Evolutionary Defences Against Sexual Aggression

Sexual aggression is one approach males adopt to reduce the costs of sexual access, but it comes with costs in the form of revenge and reputational damage. Sexual aggression is demonstrated by a guy demanding or forcing sexual intimacy, failing to get mutual consent for sex, and touching a woman's body without her permission.

No other types of behaviours that males may do, including verbal abuse and nonsexual physical violence, were seen as unpleasant by women as sexual aggression--a conclusion that was independently confirmed in a survey of Dutch people. Women, contrary to popular belief, do not want forced sex.

Men and Rape Adaptations

Rape is the use or threat of force to obtain sexual intercourse. One of the most contentious topics in evolutionary psychology is whether males have developed specialized adaptations to rape under particular conditions or if rape is a by-product of other evolved processes. Rape-as-adaptation hypothesis suggests that selection favoured ancestral men raped under particular conditions. Proponents of this idea propose that at least six specialized adaptations may have emerged in the male mind.

  • Assessment of probable rape victims' vulnerability (for example, during wartime or in non-conflict circumstances where a woman lacks the protection of a husband or relatives).

  • A context-sensitive "switch" that encourages rape in men who do not have sexual access to willing partners (e.g., "loser" guys who cannot find mates through traditional courting channels).

  • A predilection for fertile rape victims.

  • An increase in sperm counts in rape ejaculates as compared to consensual intercourse.

  • Sexual arousal in men, particularly in response to the use of force or signals of female reluctance to consensual sex.

  • Marital rape in situations where sperm competition may exist (for example, when there is proof or suspicion of female infidelity).

Rape, on the other hand, is a nondesigned and nonselected-for by-product of other evolved mechanisms, such as the male desire for sexual variety, a desire for sex without investment, a psychological sensitivity to sexual opportunities, and the general ability to use physical aggression to achieve a variety of goals. Unfortunately, definitive data supporting these conflicting views is missing. Rape is typical during the conflict, but so are robbery, looting, property damage, and brutality to the vanquished.

The Mate Deprivation Hypothesis

Not all males inflict sexual aggression costs on women. Indeed, evolutionary psychologists such as Neil Malamuth have studied the features of sexually aggressive guys. These researchers discovered two routes to sexual hostility. The first option is the impersonal sex path. Males who place a high value on sexual conquest as a source of peer status and self-esteem are included. Of course, not all men that want impersonal short-term mating employ sexual aggression, but this inclination is statistically related to sexual aggression usage.The hostile masculinity path is the second. This approach comprises two interconnected components −

  • An insecure, defensive, hypersensitive, aggressive, and suspicious attitude towards women, and

  • Pleasure in dominating and manipulating women.

Men who score high on aggressive masculinity measures have a history of being rejected by women. These guys believe women have injured, misled, betrayed, and exploited them. According to Malamuth, aggressive masculinity may assist males in avoiding feelings of pity or empathy for the victim, which may otherwise hinder the use of sexual aggression.

Do Women Have Evolved Antirape Adaptations?

Although the debate about rape explanations has centred on men's intentions, it is equally necessary to study rape victims. All theoretical factions agree on victim psychology: Rape is heinous and frequently results in severe consequences for the victim. This discovery does not require a formal theory, but it is necessary to investigate why victims view rape as particularly painful.

Rape's evolutionary consequences begin with interfering with women's mate choice, a crucial aspect of women's sexual strategy. A raped lady faces an unwelcome and premature pregnancy with a partner she did not choose. Furthermore, rape victims risk being stigmatized or penalized, causing harm to their reputations and future desirability on the mating market. They risk being abandoned by their average partners if they are already mated.

Raped women frequently experience psychological trauma, including humiliation, anxiety, dread, fury, and sadness. Given these high costs, it would be fantastic if rape did not favour the evolution of defence systems in women to prevent women from becoming a victim throughout human evolutionary history. This is distinct from the question of whether males have acquired rape adaptations. In theory, women may have evolved antirape defences even if rape was solely a by-product of men's nonrape mechanisms.

Although research into these hypothesized defences is still in its early stages, it shows enormous potential. Women who do not use oral contraceptives are more likely to avoid dangerous activities, such as going to a bar alone or wandering in a darkly lit place, when ovulating than during other cycle periods. Greater fear of rape is associated with increased behavioural precautions, such as avoiding being alone with males they do not know well or guys who come on hard sexually.

This implies that fear encourages behaviour that reduces the likelihood of rape. Young women are more afraid of rape than older women, who are more likely to be afraid of being robbed or burgled, implying that anxiety is tracking the statistical chances of rape. Although no direct studies of the "bodyguard hypothesis" have been done, married women report fewer incidences of rape than unmarried women.


Rape is a by-product of other evolved mechanisms, such as the male desire for sexual pleasure. Rapists target young, reproductive-aged women disproportionately, but this is not definitive evidence for or against the competing theories of rape. Any theory of rape must explain individual differences in sexual aggression.

The hostile masculinity path combines an insecure, defensive, hypersensitive, hostile, and distrustful orientation with pleasure in dominating and controlling women. Men who have experienced deprivation of sexual access to women are more likely to use sexually aggressive tactics, contrary to the mate deprivation hypothesis.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started