If humans die out tomorrow the two most likely candidates to achieve sapience after us are our closest genetic relatives. One of these, chimpanzee, has been discussed quite thoroughly in stories such as 'Planet of the Apes', but chimps have been done and are boring. We have another relative, just as closely related to us but rarely remembered, the Bonobo. These poor apes are fascinating with many uniquely 'human' traits not shared by any other species and some other rather unique aspects such as being arguably more peaceful and empathetic then humans and being a society run by the ladies. I feel one could make a really interesting species and culture by extrapolating what happens if bonobos reached sapience and these poor apes really deserve more love.

Of course speaking of love one can't really discuss the bonobo without discussing their unique conflict resolution strategy, commonly cited as a 'make love not war' policy. Put simply they have sex, lots of sex! It's used far beyond reproduction, as a means to mediate conflict, to build stronger social bonds, as something to trade for food or other resource, I could go on. They do it in every possible combination of sexes and positions you can think of as well, about the only thing off limits is reproductively mature adults mating with opposite sex relatives due to the risk of inbreeding. One could hardly write about sapient bonobo's without at least touching on their conflict resolution method.

Of course such a strategy is prone to spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI)s. Right now Bonobo survive mostly by having small enough numbers to make the odds of an STI evolving a bit lower and being isolated in troops enough that even if an STI shows up and ravages one troops it may not successfully spread to others.

As humans have discovered though as civilization grows so to does the risk of threatening diseases, at least until you have a good understanding of sanitation and how diseases spread. If bonobos started to move past troops to larger social organizations, and further more as trade and interaction between such groups grew, the odds of spread of STIs would likewise grow. It would be reasonable to believe Bonobo's would evolve (either physically or culturally) away from such heavy sexual activity to mitigate the risk of STI spread once this became an increasingly likely outcome of growing civilization.

Now I wouldn't be that upset if the amount of sexual contact was lowered in an evolved sapient bonobo population, in fact It would make it a bit easier to write them without the obvious complications of trying to write about such a sexually active species. However, many of the more fascinating aspects of bonobos, their heavy empathy, the female dominated social structures, how they interact with each other etc., all derives from their conflict resolution strategy. If it goes away then lots of the other interesting aspects will fade away as well and you just end up with a species that is effectively human.

So how could the bonobo evolve in such a manner that they keep at least some of their conflict resolution strategy, enough that we don't lose all the aspects of their psychology and culture that makes them unique, even as the risk of STIs grows within their civilization?

  • $\begingroup$ What have you decided about them already? Do they for instance wear cloths, have taboos around nakedness? $\endgroup$ Dec 30, 2022 at 18:31
  • $\begingroup$ The spread of STI is totally dependent on the number of individuals available. Sapience does not mean huge increase in population. Sapience does not mean civilization (cities). Another factor in disease is animal domestication. Many of the diseases have transferred from other animals. Prior to agriculture and domestication, humans did not live in cities and had fewer diseases in general. Specific individuals and groups might have caught something, but that would not be spread widely. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Dec 31, 2022 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ You're essentially asking us to predict the evolution of an entire species, which is such an incredibly broad question that it literally cannot be answered by science, let alone here. If the evolutionary process of your sapient bonobos is relevant to your story, you need to explain how and why it happened; if it's not, just handwave it away. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Dec 31, 2022 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ How come real bonobos don't get STIs? Or do they? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jan 1, 2023 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron they do, they just have small enough population numbers to prevent epidemics. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 2, 2023 at 4:52

7 Answers 7


Your bonobos evolved sapience? Great. They manage STIs the same way humans do.

Step 1: They use protection

As others have pointed out, condoms are a pretty primitive invention. If your bonobos have decent intelligence, they will realize pretty quickly that STIs spread through sex and will take steps to protect themselves. In fact - you say they are a female- dominated species? Let the women insist on them. No condom, no sex.

Step 2: Good hygiene

They wash themselves before and after sex. Where? In the river, doesn’t matter. They have indoor plumbing? Excellent, the shower then. They also use soap. Oh, and wash their towels before and after use. I assume they have towels. Everyone knows civilized beings must have towels. Even Douglas Adams agrees.

A towel, [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have…

Step 3: Testing

They test for STIs. Often. There are actually government-funded STI pop-up testing sites on every street. As a matter of fact, there are even bonobo-urologists and bonobo-gynecologists, and most bonobos go for regular doctors visits every month.

Step 4: Antibiotics

Horror of horrors: a bonobo gets an STI. It’s a good thing they’ve discovered antibiotics. Stole the idea from that extinct human species, actually. Doxycycline, azithromycin, penicillin… you name it, we make it. Turns out those humans were good for something, after all. Ah, the disease is not curable? It’s lucky we have medications to manage the symptoms.

Step 5: Vaccination

You want your teenage bonobo to stay in school? Don’t want to lose your job? Intend to go into politics? Make sure you and your children are STI-vaccinated. Oops, bonobo vaccines haven’t been invented yet? Well then, there’s always the smallpox method: get them exposed while their young. Preferably to the not-chronic, completely curable type of STI. This way they will be immune to those when they grow up.

On second thought, why not make all bonobos immune? They can’t get STIs because they’ve evolved to be resistant to them. How convenient.

  • $\begingroup$ Condoms are primitive but comfortable condoms are not. There is a reason the condoms where rarely used before the invention of rubber. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 18:07
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    $\begingroup$ Women refusing sex won't work either especially since badoons are bisexual. They don't need woman for sexual satisfaction. All this means is that the woman that demands condoms won't reproduce. Mean that you will only be encouraging unprotected sex long term. $\endgroup$ Jan 3, 2023 at 18:37


Either natural "built in" mechanisms, or artificial ones.

