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I Got You Babe: A Sonny Bonobo Story

Updated: Jul 3





With his ever-present grin and twinkling eyes, Sonny Bono exuded a warmth and affability that endeared him to his many fans. Sonny played the role of the affable, humorous sidekick to his wife Cher's strong personality and star power on their variety TV show. However, in real life, Sonny was the driving, controlling force behind their music career, writing their hit songs and making all the major decisions for the couple. Cher and Sonny Bono met in 1963 when Cher was a 16-year-old aspiring singer ,and Sonny was a 27-year-old songwriter and producer. Cher herself admitted, "I knew what I wanted to do, but I never would've gotten there without Sonny". He oversaw every aspect of her image and performances.


Even after their subsequent TV success with The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, the power imbalance persisted. Cher cited "involuntary servitude" as a reason for their 1975 divorce, accusing Sonny of withholding her earnings. It took Sonny acknowledging his errors and apologizing years later for Cher to find some closure on how he had "hurt [her] in so many ways". More about all of us Sonnys and our special problems later.


But what if... Sonny and Cher, instead of being Bonos, an American Homo Sapiens couple in the 1960s, had been Bonobos , members of a community of our closest primate relatives. Their power dynamic might have played out quite differently. In bonobo society, females hold significant power and form strong alliances with other females, which helps them control resources and maintain social order. Unlike the human scenario where Sonny controlled most aspects of their professional and personal lives, a bonobo Cher would have had the support of other females to counterbalance Sonny's dominance, within a culture where matriarchs manage the community's day to day lives.


Now to be clear, we're just having a little fun with this Sonny Bonobo story, as a way to begin to compare and think about our own human cultures, and the men and women within those cultures. So, here are some interesting Bonobo facts:


Bonobos are a species of great ape, sharing around 98.7% of their DNA with humans, making them among our closest living relatives along with chimpanzees. Bonobos are known for their peaceful, egalitarian, matriarchal and sexually relaxed society in contrast to the more aggressive male-dominated chimpanzee groups.


Female bonobos hold significant power and influence, often leading groups and making key decisions. This female-centered hierarchy fosters a more egalitarian social structure, reducing the likelihood of violent conflicts over dominance. They comfort distressed individuals with hugs and other signs of affection, demonstrating a keen awareness of the emotional states of others. This empathy extends beyond their immediate group, as bonobos are also known to share food and engage in friendly interactions with strangers.


Unlike many other animals, bonobos are not territorial. When two bonobo groups encounter each other, they often share resources and engage in intimate behaviors rather than displaying hostility.


One of the most distinctive features of bonobo culture is their use of sexual behavior to resolve conflicts and strengthen social bonds. Sexual activity among bonobos is not limited to reproduction, but serves as a means of greeting, forming alliances, and reconciling after disputes. This behavior helps to diffuse tension and maintain harmony within the group.


Researchers have observed male bonobos engaging in aggressive behavior like hitting, pushing, and biting each other, however without resorting to extreme violence or killing. Alternately, researchers have observed chimpanzees killing each other, both within their own groups and between different communities.


There are a few human cultures that have been observed to be relatively nonviolent and cooperative, exhibiting some similarities to the social behaviors of bonobos (although bonobo-like sex on demand is not a part of their cultural practices):


The Semai people, an indigenous group in Malaysia, have a culture that emphasizes nonviolence, egalitarianism, and conflict avoidance. They have been described as one of the most nonviolent societies in the world. Disputes are typically resolved through mediation and compromise rather than aggression or violence.


The Buid people of the Philippines have a culture centered around peacekeeping, with strong social norms against violence and conflict. They highly value harmony, cooperation, and sharing resources equitably within their communities.


Traditional Inuit culture in the Arctic regions has been noted for its emphasis on cooperation, sharing of resources, and nonviolent conflict resolution. Violence was extremely rare and discouraged within Inuit communities due to their need to cooperate for survival in harsh environments.


So let's move now to a darker part of our jungle.

In contrast to the generally peaceful nature of bonobo society, many human cultures have a long history of violence and warfare. The world has never experienced true global peace, as conflicts and violence have persisted throughout human history due to various factors, including competition for scarce resources, economic disparities, territorial disputes, cultural biases, competition for mates, and power/control struggles. The consequences of such violence are profound, leading to immense suffering and massive loss of life, displacement, and long-term psychological and social impacts.


Many patriarchal societies have had a profoundly negative impact on the quality of life for both men and women, albeit in different ways: Women have been systematically oppressed, subjugated, and denied equal rights and opportunities in patriarchal societies.

Their roles have been restricted to domestic spheres, with limited access to education, employment, and decision-making power. They have faced gender-based violence, discrimination, and a lack of bodily autonomy.


