up from Kasia, Mike and the bonobos themselves, I have some very amateur, utterly untested theories. Please forgive me for speculating and, if you’re a primatologist or other expert, do let me know if you think I’m getting anything horribly wrong here (and I might revise my theories), but here goes: Apparently, in their laudable efforts to help keep the highly endangered bonobos from going extinct, the SDZ participates in a national zoo trading program that moves animals from zoo to zoo for reproductive purposes, sometimes disturbing their delicate social dynamics. Social awareness in these programs is improving. Bonobo males are very close to their mothers and spend their entire lives together, so past mother/son break-ups were traumatic for individuals and entire communities. Now the zoos know to keep the males with their moms. But they are also keeping the mothers and daughters together. That might sound like eternally nice cozy girl-talk, but it seems to me more likely to spell trouble for female-empowered bonobo society.
Typically, when a bonobo gal reaches puberty, she leaves her mother and migrates into another tribe where she establishes powerful, political and sexual relationships with other females. When a bonobo girl stays with her mother—going against her nature and culture—I would think she’d be more likely to be a spoiled brat, if mom is the alpha female, or frustrated and depressed, if mom is of lower rank. So this could have been an underlying element of stress in the SDZ “Bonoboville,” since not only were Lana and her daughter moved together to Cincinnati, but Loretta’s daughter stayed with her, and Lisa’s daughters were transferred with her to San Diego.
PHOTO: KATARZYNA SADEJ
Moreover, there was considerable tension between the two eldest females, Lisa and Loretta. When Lana was transferred, Loretta temporarily assumed the mantle of alpha female, but then Lisa moved in and took on that title. This must have greatly frustrated Loretta. In true bonobo fashion, triumphant but beleaguered-looking Lisa frequently groomed, kissed and stroked Loretta, showing that winners consoling losers is a vital part of the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure; a Bonobo Marshall Plan.
Nevertheless, demoted alpha-to-beta female seemed sullen and depressed. Adding insult to injury, Loretta’s victim, Vic, was Lisa’s son, and had been harassing Loretta’s son Erin (26). On top of that, zookeepers were trying get Loretta and Vic to mate! It seems that all of these factors contributed to Loretta’s foul mood when she committed that fateful bite.
Gender Segregation in SDZ Bonoboville
After the bite and post-bite yanking out of Vic’s stitches, zoo staff separated the guys from the gals, letting the females go outside and keeping the males indoors. This gender segregation added another layer of unnatural tension to an already tense situation.
Bonobo females love each other, as evidenced by their frequent kissing, cuddling and exuberant hoka-hoka activities. But they also love their bonobo males, and they certainly seemed to miss having the boys around. At one point, Loretta indicated her displeasure by lowering her butt over the stairs which led to the boys’ area and letting fall a large poop.
“Ewww!” all the bonobo sapiens squealed as we ogled Loretta’s coprophiliac display through the glass and held our noses even though our nostrils wouldn’t pick up more than the usual waste odors of any zoo. This was one point when I was grateful for the smell-proof partition.
Loretta did seem to find Capt’n Max appealing, and I can’t say I blame her. She batted her sultry brown eyes and smiled at my big handsome prime-mate, signifying that she was ready for love, if he was. This made the Captain a little nervous, especially after he heard the butt-biting story. Nevertheless, he enjoyed and even encouraged her affections, cooing “Loretta darling” when she turned away. I decided I didn’t mind sharing my husband with a bonobo, especially a depressed demoted ex-alpha female, and especially with that glass partition.
A little partition, but so much connection! Yes, these bonobos were having their issues. But isn’t that often the case when visiting family?
Moreover, their glorious hoka-hoka reconciliation/celebration showed us “Make-Up Sex, Bonobo-Style” in action.
All in all, it was wonderful to see them again, to witness and be a part of their interaction, play, fights and peacemaking through sex. And what an extraordinary PIE: listening to Kasia sing Handel as Mali clapped in rhythm and appreciation. Brava!
Plus I had my own personal PIE with another one of Loretta’s daughters, Kalli. For a few endless moments, teenage Kalli and I fell into deep conversation through our eyes. We talked about the stress of being separated from the boys, the joys of hoka-hoka, the ups and downs of love and marriage. At least, that’s what I was talking to her about, and she seemed to understand.
After Kasia left, we had lunch (and yes, I forget what we ate), took a sky tram, visited the gorillas (they are almost as cool as bonobos) and then visited the bonobos some more. We also met San Diego Global Wildlife Conservancy representative Michael who asked us to sign up for his program; the only hitch was that it didn’t include bonobos… yet. I gave Michael my last copy of The Bonobo Way, so maybe soon it will.
One great challenge is to help save the bonobos from extinction without ruining their culture. We became SDZ members on this trip, so hopefully we’ll be seeing our bonobo family a little more often now, learning about and contributing more to their well-being.
