Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Aggression for Sexual Access

  • Mark HuppinEmail author
  • Neil M. Malamuth
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1681-1



Aggression that is used to gain access to sexual activity to which one of the participants does not consent.


This article describes evolutionary psychological (EP) perspectives on aggression that is used to gain access to sexual activity to which one of the participants does not consent. Rape is one of the extreme forms of sexual aggression, and it will be focused on primarily in the discussion here.

EP perspectives seek to identify ultimate causes of behavior, complementing the focus on proximate causes characteristic of other psychological theorizing. In addressing ultimate causation, evolutionary psychologists have often asked whether the ability to inflict sexual aggression, and/or to avoid being a victim of it, contributed to reproductive success in our species’ ancestral history, possibly giving rise to dedicated psychological mechanisms pertaining to coercive sex. Although addressing such questions is standard in EP theorizing, some critics have raised concerns that this might imply that sexual aggression is “natural” in the sense of inevitable or morally neutral, an implication the authors clearly wish to avoid (i.e., the naturalistic fallacy).

Sexual Aggression in Other Species

Relevant to EP theories of aggression for sexual access is evidence of sexual aggression in other species. In fact, physical force, harassment, and other intimidation to obtain sex have been reported in many species. Based on a review of the literature on forced copulation among nonhumans, Lalumière et al. (2005) identified specific characteristics in those species that exhibit sexual coercion. Across all nonhuman species in which forced copulation has been observed, it is always perpetrated by males on females. Despite the tendency of females in some species to be assertive in the mating process, these authors could not find one instance of a female forcing sex on a male. Further, males are more likely to target fertile than infertile females for forced copulation. Relatedly, forced copulation does occasionally result in insemination, fertilization, and offspring. Also, males of most species tend not to engage solely in coercive sexual behaviors. In fact, most males who engage in forced copulation sometimes, at other times, court females. Finally, Lalumière et al. (2005) recognized the role of individual differences in sexual aggression. Certain males are more likely than others to engage in forced copulation. Some males are more successful at sexual aggression than others. Lalumière et al. conclude that sexual aggression (particularly in the form of forced copulation) “…is a tactic used by some males under some conditions to increase reproduction” (p. 59).

A particularly interesting species is the orangutan, one of the few nonhuman primates for which sexual coercion is common. There is evidence for two distinct classes of orangutan males: large males and small males. Small males are relatively unsuccessful in obtaining sex with females via courtship. Although both types resort to forced copulations, they are more often perpetrated by small males, who force more than 80% of their total copulations at some orangutan sites, although only about half or fewer of their copulations are forced at other sites, suggesting the role of environmental contingencies such as population density and sex ratio (Knott 2009).

The evidence from orangutans can be contrasted with other similar species in which forced copulation has not been reported, such as bonobos and common chimpanzees. This suggests the importance of factors such as the isolated social system unique to orangutans among the apes (see Smuts 1995, for analyses emphasizing the importance of female coalitions as a deterrent for male sexual aggression across various primate species and potential implications for humans). Chimpanzee males have been found to harass and intimidate females, however, which can increase future sexual access to the target. For example, long-term data from a study of wild chimpanzees showed that a female’s willingness to initiate copulation with a male is positively correlated with how frequently the male has been aggressive toward her, suggesting that female mate preferences are constrained by sexual coercion (Muller et al. 2011). A related study (Muller et al. 2007) found that male chimpanzees achieved more matings with females toward whom they were more aggressive and directed more aggression toward more fecund females.

Frequency of Sexual Aggression in Humans

Another issue relevant to an evolutionary-based model of aggression for sexual access is its frequency in human history, because regularly occurring events are more likely to have a “…logic embedded in the dynamics of natural selection for reproductive success” (Wrangham and Peterson 1996, p. 138). Sexual coercion does appear to have occurred throughout human history (e.g., Chagnon 1994), and as discussed below, as with other species it is the case that among humans, males are much more likely than females to use aggression for sexual access. Cross-cultural surveys reveal that male sexual aggression occurs in most societies today. Moreover, even relatively rape-free societies described in such surveys (e.g., Sanday 1981) have social rules intended to counter male sexual aggression, suggesting that there is universal risk for such behavior.

