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Chimp Masturbation is the Final Frontier of Primate Research

Few people have been asking for data on chimp masturbation, but it turns out the few recorded instances of it have provided some key insight into primate behavior

It’s not every day you see a chimpanzee fucking an empty plastic bottle. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that a 60-second video of a boned-up “subadult male” chimp named Araali went viral late last week, with his sneaky jerk-off session racking up nearly half a million views in just a few days.

The footage was filmed in August 2018 and released by researchers Matthew R. McLennan and Kim Van Dijk of the Bulindi Chimpanzee and Community Project in Uganda. In the clip — cited as evidence in an accompanying write-up of the research — Araali shoves his chimp dick into the bottle and thrusts for 20 long minutes, exhibiting what’s known as his “play face,” a pretty strong indication he’s having a good time. When his hard-on slips out of the bottle, he briefly sniffs his fingers (don’t lie, we’ve all done it) before pumping out a few last thrusts.

Researchers have no idea whether or not he came inside the bottle, but hopefully not — soon afterwards, a bunch of infant chimpanzees grabbed the bottle and started playfully throwing it around. 

It’s been pretty common knowledge for decades that animals — from rhinos, to dogs, to hedgehogs — masturbate. There’s also evidence of horny primates getting seriously creative with leaves and twigs — chimpanzees create “tool-like objects” to jerk off, and in 1989 renowned primatologist Jane Goodall found that some masturbate to the point of ejaculation. Other reports discuss male dolphins who rub up against tank floors and even each other to get off (that’s right, gay dolphins love mutual masturbation, too). Yet when it comes to kinky chimps, Araali is somewhat of a research breakthrough. 

“Before we published this research, most of our knowledge on chimpanzee masturbation came from captivity,” explains Van Dijk, who also provided an illustration for the accompanying report. “It sure was a challenge.”

Until now, the established theory had been that chimps only jack it in captivity because of “restrictive rearing.” According to McLennan, “It was assumed that such behavior was an artifact of captivity due to boredom, lack of mating partners or as a reflection of ‘abnormal’ early rearing in human environments.” In other words, chimp masturbation tells a story of how they’re adjusting to their captive environs, hence the reason why researchers are interested. 

Bizarrely, Reddit’s NoFap gang seems to have seized on this theory to argue against jerking off. In their eyes, captive chimps are sad, pathetic creatures doomed to eternal masturbation as a way to cope with their existential ennui. Don’t be a compulsively horny, captive chimp, they implore; be a disinterested, basically abstinent wild chimp instead! But the research on Araali shows the theory doesn’t always hold weight — despite his freedoms, he still couldn’t resist the allure of a discarded plastic bottle.

There’s more to unpack, though. It’s pretty difficult to establish whether animals fap for pleasure, especially with chimps — according to McLennan, male chimps get erections “when they’re excited, including when they’re eating or playing and having fun.” So while Araali sure looked to be having a good time, it’s likely his jerk-off session was more motivated by “having fun and exploring opportunities to interact with the object” than anything else.

Still, the research has irreversibly raised the media profile of wild ape sex — and the co-authors hope to use the attention to raise awareness of their fundraiser, created to keep the chimps safe in conservation. “This was quite a small publication. We never expected it to reach so many media outlets, especially internationally,” says Van Dijk. “We even got a short joke on Saturday Night Live!” 

Well, then: Guess Araali better keep monkeying around. 

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