December 23, 2017

What Japanese monkeys can teach you about sex and perversions

We are at the end of the year, and Japanese macaques monkeys have come crossdreamers to the rescue, effectively undermining some 150 years of hard sexological work aimed at separating  good people from the sexual perverts.

Japanese macaque monkey. (Photo: vichie81)

A basic tenet of sexology, especially of the so-called "evolutionary psychology" type, is that sex is for procreation, men are sexual predators who would sleep with anyone anytime to spread their seed, and women are timid and asexual beings, protecting their eggs while waiting for the evolutionary fit Mr. Perfect -- the so-called Alpha Male.

Since these are traits based in biology and nature, the same researchers have also been projecting this ideal on other animals, finding "proof" in studies of chimpanzees, penguins and what not.

This logic has obviously also been used to invalidate gender variant and transgender people, effectively reducing their crossdreaming (i.e. the dream of becoming their target sex) to a misdirected sexual impulse: a fetish and/or a sexual perversion ("paraphilia").

Monkey do

The Japanes macaques have not read the paraphilia memo, because members of one tribe has been found to be using  nearby deers for sexual pleasure. It seems the relationship is consensual. The researchers are not sure what the deer get out of this, but deer who do not like this kind of attention can easily shake the monkeys off. In fact, they have been known to do so.

The researchers explain that the observations were conducted on the two free-ranging groups of Japanese macaques living in the Meiji Memorial Forest of Minoo Quasi-National Park, an unfenced
forested area located on the outskirts of Minoo City, Osaka Prefecture, in central Japan.

This is how the study is presented in scieneese:
This is the first quantitative study of heterospecific sexual behavior between a non-human primate and a non-primate species. We observed multiple occurrences of free-ranging adolescent female Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) performing mounts and sexual solicitations toward sika deer (Cervus nippon) at Minoo, central Japan. Our comparative description of monkey-deer versus monkey-monkey interactions supported the “heterospecific sexual behavior” hypothesis: the mounts and demonstrative solicitations performed by adolescent female Japanese macaques toward sika deer were sexual in nature.

(The term "heterospecific" refers to inter-species sex where the two animals look very different, not to heterosexuality.)

The monkeys are mounting the deer and rubbing themselves up against them for sexual pleasure.

What's even more important: It is the female monkeys who do this, not the males. Remember that Ray Blanchard, the creator of the autogynephilia theory, argues that women in general are not paraphilacs, apparently for some obscure evolutionary reasons. Among these macaques, however, the females are the "deviants".

It gets weirder. When the scientists set out to study this behavior, the baseline is not female to male macaques relationship alone, but also female to female courtships. The rituals used by the female monkeys to "seduce" the deer, are the same as the ones they use to entice other females, including body posture, hindquarter presentations, body movements and gestures, and sexual vocalizations. 

In the same way female monkeys mount other female monkeys, they will also mount the deer. They will not, however, try to mount male macaques.

Note also that their deer partners are always male. Why this is so, is not well explained by the researchers. It seems the female monkeys prefer male deer, but it might also be that female and juvenile animals do not like this kind of monkey-sex. Why this is so is unclear.

And yes, these researchers are convinced this behavior is sexually motivated:
Previous research showed that solicitations and mounts performed by adolescent female Japanese macaques toward male or female Japanese macaques (i.e., monkey-monkey sexual interactions) were sexually motivated because many aspects of their expression (e.g., timing, behavioral structure, partner preferences) closely mirrored adult female–male and female–female solicitations and mounts, which have themselves been shown to be sexually motivated.

But why?

Not that the scientists call them the female monkey deer-mounters deviants. In fact, they are trying hard to come up with evolutionary, adaptive, explanations for what causes this behavior.

NPR puts it this way:
Scientists have five theories about why the young monkeys might seek out sexual relationships with deer. 
First, it might be a way for a less-mature monkey to practice for future sex with other monkeys. 
Second, it might be a less dangerous way for a young female macaque — physically smaller than male macaques — to have a sexual interaction. That's the "safe sex" hypothesis, as the scientists put it. It's similar to one explanation for why young female macaques have sex with each other. [This makes no sense to me. A stag is much larger than a male macaque.]
Third, they might be an option for young macaques with no available sexual partners of their own species. Apparently adolescent female macaques are not the "preferred" partner for male macaques and are "routinely rejected." This is what the researchers call the "best of a bad job" hypothesis. 
All of these explanations try to normalize their behavior, making it functional and therefore healthy, I guess. Sexologists like Blanchard are rarely similarly kind to humans who break the laws of Moses.

An adolescent female Japanese macaque on the back of a
male sika deer.Photo via NPR and Noëlle Gun
However, it seems to me the fourth reason is the most likely one:
Fourth, it might be the result of nonsexual interactions, with macaques riding deer either for fun or for transport and discovering it's a source of genital stimulation that they then seek out on purpose. 
In other words: They do it because it feels good.