Data suggest that particularly when fear of punishment is reduced, signaling conditions in which the costs of sexual coercion are low or the perpetrator has anonymity, many men do rape, such as in times of war. At least one-third of men admit some likelihood of sexual coercion if they could be assured that they would not suffer negative consequences (e.g., Malamuth 1989). In addition, sexually coercive fantasies are common among men. In one study 54% of college men “fantasized about forcing a woman to have sex” (Greendlinger and Byrne 1987). Similarly, 33% of a community sample of men sometimes or frequently fantasized a scene “where you rape a woman” (Crèpault and Couture 1980). Imagined sexual aggression is a key predictor of actual sexual aggression (e.g., Knight and Sims-Knight 2003). Imagined aggression may reveal important information about evolved mental mechanisms.

Sex Differences

The EP paradigm considers clues to motivational differences between men and women that may have a bearing on the potential occurrence of aggression for sexual access. Differences in minimal parental investment contribute to a greater likelihood that a man will be motivated to have sex with certain women than vice versa and that, for men, sex may be more easily separated from emotions associated with long-term mating. Such differences create conflicts that can result in some men using coercion to overcome female reluctance and resistance. Consistent with the predictions derived from parental investment theory, as well as with the evidence from nonhuman species, is the finding that across various societies and recorded human history there are large sex differences in the use of sexual coercion. Males are typically the perpetrators, and females are disproportionately the victims. For example, an estimated 19.3% of American women have been raped during their lifetime versus an estimated 1.7% of men (Breiding et al. 2014). For female rape victims, an estimated 99% had only male perpetrators; 79% of male victims also had only male perpetrators. If one examines criminal statistics, the sex differences are huge. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that 99% of those imprisoned for rape were men (Greenfeld 1997). Although there are cultural differences in the frequency of sexual aggression, large sex differences are found even in the most egalitarian and low general violence nations (e.g., Kràhe et al. 2014).

Overview of EP Models

Symons (1979) first discussed extensively whether rape is produced by adaptations or by-products of adaptations. Adaptations are naturally selected (i.e., they resulted in increased ancestral reproductive success). Criteria for establishing adaptation within evolutionary science include attributes of economy, efficiency, complexity, precision, reliability of development, and functionality in solving a specific problem. By-products are incidental characteristics that did not evolve because they solved adaptive problems. For example, male nipples, which have no design functionality, are by-products of the adaptive value of nipples in women (Symons 1979).

Symons (1979) concluded that the available data are insufficient to presume that rape is a facultative adaptation in humans. Rather, rape may be a by-product of male adaptations that produce sexual arousal and adaptations that motivate coercion to secure desired goods. This model, in that it places the propensity to sexually aggress within a larger framework of aggressive tendencies that describes a propensity for antisocial behavior in general, is an example of what has been somewhat similarly referred to in the criminology literature as a “generalist model” (see amplification below). Later EP models of rape have extended Symons’s proposal to include rape as a by-product of both sexual desire and a generalized possessiveness or desire to control others or as a manifestation of an alternative strategy, for example, psychopathy, whereby rape is a by-product of the use of coercion in other areas (Mealey 1995). All of these essentially argue that those individuals who are relatively prone to use aggressive tactics in many circumstances will also use them to gain sexual access but that there are not specialized mechanisms that evolved for using coercive tactics to gain sexual access.

The contrasting model is one that suggests that there are specialized evolved mechanisms pertaining to rape. This type of model corresponds to some degree to the “specialist model” in the criminological literature. In EP theorizing, Thornhill and Palmer (2000) have advanced this model in proposing that there may be various specialized adaptive mechanisms designed to address fundamental problems of sexual access, including decision rules designed to (a) evaluate female vulnerability to rape, essentially by dentifying scenarios in which potential reproductive benefits of aggression for sexual access would have exceeded potential costs (e.g., injury or social ostracism); (b) identify cues associated with fertility (e.g., age, ovulation status), so that the most fertile women could be preferentially targeted; (c) optimize sperm counts produced during rape; (d) motivate rape under conditions of sperm competition; (e) motivate rape in men who lack sexual access to females (the “mate deprivation” hypothesis); and (f) produce sexual arousal specific to opportunities of rape. These theories of adaptation as they relate to sexual aggression have been further elaborated and expanded upon elsewhere (e.g., Camilleri and Stiver 2014). This article will evaluate theory and data specially pertaining to sexual arousal specific to forced sex, explaining how such an adaptive decision rule might be selectively constituted.

