Just as I was browsing Craigslist's erotic services section (for a story I'm working on, I swear) and thinking, with a sigh, "We humans are animals," there comes additional scientific proof. Chimpanzees, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, also use sex as currency, according to a new study. Only, our primate cousins do so primitively: Their purchasing power comes from food and the payment isn't presented upfront. Instead of a direct exchange -- here's your food, here's your sex -- male monkeys secure females' sexual services by sharing food over a period of time. So, on the broad spectrum of the sex trade, it's less like prostitution and more like mutually beneficial "arrangements," traditional courtship or some people's marriages.
For 22 months, researchers followed 49 chimps in the Tai National Park in Cote d'Ivoire, West Africa, and found that "males double their mating success by sharing meat with females," says lead author Cristina Gomes. Another way to put it: Females are more likely to mate, and do so more often, with males who bring home and share the bacon (or the red colobus monkey meat, in this case). This isn't to say that male chimps are presenting meals on silver platters: Females will try to take a bit of meat from a male in hopes that he will allow it. If he doesn't, says Gomes, "females usually react by screaming, crying or throwing a temper tantrum." Pshh, women. (It's at this point that I must include the obligatory line about how our deep desire to reveal truths about ourselves through studying our furry relatives can distort not only what we observe, but how we characterize it.)
Because the sex-for-meat exchange takes place over an extended period of time, it suggests that male chimps have the ability to plan and invest in future chances to spread their seed, and that females can keep track of the benefactors of the gifts they've gobbled down. "It doesn't mean they're aware of this," Gomes says. "In humans, you don’t even really know how many coffees someone has bought for you in the past, you just generally feel that this person is nice to you. It creates a positive feeling toward that person." She adds that the findings "are bound to have an impact on our current knowledge about relationships between men and women."
Some might find that statement a bit unnerving, considering that the study found female chimps to be sex-wielding tantrum-throwers. As Nature's the Great Beyond warns before covering the study: "Feminists avert your gaze"! It shouldn't come as news to anyone, though, that humans are animals and that we can learn about and recognize certain aspects of ourselves in nature. Note that Gomes suggests the study will "impact" our knowledge about ourselves -- and, in fact, suggests that it should inspire studies on foraging humans -- not that the primate paradigm can be fully transposed onto human relationships. So, feminists, you can uncover your eyes now.