Press-Republican

FYI...

August 16, 2013

Lust, monkeys and the science of human desire

Her unruly red-blond hair tufting atop her head, Deidrah sat beside Oppenheim. She lipped his ear. She mouthed his chest. She kissed his belly over and over, lips lingering with each kiss. After a while, he pulled himself up and strolled away from her attentions, glancing back over his shoulder to see if she was following. She was.

Deidrah, probably the most reserved female monkey in the compound, started in again on his white-haired torso as they sat together on a concrete curb. The habitat, a 120-foot square, was filled with ladders and ropes and assorted apparatus donated by a fire department and by McDonald's; an environment of trees and vines would have been too expensive to create and maintain. A trio of monkey children sprinted toward a tube, disappeared inside it, burst from the other end and raced around for another run-through, berserk with joy.

From a platform on a steel tower, Kim Wallen, an Emory University psychologist and neuroendocrinologist who has been working for decades at the university's Yerkes Primate Research Center outside Atlanta, gazed down at the habitat's 75 rhesus monkeys. This is the species that was sent into orbit in the '50s and '60s as stand-ins for humans to see if we would survive trips to the moon.

"Females were passive. That was the theory in the middle '70s. That was the wisdom," he remembered from the start of his career. Deidrah's face, always a bit redder than most, was luminous this morning, lit scarlet with lust as she lifted it from Oppenheim's chest. "The prevailing model was that female hormones affected female pheromones - affected the female's smell, her attractivity to the male. The male initiated all sexual behavior." But what science had managed to miss in the monkeys - and what Wallen and a few others were now studying - was female desire.

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