The adaptation hypothesis suggests that, in ancestral environments, being sexually coercive under some circumstances (and, particularly for women, having the capacity to avoid being sexual coerced) contributed to reproductive success sufficiently frequently to have resulted in some change in the evolved psychological architecture that would not have occurred without the recurring fitness consequences of sexual coercion. Therefore, this hypothesis posits specific psychological mechanisms pertaining to sexual aggression. Such specialized mechanisms might include reactions such as emotions or arousal patterns that, in the proximate environment, mediate between relevant environmental cues and behaviors.

Although the topic of this article is aggression for sexual access, it is important to note that it is actually more likely that specialized mechanisms for avoiding sexual aggression evolved in women than that specialized mechanisms for engaging in aggression for sexual access evolved in men. Underlying this assertion is the idea that the reproductive costs to ancestral women of losing the ability to choose among mating partners due to sexual aggression would have been greater than the reproductive increase to men of, at times, using coercive sex. In the past few years, this topic of female counter-adaptation to the risk of male sexual aggression has been an area of emphasis of EP rape research. The authors have explored this research in more detail elsewhere (Huppin and Malamuth 2016).

Data Pertaining to the Generalist Versus Specialist Models

As outlined above, two schools of thought have developed: “generalist” and “specialist” theories of sexual offending. Generalist models suggest that the propensity of offenders to sexually aggress can be explained by a broad-spectrum tendency toward unwarranted aggression. Research on convicted rapists has to some degree been supportive of this perspective. Most convicted rapists are generalists vis-à-vis antisocial behavior. They have a history of nonsexual offenses, their criminal records often resemble those of other offenders, and on most measures of antisocial traits and behaviors, convicted rapists are comparable to other types of violent criminals (Lalumière et al. 2005). These men engage in various antisocial acts because they differ from other men not necessarily on some specific mechanism for sexual aggression but on mechanisms underlying general antisocial behaviors. They may be more likely to steal or to use coercion for obtaining any desired goal.

Although similarities between sexual and nonsexual offenders are substantial (e.g., Fanniff et al. 2016; juvenile sexual and nonsexual offenders show equivalent general recidivism rates over a 7-year follow-up), generalist explanations of male sexual aggression still paint an incomplete picture. A meta-analysis of 59 studies comparing male adolescent sex and non-sex offenders, for instance, did not support the notion that adolescent sexual offending can be parsimoniously explained by generalist theories of sexual aggression (Seto et al. 2012; see also Fanniff et al. 2016; juvenile sex offenders show higher sexual recidivism rates than other offenders, although this rate was low). Findings such as this suggest the need to consider “specialist” models of sexual aggression or at least to supplement contributors to general delinquency (e.g., lack of inhibitory self-control, high impulsivity, low empathy, and/or callousness) with risk factors specific to sexual aggression (e.g., sexual arousal to violence, hostile masculinity, impersonal sexual attitudes) in a combined model (Lussier and Cale 2016). From an EP “specialized mechanism” perspective, the question is not whether sexual coercion is a better strategy for males than engaging in consensual sex but whether for some ancestral males, under some circumstances, it may have been reproductively effective to use aggression for sexual access as compared to not using it. In other words, did recurrent ancestral conditions exist under which for some men, some of the time, an overall fitness increase resulted from sexual aggression? Although the hypothesis that sexual aggression contributed to reproductive success has been criticized on grounds that rape rarely leads to conception, Gottschall and Gottschall (2003) estimated pregnancy rates resulting from penile-vaginal rape among women of reproductive age to be twice that of consensual per-incident rates (6.4% to 3.1%). Controlling for age, rape pregnancy rates per incident remained 2% higher than consensual rates (see also Holmes et al. 1996, indicating a rape-related pregnancy rate of 5.0% per rape or 6.0% per victim in a national sample of reproductive age women; for indirect corroboration, see Beirne et al. 2011, in a sample of 105 normally ovulating sexual assault victims, identifying “a trend and a distinct rise in the number of assaults when the victims were in the middle of their cycle” [p. 315], that is to say at peak fertility).