That will make them paraphiliacs according to Blanchard's definition:
"The term paraphilia denotes any powerful [intense] and persistent sexual interest other than sexual interest in copulatory or precopulatory behavior [genital stimulation or preparatory fondling] with phenotypically normal, consenting adult human partners. "
(Replace "adult human partners" with the macaque counterpart, and you will see what I mean).

I do not know what this makes female monkeys: zoophiliacs, cervidaphiliacs, xenophiliacs, sodomites?

Sex decoupled from procreation

I believe the main lesson from this is that in more complex organisms, sexual pleasure may perfectly well be decoupled from procreation, and serve other purposes, even the one of "just having fun".

I am sure the feeling of desire, and the pleasure from having sex, originated as a way of making sure two-sexed organisms meet and make babies, but there is little to stop animals and humans from searching out other scenarios that can give them this kind of pleasure when the pleasure mechanism is in place.

It seems the average human has sex close to 6000 times during a life time.  That's a lot of sex only to sire some two to ten babies. It seems to me both humans and macaques have found that it makes sense to decouple sexual pleasure from procreation, for many different reasons.

As soon as sexual pleasure is liberated from this objective, it also makes sense for sexual fantasies and sexual desires express other biological, psychological or cultural phenomena or drivers.

Now that researchers allow themselves to look for such variation among animals, they find it all over the world and in a wide variety of species. This applies to same-sex sex and sex between animals of different species.

The researchers studying the Japanese macaques also argue that this may be a local, cultural phenomenon:
Finally, the researchers say, this might be a kind of cultural practice. Japanese macaques display different behaviors in different locations — some wash their food, or take hot-spring baths, or play with snowballs. 
This does not change my point, however, that having sex for fun -- with no procreative motivation -- is something found among other animals as well. I am reminded of our closest relative, the bonobos, where everyone has sex with anyone, all the time, in order to strengthen social bonds, solve conflicts and have fun.

But what has this got to do with crossdreamers?

No, my point is not that crossdreamers have much in common with macaque monkeys having sex with stags. Nor do I think these females are homosexual or transgender as these terms are understood by humans -- even if they are clearly do not share the culturally defined hang-ups found among religious conservatives and sexologists like Blanchard.

I believe, as people who have followed this blog will know, that erotic crossdreaming is simply the psyche's way of handling a conflict between expected behavior associated with someone's assigned gender, and their real gender identity, whether they are some shade of non-binary or they identify fully with their target gender.

Nor do I believe that because animals do something it has to be morally good. To me sexual activities should follow the "do no harm" doctrine, and I doubt humans who have sex with animals are helping the animals (or themselves). Homosexual or heterosexual couples who treat each other with love and respect are hurting no one and therefore ethically on safe ground.

My point is simply that the different attempts made by sexologist and religious extremists of classifying some types of sexual behavior as "normal" and others as "paraphilias" and mental illnesses, only reflects their culturally defined prejudices, and has nothing to do with what is good or bad "out there".

Indeed, the desire to sort people according to their sexual inclination is in itself an arbitrary and culturally defined activity. It reflects a culture that is so hung up on sexuality and "normal sex", that it  makes sense for this researchers and theologians to classify human beings according to their sexual preferences. The truth is that most of these "paraphilias" have nothing in common as regards origins, ethics or the effects on someones health.

That will be the topic of my next blog post.

See also:


  1. As usual extremely well researched and expressed Jack and you are absolutely correct that crossdreaming represents the filling of the gap between expected gender identity and the real one.

  2. Here is something more to think about. We make an assumption that evolution is driven by passing genes on. What if it is the reverse, it just so happens to be the consequence of our sexual interactions? Not a purpose driven, but instead just a consequence. What implications does this have for our narrative that sex is for procreation? To put this simply, we see this same kind f thought, that is is procreation (only) in all aspects of discussion and thought about evolution. I am not arguing that it does not have this role, but it its limited and skews our understanding of ourselves and the world if we limit like this.

  3. Interesting. Strictly speaking, all evolutionary scientists will have to agree with you, as evolution is not a goal oriented process. It is not designed to reach a specific objective. Scientists use a language that may imply that it is, but they will have to admit that the system is fundamentally caused by a lot of random happenings, not some plan.

    The genes for sex were passed on because sex caused the genes to be passed on.

    Moreover, in real life sex is included in a lot of biological, psychological and cultural processes: Exchange of bacterial cultures, stimulating the immune system, social bonding, conflict solving, trading for social influence, protection etc. etc.

    Darwin also looked at sexual selection, and some researchers still argue that this is important: Females and males select for beauty, not "evolutionary fitness", which leads to the impractical feathers of the peacock, complex rituals and songs. Traits that do not kill you will survive if the female likes it, and what she likes can be completely random, as the great variety of bird species prove.


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