Female Genito-genital Rubbing in a Group of Captive Chimpanzees
Wild and captive female bonobos exhibit a form of noncopulatory sexual behavior—genito-genital (GG) rubbing—in which 2 individuals rub their genital regions together. GG-rubbing in bonobos occurs in several contexts and may serve several functions, including tension reduction and reconciliation. It has not been reported for chimpanzees. In a study of captive, adolescent chimpanzees at the New Iberia Research Center, I observed that females rubbed genital regions at rates equivalent to those of bonobos, though the form of the behavior differed in significant ways from classic bonobo GG-rubbing. I describe the pattern of GG-rubbing in the chimpanzees and provide preliminary tests of 5 hypotheses for why the behavior occurs. All 4 females in the study group participated in GG-rubbing, though the frequency with which they initiated and participated varied. Females that GG-rubbed the most also groomed each other the most, supporting the hypothesis that GG-rubbing reinforces or at least reflects social bonds. The data do not support the hypothesis that females GG-rub to reconcile conflicts, to reduce tension during feeding, to signal social status, or to attract mates.