While patriarchy grants men more power and privilege as a group, it also can harm individual men's well-being. Men face immense pressure to conform to rigid masculine norms, suppress emotions, and engage in risk-taking behaviors, negatively impacting their mental and physical health, including death in warfare. Patriarchy fosters homophobia, restricts male friendships and relationships, and promotes violence and entitlement towards women. It disconnects men from their humanity, individuality, and discourages them from seeking support or prioritizing self-care.


Let's focus-in on problems that many Sonnys are experiencing now.

Research indicates that loneliness is a significant issue for many young men today. According to a recent survey, two-thirds of men aged 18 to 23 reported feeling that "no one really knows me" . This sense of isolation is not just a fleeting feeling, but a profound experience that can lead to significant mental health issues. The lack of close friendships and emotional connections can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, contributing to a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. The Equimundo 2023 State of American Men survey found that 44 percent of men had thoughts of suicide over the past two weeks, highlighting the severity of this issue . Although women engage in more suicide attempts, men are 3-4 times more likely to die from suicide than women.


Recent data suggests that a substantial portion of single men who are open to dating and finding a life partner may experience frustration due to the complexities and difficulties inherent in modern dating dynamics. And...the inability to secure a romantic partner can have a profound emotional impact on men, especially given their lack of a compensatory network of friends. It can trigger intense feelings of rejection, loneliness, and a sense of failure in fulfilling a drive/a need, a traditional masculine expectation of being a provider, a protector, somebody's champion, someone's hero. In Greek mythology, Hercules performed his heroic Twelve Labors to win the hand of Deianira in marriage. We Sonnys need to perform smaller, but no less important heroic labors for our beloveds : "Hey Honey, I fixed the sink!" Without a beloved to recognize us for our "heroics", we lose a key component of our identity.


A survey of 2,000 British men revealed that approximately half of those in their 30s experienced difficulties in obtaining and maintaining an erection, with performance anxiety being a significant factor . This psychological anxiety is often rooted in feelings of inferiority, from a sense of faltering manhood in our lives. Additionally, the unrealistic portrayals of sex in pornography can lead to erectile dysfunction and a distorted view of sexual relationships.


Erectile dysfunction (ED) in men in their 30s and older can also be caused by various physical factors, which now afflict a significant number of men: Cardiovascular diseases (e.g., atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) - These conditions impair blood flow to the penis, making it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection. Diabetes - High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels and nerves involved in erections. Obesity - Being overweight or obese increases the risk of ED due to its impact on cardiovascular health and hormone levels. Low testosterone levels - Testosterone plays a crucial role in sexual function, and low levels can contribute to ED. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption - These habits can damage blood vessels and impair erections. Certain medications - Drugs like antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and chemotherapeutic agents can have side effects that contribute to ED.


Alcohol and drug abuse is strongly associated with emotional instability, and is highly associated with aggressive behavior and violent crimes. Men are estimated to be 3-4 times more likely to develop an alcohol disorder than women. Studies have shown that alcohol/drug use can lower inhibitions, impair judgment, and increase impulsivity, which can lead to aggressive outbursts . Alcohol-induced aggression has been observed to have a greater effect on males than females, with men exhibiting higher intensity and duration of aggressive behaviors when intoxicated . The lifetime probability of incarceration is approximately 9 times higher for men than women in the United States.


And the grand finale, so to speak...

Men are more likely to die before their spouse dies. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy at birth for males in the United States is approximately 73.2 years, while for females it is around 79.1 years. On average, 60% of married Chers will outlive their Sonnys.


In addition to the fact that men are typically older than their spouses, the following factors are operative: Men are more likely to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and poor diet. Men are less likely to seek medical care and comply with medical advice. Men are more prone to engage in risky activities that can lead to fatal accidents, such as work-related hazards, car crashes, and dangerous sports. Men more often than women work in jobs that involve difficult physical labor, exposure to harmful substances, and high stress levels.


Studies have also shown that men are 70% more likely to die within a year of losing their spouse, compared to their non-widowed peers, a risk that is particularly pronounced among younger men. This increased mortality rate is often linked to the emotional and social support that men receive from their wives, which, when lost, can lead to significant health declines.


Statistics underscore the significant gender differences in predecease rates, suicide completion, violent offending, substance abuse, and incarceration rates in the United States, highlighting the need for targeted interventions and support systems for both men and women. Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort to foster emotional connections, provide support for those struggling with physical health, mental health, and substance abuse issues, challenge the negative aspects of patriarchy and harmful gender norms, and create targeted interventions to reduce violence and incarceration rates. By doing so, we hopefully can help young men and women build healthier, more fulfilling relationships and improve their overall well-being.


