Instead of running counter to reproduction, studies indicate that masturbation may play an important evolutionary role.
It’s highly likely that primate masturbation occurred in the Stone Age just as it does today. It appears to be a natural, hereditary behavior.
Quite recently, a number of research projects have focused on not only whether primates masturbate, but also why they do so. The practice has been studied in gray-cheeked mangabeys, rhesus monkeys, Japanese macaques and colobus monkeys—indicating that self-stimulated ejaculation may serve as form of species survival mechanism.
Boredom Theory Wrong
The Department of Anthropology at the University College London has conducted research on monkeys and apes masturbating in the wild. Researchers found that one of the Old World monkeys, the Red Colobus, masturbates frequently.
This study debunked the belief that primates masturbate in captivity mainly because they are bored. The practice is just as prevalent among those living in the wild. In fact, these particular monkeys were observed masturbating even when females of the same species were available nearby.
The Theory of Solo Sex
Led by reports published in the 1990s by Doctors Robin Baker and M.A. Bellis, many scientists now believe that primate masturbation is a way to eliminate poor quality sperm from the body. Like humans, most primates produce around 140 million sperm per milliliter, and some of that sperm is of poor quality or even defective.
By ejecting inferior sperm, masturbation improves the reproductive quality of male primates. It increases their likelihood of impregnating a female in an environment where the competition for mates among males is fierce.
To date, scientists have not theorized as to why female primates masturbate. Although significantly fewer cases of female masturbation have been recorded, studies did confirm that female primates masturbate, too.
Not Only Primates?
Elsewhere in the animal kingdom, masturbation is also prevalent. Although reptiles, birds and fish seem to have little equivalent behavior, when it comes to mammals in general, a variety of instances have been documented.
Dolphins, for example, will rub themselves against the seabed. Elephants will stimulate themselves with the aid of large rocks or fallen tree trunks. Among other animals that have developed self gratification techniques are walruses, moose, whales and even porcupines, as well as such domesticated species as dogs, cats and horses.
In the case of African ground squirrels, a 2010 study concluded that masturbation “could function as a form of genital grooming … to clean vital reproductive tracts.” Like so many other instinctive behaviors, solo sex has a purpose in helping the fittest survive.
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