When Is It Ok to Go to Bed Mad?
As darkness trickled through the trees, we left the jungle for the harbor in the limo. Then Dayton and I played sailor girls in bed, pretending my scarf was a sail, then a shroud, then a navy whore’s burqa, while Abe aped the apes (the nonhuman ones) in the mirror.
Then we ate, and no, I don’t remember what we ate.
Whereupon the two prime-mates celebrated their last moments of 24th wedding anniversarial splendor blissfully in each other’s arms. Actually, that’s the ideal, and we all know, The Ideal is the Enemy of the Real. The reality is that we had a little fight, and I don’t remember what we argued about any more than I remember what we ate over this anniversary, but I do remember that we were so exhausted from our day at the zoo, we just went to sleep mad at each other, something all the sexperts tell you never to do.
Yet in our case, at the hypersensitive tail-end of our 24th wedding anniversary, sleep was just the antidote our marriage needed. We love to be close as close can be, but sometimes even we need to get away from all that potentially suffocating, desire-extinguishing “intimacy” and turn each other into the enchanting, desirable “strangers” that we were when we first fell in love. Sleep is a great way to get away without going anywhere at all, and then there you both are when you wake up, fresh and (sort of) new.
Since we left the balcony windows open, Aurora, Goddess of the Dawn, was our alarm clock, rising up out of the Bay yet again, her rosy fingers dripping with dew. We sucked them and each other, opening our eyes to love. Next thing we knew, we were having make-up sex, bonobo-style, conveniently forgetting why we had been fighting because there certainly was no good reason.
Harpoon Henry’s Ono
On the way back up to our human Bonoboville in West LA, we stopped in the toney little town of Dana Point.
I even remember what I ate (mainly because I took a picture of it): Ono. I had never eaten Ono before, but it sounded more intriguing than tuna, calamari and the other standard seafood stuff. Plus our social media director at the time (for various reasons, it’s taken me forever to get to writing this travelogue) called herself Miss Ono Bo. So everybody laughed at the idea of me “eating Ono,” but I ordered it anyway. Ono came with lots of succulent veggies and an orchid of lavender, the color of 24th wedding anniversaries, and it was the most delicious meal of our trip (besides the oral sex, of course).
Keep Playing Our Song the Bonobo Way
Though there are inherent problems with the imprisonment of non-human animals, however benign, I must admit I still like to go to zoos, especially to see the bonobos whom I can’t see anywhere else on the entire West coast. So I must give special thanks to the San Diego Zoo and all that its dedicated, hard-working staff members do for its precious bonobo residents, including taking on the challenge of sorting through the intricacies of bonobo culture as they make their transfers and mating recommendations. I do hope they take into consideration some of my concerns in whatever way they can. I’m just an amateur bonobo buff, but I’ve been studying, observing and teaching people about pan paniscus for over 23 years (almost as long as I’ve been married!), and I want to preserve the bonobos’ amazing culture as well as their genetics.
I also give thanks to everyone who came to our anniversary show or if you’ve been watching it on DrSuzy.Tv or in Bonoboville, where a portion of your membership fee goes to organizations helping to save the bonobos, like the San Diego Zoo, Lola ya Bonobo and the Bonobo Conservation Initiative. Thank you for helping to make this our best wedding anniversary celebration in 24 years. I’d say “they just keep getting better” (because they do), but I don’t want to jinx them. So I’ll just say thanks a zillion! And thank you Kasia for the great gift of your exquisite aria, shared with musical Mali, as well as Loretta, Lisa, Kalli, Maddie, Makasi, Belle (all in attendance), as well as Lana and the rest of our bonobo family. I am so grateful for all of you, and many more. Biggest thanks in the whole cosmos to the very handsome bonobo sapien by my side, lo these 24 years (and five months). Let’s keep these vintage musical instruments—including the organs!—playing our song, Bonobo Capt’n Max.
And thank you, bonobos of the San Diego Zoo and the world, for showing Capt’n Max and me the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure which we’ve translated into our own wild, crazy and surprisingly sustainable bonobo way of marriage. I honestly don’t know how we’d manage without it.
♫ #GoBonobos! ♫ Make Music Not War. ♫ Save the bonobos from extinction! Save humanity from ourselves. Onward My Captain, to Silver 25!
© October 8, 2016. Susan Block, Ph.D., a.k.a. “Dr. Suzy,” is a world renowned LA sex therapist, author of The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace through Pleasure and horny housewife, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels. Most photos by Abe Bonobo. Some photos by Kasia. Video edited by Mar Sorell (shot by Abe). Banner by Zane Bono. Blog text editors: Del Rey & Beverly Bonobo. Management: Harry Sapien. For more information, call 310-568-0066.