In the first semester of my freshman year, I took a philosophy course that not only piqued my interest in the major but taught me something very important. One day, I walked into class to find a documentary playing on the topic of primate social behavior. My favorite of the species discussed was the bonobo, an ape that promotes peaceful behavior by using sex as a tool.
I will admit it felt odd watching these pink-lipped apes go at it onscreen. It went something like this: Two males look like they’re about to get into a fight, when two females show up and offer their backsides. To my surprise, both males abandon the tense situation, approach the females and decide to have a mini-orgy instead. In less than a minute, everyone’s done, and there is nothing to worry about but sunbathing and some friendly grooming.
Along with chimpanzees, bonobos are our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, and some experts say they’re the smartest apes in the world. Now, I’m not here to give you a lecture on primate sex. But seeing that video flipped my notion of sex on its head.
Until that point, I thought sex was about love and connection in the midst of rose petals and candles, with a romantic song playing in the background. Of course, I’m not saying sex isn’t or can’t be those things, but the bonobos taught me an important lesson: Sex can be for more than just sex.
So, when it came time to take the final for that class, along with three other classes, I decided to use a little bonobo wisdom as a study tool. I wasn’t sleeping with anyone at that time, so I did the next best thing and masturbated during my study breaks. Let me say that not only is orgasm a great motivational tool, but also I found myself (a person highly prone to freaking out during finals season) more relaxed than usual.
Some may argue that using sex as a tool cheapens it. There’s this distinction in the philosophical world: doing an act as an end in itself versus doing it as a means to an end. For example, this is the difference between giving money to a homeless person simply to be kind versus doing it so people around you notice and then praise you. The latter seems less genuine and (at least for Aristotle and Kant) less preferable when it comes to moral actions.
But we’re not operating in the lofty moral realm here; we’re just trying to get through dead week and our dreaded finals. What better stress-management technique than a quick romp between the sheets? This time of year usually correlates to a few less-than-ideal states: high stress, poor sleep, poor health and low self-esteem (why yes, this is the fourth day I’m on campus in sweats and a Cal shirt). Lucky for us, we have a panacea for all our problems.
Sex is great for stress relief and even lowers blood pressure. It’s been shown to boost antibody levels, which ensures that you won’t catch the dead-week sniffles that are going around. Next time you’re lying in bed trying to sleep and can’t get your brain to shut up about protein structures, have a quickie. Sex releases oxytocin, which promotes sleep, ensuring you won’t crash during the brutal three-hour exam that your professor promised would only take one. Plus, will you really care if you haven’t eaten anything other than energy bars and Red Bull all day if you’re getting some tonight?
I think on some biological level we must know that sex is useful as a mean to other ends. The bonobos are a living testament to that. I’ve noticed this in my own life as well. During one particularly volatile relationship, my ex and I would get into huge fights, and I’d find myself strangely aroused afterward. Make-up sex is common enough that it has its own moniker in our society. Granted, it may be a way for people to avoid dealing with larger issues (it certainly was in the relationship between my ex and me), but I think we crave make-up sex in part because it allows us to foster a connection with someone after a fight that inevitably drives us apart.
There’s nothing wrong with using sex for its physical and mental benefits. Humans invented the wheel to get us from point A to point B, and sometimes we use sex to get us through multiple late-night cram sessions. We’re just being resourceful.
So as you’re scrambling to write that 15-page research paper that’s currently a blank page in Microsoft Word, promise yourself a sexual treat as a motivational tool. Instead of trying to sell the one remaining seat in Main Stacks on Craigslist, take a break, remember what the outside world looks like and have a couple of orgasms. Finals are coming whether we like it or not, so we might as well come along with them.