Another factor to think about when considering the potential fitness outcomes of sexual coercion is the fact that a substantial minority of women continue to have sex with the men who sexually assault them (Koss 1988). This is particularly true of completed sexual assault, pointing to the use of sexual coercion as a tactic to secure subsequent copulations. Illustratively, Ellis et al. (2009) identified more than two thousand North American undergraduate women who reported having been sexually assaulted, dividing victims into two groups: assault blocked (59.4%) and assault completed (40.6%; i.e., sexual intercourse occurred). A sizable number of women in both groups indicated future intercourse at least one time with the assaulter, with more women in the assault-completed group (27.2%) than in the assault-blocked group (19.4%) reporting this outcome. Overall, these results indicate that “at least a minority of men may have evolved tendencies to use assaultive tactics to secure mating opportunities beyond those obtained by men who only employ ‘voluntary’ tactics” (p. 461) (see also Wilson and Durrenberger 1982; 39% of rape victims had another date with their assaulters, compared to 12% of victims of attempted rape).

Relatedly, in Holmes et al.’s (1996) study, 41.2% of rape-related pregnancy cases involved repeated assaults, one of which was assumed to have resulted in the pregnancy. Although the data are unclear about what percentage of these women endured multiple assaults from a single perpetrator (indicating only that for these victims, rape-related pregnancy occurred in a context of ongoing abuse), it does point to the possibility that sexual coercion may have increased the likelihood of future copulations with the victim.

Sexual Arousal to Force

One hypothesized candidate for a specialized psychological mechanism motivating aggression for sexual access that has received focused attention is sexual arousal specific to forced sex, referred to here as sexual arousal to force (SAF). Such arousal may be a manifestation of a broader category of sexual arousal generated by controlling or dominating women, which can be accomplished by the use of force.

Using an adaptation model, R. Thornhill and Thornhill (1992) discussed SAF and argued that higher sexual arousal to coercive sex among men should be associated with greater success with coercive sexual tactics, thereby contributing to ancestral reproductive fitness under some circumstances. They noted that given the costs of forced mating in ancestral environments, including possible loss of status or life, men might be expected not to have evolved preferences for forced sex and, therefore, not to evidence SAF. If, however, under some recurrent ancestral environments, the reproductive benefits of forced mating outweighed the costs, psychological mechanisms enabling sexual arousal despite a woman’s lack of consent may have evolved. Harris, Rice, Hilton, Lalumière, and Quinsey’s (2007) selectionist hypothesis of psychopathy provides an example of a model suggesting that SAF could reflect a design feature of a rape adaptation. This hypothesis asks: “Do psychopaths respond more to sexual stimuli depicting violence, coercion, and rape simply because they are indifferent to the suffering of others, or does psychopathy entail a mechanism promoting coercive sex?” (p. 20). Harris et al. (2007) suggest that sexual aggression could be a fundamental feature of psychopathy.

Hagen (2004) argues that specialized mechanisms pertaining to rape would not be expected unless the problems involved in “successfully” committing such an act in ancestral environments were not the same problems as with the use of aggression in other contexts. The occurrence of sexual arousal in the context of coercive acts may be an important distinguishing characteristic. For most aggressive acts, sexual arousal would be irrelevant or even detrimental. Because the preferred sexual strategy for most men in most circumstances is to pursue consensual sex, the most common calibration of sexual arousal mechanisms should be to become sexually inhibited by indications of lack of sexual receptivity by women. However, if an individual were to effectively sexually aggress in ancestral environments, such behavior may have required reversing of the default arousal pattern. This may be hypothesized as a unique adaptive problem associated with sexual coercion as contrasted with the use of coercion in nonsexual contexts.

In evaluating empirical data, the next section relies on studies that measure SAF (often by direct genital measures), and it suggests that studies using related measures, such as reported dominance as a motive for sex and rape fantasies, assess closely related constructs that are also relevant to the present analysis.

Proposed Evolved Function of Sexual Arousal to Force

Within some ancestral circumstances, the inhibition or activation of sexual arousal in response to cues associated with using force might have affected the likelihood of successfully dominating and exerting sexual control over an unwilling woman. Some emotions motivate avoidance of particular stimuli, whereas others motivate approaching or pursuing particular stimuli. Just as fear of spiders motivates avoidance of specific threats, sexual arousal cued to the use of force may motivate sexual aggression. This hypothesis is supported by the meta-analysis of Allen et al. (2000), which documented that sexual arousal is associated with positive psychological affect, a precursor of approach or pursuit.

This hypothesis that sexual arousal cued to the use of force may serve as an approach emotion designed to increase the likelihood of engaging in sexually coercive behavior may be contrasted with non-evolutionary hypotheses of SAF. For example, Marshall and Fernandez (2000) hypothesized that SAF is not designed to facilitate sexual coercion but instead that the causal connection is in the opposite direction. Marshall and Fernandez argue that SAF and other forms of “deviant” sexual arousal are the result of repeated sexual offending. This model suggests that, because the offender lacks the requisite social skills and confidence to engage in consensual sex, he uses coercive tactics repeatedly, eventually resulting in the conditioning of SAF. Other hypotheses have also conceptualized such arousal as an abnormality that is likely to be evidenced by a small percentage of men.

