Research Suggests That Some Monkeys Use Sex Toys

The research focused on a group of macaques

Macaques are like humans in some unexpected ways.
Gzen92, CC BY-SA 4.0

It doesn’t take too long to get confirmation that humans are far from the only primates to use tools. Capuchins use rocks as makeshift hammers and anvils, for instance, and they’ve been at it for a while. But new research suggests that devices used to build or dismantle objects aren’t the only way certain non-human primates are utilizing tools.

Or, to put things another way: turns out humans aren’t the only primates who use sex toys.

That’s the primary takeaway from a paper recently published in the journal Ethnology. Its title speaks volumes: Do monkeys use sex toys? Evidence of stone tool-assisted masturbation in free-ranging long-tailed macaques. As the paper’s authors write, “our data partly supported the ‘Sex Toy’ hypothesis indicating that stone-directed tapping and rubbing onto the genital and inguinal area are sexually motivated behaviors.”

An article at The New York Times has more details on how the scientists reached their conclusions. They spoke with primate cognition expert Elisabetta Visalberghi, who looked over the data and made a clear judgment about what it meant. “What they found is that, indeed, there was something sexual going on,” Visalberghi said.

As Emily Anthes writes in the Times, this is “not the first report of object-assisted masturbation in wild animals.” And the fact that this includes stone tools can come off as a little head-spinning. But it’s a useful glimpse into human origins — and to what other primates are getting up to.

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