Sociobiological theories of rape

See: Non-human animal sexuality

A Natural History of Rape

The idea that rape evolved as a genetically advantageous behavioral adaptation was popularised by biologist Randy Thornhill and anthropologist Craig T. Palmer in their book ''''.

Thornhill and Palmer's argument begins with the statement that all human behaviors are, no matter how indirectly, the result of some evolutionary adaptation (see adaptationism). They note that since the human brain itself, and thus all capacities for any kind of action whatsoever, evolved from natural selection, the only point of dispute is whether rape is only a by-product of some other unrelated adaptation (such as a desire for aggression, domination, etc.) or if rape itself is an adaptation favored because it increases the number of descendants of rapists. The authors are in disagreement over which of these hypotheses will be confirmed by the evidence.

Thornhill and Palmer argue that it is possible that the underlying motivations of rapists evolved because they were at one time conducive to reproduction. In the book, they note that the overwhelming majority of rape victims are of childbearing age, suggesting that childbearing ability is involved in a rapist's choice of victims. They also cite evidence that penile-vaginal intercourse is more likely to occur with rape victims who are of reproductive age. Which they argue as evidence that men are at least somewhat sexually, and therefore reproductively, motivated.

Women, they argue, have psychological adaptations that protect their genes from would-be rapists. "We feel that the woman's perspective on rape can be best understood by considering the negative influences of rape on female reproductive success," they write. For example, the book cites a study claiming that victims of optimal childbearing age suffer more emotional trauma from rape than older women or pre-pubescent girls. They present this as evidence consistent with their theory, as women in the ancestral environment in their post and pre-reproductive years had less to lose, in terms of genetic progeny, by being raped.

The book calls rape "a natural, biological phenomenon that is a product of the human evolutionary heritage..." akin to" the leopard's spots and the giraffe's elongated neck", which angered many feminists, including Susan Brownmiller, who discussed the book's findings with the authors on NPR.

Although they present rape as an evolutionary inclination, they stress that they are doing so primarily to reveal better ways to combat rape, not to excuse modern rapists (see Appeal to nature). Rape can only be eliminated, they argue, once a society is fully aware of its evolutionary origins. A large section of the book is spent discussing rape-prevention methods. They investigate the effectiveness of chemical castration and other punishments common today, and advocate harsher sentences for rapists than are currently employed, and, more controversially, educational programs explaining the evolutionary causes of rape to young men so that they can better suppress these instincts.

Harvard Professor of Psychology and popular science writer Steven Pinker has spoken out in support of Thornhill and Palmer's work. He writes, "This is a courageous, intelligent, and eye-opening book with a noble goal - to understand and eliminate a loathsome crime. Armed with logic and copious data, A Natural History of Rape will force many intellectuals to decide which they value more: established dogma and ideology, or the welfare of real women in the real world."


Evolutionary psychology proponent Edward H. Hagen states in his Evolutionary Psychology FAQ that he believes there is no clear evidence for the hypothesis that rape is adaptive. He believes the adaptivity of rape is possible, but claims there is not enough evidence to be certain one way or the other. However, he encourages such evidence to be obtained: "Whether human males possess psychological adaptations for rape will only be answered by careful studies seeking evidence for such cognitive specializations. To not seek such evidence is like failing to search a suspect for a concealed weapon."

The book Evolution, Gender, and Rape compiles the views of twenty-eight prominent biologists in opposition to sociobiological theories of rape.

See also


Forced sex in animals:

Theories regarding rape in humans: Responses to these theories: Other evidence:

External links

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