An evolutionary-based model uniquely suggests that, due to calibrating mechanisms grounded in the consequences in ancestral environments, a substantial percentage of “normal” men evidence the sexual arousal pattern that facilitates sexual coercion. How might such calibration occur? In keeping with the proposition that humans share a common evolved psychology that enables relevant developmental experiences to “set” mechanisms at different levels, the model we outline here (labeled the evolutionary functional [EF] model) emphasizes some relevant perceived negative experiences with women that may set the sexual arousal versus sexual inhibition to force mechanism more in one direction or the other. Although full testing of such a process would require a longitudinal study that would be difficult to conduct, it may be possible to prime similar processes to create a state condition related to the trait condition. Yates et al. (1984) found that college men who were insulted by a woman were more sexually aroused by rape portrayals as compared to portrayals of consensual sex. Creating general arousal by physiological exercise instead of an insult by a woman did not result in a similar increase.

Other relevant findings pertain to the trait rather than the state of anger and hostility toward women. These studies indicate that men who are hostile to women, typically on measures that include items referring to perceived rejection from women, show relatively high SAF as contrasted with men who are relatively low on such measures of hostility toward women. For example, many studies focusing on the confluence model of sexual aggression (Malamuth and Hald 2017) have found a strong connection between measures of individual differences in men’s hostility toward women and their SAF or similar constructs such as dominance as a motive for sex and men’s rape fantasies. Other studies examining differences between behaviorally sexually nonaggressive men and sexual aggressors (some of whom are likely to have the relevant calibration of increased SAF) have found similar results (e.g., Murnen et al. 2002). Several priming studies have revealed that sexually aggressive men may be more prone to automatically associate women with hostility, sex, and power (e.g., Leibold and McConnell 2004). Barbaree (1990) reported a study with a rapist who was asked to imagine raping women for whom he held different emotional feelings. He found that the greater the hostility to the woman, the greater the sexual arousal to rape cues. Forbes et al. (2004) found that the key component linking various measures of male dominance ideology (e.g., attitudes supporting aggression or sexism) to aggression against women is hostility toward women. Baumeister et al. (2002) have summarized many studies indicating that experiencing rejection by women, particularly by men who are relatively narcissistic, contributes to sexually aggressive behavior. Taken together, these findings provide some support for the hypothesis that perceived blocked access to desired women and associated hostility toward women may affect the calibration of men’s sexual arousal patterns in ways that could affect the likelihood of committing sexually coercive acts.

How might a mechanism of SAF operate to affect the likelihood of committing sexually coercive acts? Consider a simple distinction between two types of men: one for whom the best prospects involve mating only with a consenting partner and the other a man whose prospects could be augmented by using sexual aggression. (A more dimensional conceptualization would be preferable here but a simple dichotomy is used to facilitate explication.) If one were to design a psychological mechanism that provided the best decision rule (for total ancestral fitness) for each of these men, what might be its properties? For the first man, there would be sensitivity to cues when a sexually desired female indicated disinterest, disgust, or other negative responses. This would be an effective mechanism for inhibiting approach tendencies where persisting in sex with an unwilling female would have high costs compared to pursuing consensual sex with alternative mating prospects. However, for the second type of individual, it could have been ancestrally adaptive to have this inhibiting mechanism disengaged. Potentially, for this latter type, there may even have been fitness benefits to increased SAF relative to consenting sex because engaging in coercion may require relatively greater persistence and energy to overcome the resistance of an unwilling partner. Consistent with this hypothesis, Bernat et al. (1999) found that the penile tumescence of self-identified sexually aggressive men who also held callous sexual beliefs increased when force was introduced into a sexual scenario (see also Lawing et al. 2010; finding that adolescent sexual offenders high in callous/unemotional traits showed more sexualized aggression and had a greater number of victims than other adolescents with a sex offense).