A naturally occurring fold of skin in a strategic location could allow interactions of some kind without transferring bodily fluids. Perhaps this is enhanced by secreting various fluids that are anti-biological in nature. Many viruses, for example, are quite effectively killed by soapy water. So it would not be all that difficult to evolve something that kept the fluids where they could be neutralized by the right "wash."

Artificial prophylaxis was known at least as long ago as the Ancient Greeks. They used sheep intestines as condoms. We know this because we have found the "cast off detritus" in garbage dumps.

Non-touching Ritual Completion

The two individuals appear face to face and perform various activities in each other's field of vision, but without actually touching each other. "The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention." John Burroughs

This ritual could be completed in the presence of official witnessing personnel from each tribe or kingdom. This could cement the peace treaty.

Third-party Ritual Completion

Round up the usual suspects. The king wants to cement a treaty with a neighboring kingdom. The ritual is completed by designated performers from each kingdom who ritualistically perform the designated act. They do this in full view of the embassy staff from each kingdom, in order that it be clear that the ritual is complete. Should children result, they might obtain a particularly high status in each country, representing as they do the physical manifestation of the peace between the kingdoms. It might be a fragile status that would suffer drastically if the two kingdoms went to war despite the treaty.

This is not all that different to marrying a prince from one kingdom to a princess from the other.


Ruthless punishment of STI carriers

Gonorrhea is as welcome to a bonobo civilisation as a sewage leak in a restaurant.

Anyone with a serious STI is summarily executed, with a brief interrogation to facilitate contact tracing. Having an STI is a strict liability offence.

Very, very minor STIs are dealt with in a non capital but incredibly draconian quarantine/banishment scheme.

That sounds harsh, but if sex is at the heart of an economy as well as all social institutions, politics, and even international diplomacy, it'll be seen as justified.

Enforcement is fairly easy; as you need to flash your genitals just to buy your groceries, so to speak, it will be impossible to hide an STI for very long, and sudden abstinence will be very suspicious.

  • $\begingroup$ thus ensuring people who have STI do everything in their power to hide it, or even fool themselves into thinking they don't, thus making sure to spread it as much as possible. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ @John Good luck with that when you have to flash your genitals at the equivalent of the supermarket. I'll edit the answer to point that out though, as it's not self evident. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jan 1, 2023 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ a large number of STI have no visual markers, and many of the ones that do have periods with no symptoms. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 2, 2023 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ @John Good thing these are sentient bonobos with technological development programs, a real obsession with stis, and no reservations around having things put in their orifices. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jan 2, 2023 at 10:13

Bonoboism IS an STI

Bonobos are not a species of their own. They are humans that have been infected with the Bonobo virus. In late stage the body becomes small, the back legs shorten, and vocal cords wither. They also get furry.

This is why Bonobos ride everything in site. It helps spread the virus.

The one advantage of the Bonobo virus is it does not let other STIs take hold.

  • $\begingroup$ This explains the character of certain internet fanfiction sites. $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Jan 1, 2023 at 20:28

STDs are part of what makes Bonobos different than Humans.

Bonobos have very few STDs compared to humans. In fact, they appear to be immune to all of the strains of Bacterial STDs that afflict humans like Gonorhoea, Syphilis, Chancroid and Chlamydia, and have no known bacterial STDs of thier own. What viral STDs they do carry are generally not fatal or debilitating. In short, they are able to use sex the way they do BECAUSE their species has so few STDs to worry about. They would have never evolved these sexual practices if it were as dangerous as it is for humans.

Just because Bonobos begin to form larger societies does not mean that brand new, highly deadly STDs will automatically evolve. As thier populations increase, the real danger will be from the diseases that they already have to worry about spreading out of control like Ebola, Monkeypox, and Trypanosomiasis. None of these are STDs specifically; so, any fear of plagues they suffer from would not automatically make them avoid sex as a specific countermeasure.

So sure, they'd probably have thier own equivalents of things like HPV or Herpes... but so what? For most Bonobos, these STDs will have little to no symptoms and will be so common that any symptoms they do carry will just be considered a normal part of life for those who have them.


We have airborne diseases. Never did we stop talking, and only recently did we start protecting ourselves (masking up)

Their STIs have evolved very differently from ours. They spread about as quickly as airborne diseases do for us, and have thus evolved in a pretty similar fashion. Long incubation periods and very harsh symptoms were not favored (because worse for transmission).

Some of them come back every year (like the flu does for humans). Every few hundred years, there is a really bad pandemic, a significant chunk of the population dies, the rest evolves to resist it.

  1. No ancient condoms is not the answer Condoms are primitive but comfortable condoms are not. There is a reason the condoms where rarely used before the invention of rubber.

  2. Leper colonies for the infected. STDs are treated the same way they treat lepers back in the day. isolation of the individual and any they could have infected, marks on the clothing or even face as a warning to all who might approach.

  3. Natural immunity. If every time civilization develops its destroyed by STDs, then eventually given enough time the only badoons left to reproduce will be those that have mutated a natural immunity to STDs.

While you still have to explain why they never switched to a alternative conflict resolution method before this, this could be a way for you to explain away STDs in your world.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I never thought condoms, even modern ones, were a sufficient answer anyways. The way sex is used in bonobos, quick semi-frequently and spontaneously as part of social interactions would make condoms a bit too cumbersome, you can't stop to put one on just to say 'thank you' or 'calm down and stop upsetting everyone' etc. They would be too in the way for using sex as part of your standard social interactions. $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Jan 4, 2023 at 14:37

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