OK, let's talk about sex...The post-orgasm phase in men involves a complex interplay of physical relaxation, hormonal changes, and positive mood shifts that contribute to a temporary decrease in sexual arousal and a dramatic increase in feelings of contentment and bonding. That being said, implementing a "sex on demand" system similar to bonobo society as a deterrent to male violence would be unethical, oversimplified, and impractical in human societies. Ultimately, ending violence requires a fundamental shift in societal values, norms, and power dynamics towards embracing gender equality, human rights, and non-violence as core principles.


However, a healthy sexual relationship, within a bonded, supportive, romantic relationship is crucial for most men's life satisfaction. In lieu of bonobo-style sex on demand, the pathway for humans may be providing young men with the tools, guidance, and supportive environment to develop healthy perspectives on relationships, while finding purpose and confidence within themselves.


OK...here's another perspective to consider. Let's repeat this for emphasis... attitudes of some men contribute to their difficulty in finding and keeping a mate. However, attitudes among some women also can contribute to some men's difficulty in finding and keeping a mate. Many women today have higher standards than previous generations when evaluating potential partners, seeking men who are emotionally mature, good communicators, and have achieved a certain level of education or career success. Many woman are no longer dependent on men financially, as they can earn their own income. Although this is certainly an understandable attitude shift on the part of these women, their increased selectivity unfortunately leaves many men high and dry outside the dating pool.


Online dating data shows that a relatively small subset of men, perceived as highly desirable based on factors like income/income potential, education, age, and race, receive a vastly disproportionate share of attention and messages from women compared to the average man. For men to have a 50% chance of receiving at least one response from a woman their age, they need to send 18 messages. For women to have a 50% chance of receiving at least one response from a man their age, they need to send only 5 messages. So its not just toxically masculine males who are being rejected by women, its also a lot of essentially nice guys who don't happen to have the premier package, and that describes the majority of men.


Research shows some women still prefer "benevolently sexist" male partners who embody traditional masculine ideals of being the sole provider and protector. However, as more women challenge rigid gender norms and expectations around masculinity, some men struggle to adapt to the shifting dynamics and develop the emotional intelligence valued by many modern women. Perhaps the key is providing young men and women with the tools, guidance, and supportive environment to develop healthy perspectives on relationships, while finding purpose and confidence within themselves.


The School of Life, co-founded by Alain de Botton, offers a wealth of resources and insights on how men and women can help each other become better relationship partners. The School emphasizes that love is not just an emotion, but a skill that requires continuous learning and practice. Both partners should be committed to understanding and improving their ability to love and communicate effectively.


De Botton suggests that love involves a process where partners help each other become the best versions of themselves. This involves a benevolent exchange of knowledge and support to enhance each other's admirable qualities. Regularly expressing emotions and apologizing can strengthen relationships. Partners should be open about their feelings, admit their mistakes, and reduce the cost of apologies to foster a forgiving and understanding environment.


Relationships often involve frustrations and disappointments. By lowering expectations of perfection and accepting each other's flaws, partners can navigate the inevitable challenges more effectively. Understanding attachment styles and being aware of one's own emotional needs are crucial. Partners should strive to be mindful of their own and each other's psychological backgrounds and work together to address these needs compassionately and constructively.


Effective communication is crucial. Partners should listen carefully to each other, express their fears gently, and avoid acting out in anger. This helps in maintaining a deep connection and understanding. By embracing these principles, men and women can support each other in becoming better partners, fostering a relationship that is both fulfilling and resilient.


OK, now that we've enhanced Sonny's relationship with Cher, what about relationships on the global scale; achieving lasting world peace.

Well wow; ok lets start by addressing societal barriers to equity, promoting education for all, fostering intercultural understanding, strong, unified deterrents to acts of national aggression, and developing robust international frameworks and ethical considerations that consider equitable sharing of the earth's resources. Achieving global peace requires a comprehensive approach that tackles violence, promotes justice and good governance, addresses underlying socioeconomic issues, and fosters international cooperation.


While human societies are vastly more complex than those of bonobos, there are valuable lessons to be learned from our primate relatives. The emphasis on empathy, sharing, cooperation, matriarchal principles, sexual satisfaction, and nonviolence in bonobo culture highlights the potential for more peaceful human interactions. While human societies face unique challenges, the bonobo model offers an interesting vision for a more peaceful future.


In the final analysis, as individuals and as members of the world community, we evolved together, we were made for each other, we need each other in all our many colors, sizes, languages, shapes and wonderful, maddening variations. Let's work together to be the best versions of ourselves for each other. So... here's to you babe, I've got you! And as Sonny and Cher sang to us all...Put your hand in mine....there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb!


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