This analysis suggests that type 1 men should show inhibited SAF, whereas type 2 men should show at least equal sexual arousal to consensual and coercive sex (i.e., the shutting off of the inhibiting mechanism) or even greater arousal to some types of coercive sex (the activation of a mechanism creating greater sexual arousal). The distinction between two types of men bears some similarity to the distinction between large and small orangutans insofar as that distinction may serve as a useful illustration of how differently situated individuals may respond based on their unique developmental and current circumstances. In summary, if there were ancestral conditions in which, for some men, some of the time, there was an overall fitness increase resulting from sexual coercion, then for these men it may have been important not to be inhibited by cues of a woman’s unwillingness and to potentially be sexually aroused by dominating and controlling the victim.

Specialization and Coercive Potential

How might one select two groups of men for comparison purposes to correspond to the hypothesized two types? Previous researchers have compared convicted rapists to other men. Because most convicted rapists seem to be relatively more generalists, this is not the ideal comparison, however. The data indicate that it is among noncriminals, particularly those drawn from college populations, that specialization may be most evident. In such general community samples, men who self-identify as having committed sexual coercion show more evidence for “specialization” rather than relatively generalized antisocial characteristics. Ronis et al. (2010) found that self-identified sexually coercive community men exceeded incarcerated rapists on diverse measures of sexual and paraphilic fantasies, including sadism, sexual preoccupation, and bondage. Self-identified sexual coercers among criminals who had not been convicted of sexual crimes also showed higher scores on such sexual and paraphilic fantasy than convicted rapists, suggesting that, even among criminals, self-identification might be a better way to identify specialists for sexual aggression than only considering the crime for which the person was convicted. Overall, these data support the conclusion that most of those currently identified by the judicial system and convicted of acts of sexual aggression display less evidence of specialized psychological mechanisms than other self-identified sexually coercive men. However, caution is necessary in interpreting the data provided by convicted rapists, who might seek to portray a positive image because of the belief that this will increase their likelihood of being paroled.

Researchers focusing on noncriminal samples have seldom addressed whether sexually aggressive men engage in other forms of antisocial behavior. The authors conducted analyses focusing on this issue in our longitudinal database of close to 150 men (for a discussion see Huppin and Malamuth 2016). Several measures were administered to the same men at about 20 years old (Time 1) and then again 10 years later (Time 2). Measures assessing SAF and other characteristics and behaviors showed a pattern supporting specialization. Other findings provide corroboration for such a specialized mechanism (for a discussion see Huppin and Malamuth 2016). Malamuth and Impett (1999) conducted a series of mediational analyses to directly test the hypothesis that high SAF is a specific mediator of forced sex. They found evidence supporting SAF as a specific mediator of coercive sexual behavior.

Malamuth and Hald (2017) recently reviewed a large number of studies, primarily with noncriminal samples pertaining to the “Confluence Mediational Model” (CMM) of sexual aggression. This model incorporates both “generalist” mechanisms and “specialized” mechanisms. The research provided a great deal of support for this model.


EP theory and research seek to better understand the ultimate causes and the design of evolved psychological mechanisms underlying manifest behavior. In addressing aggression for sexual access, there has been considerable focus on whether there may have been, on average, fitness consequences in recurring ancestral environments of the ability to successfully inflict sexual aggression.

The discussion in this article focusing primarily on perpetrators suggests three competing models:
  1. 1.

    There were no recurring fitness consequences of using sexual aggression; therefore, the mind does not include mechanisms relevant to aggression for sexual access.

  2. 2.

    Fitness consequences were a function of the ability to selectively use aggression in various arenas, with sexual conflict being one of many, but no specific adaptive problems existed unique to using coercion in the sexual arena. The mind, therefore, includes mechanisms designed specifically to motivate coercion in various arenas, including but not limited to sexual aggression.

  3. 3.

    Because there were unique adaptive problems associated with the use of coercion in the sexual context (e.g., how to maintain an erection and subdue a victim who is fighting back), specialized mechanisms evolved that enabled the effective use of aggression for sexual access. Such specialized modules evolved because there were fitness benefits in ancestral environments specific to the selective use of sexual aggression that differed from the use of coercion in nonsexual contexts.


In seeking to identify potential candidates for specialized mechanisms, it is useful to reiterate that sexual aggression may be produced by differing motivations and antecedents. The data support the conclusions that rapists identified by the legal system are frequently generalists who commit various types of antisocial behavior and often may not reveal the activation of specialized mechanisms motivating sexual aggression. However, among convicted rapists there has also been considerable evidence of sexual arousal to force that differs from that of non-rapists. In contrast, in the general population, sexual aggressors as compared to non-aggressors, have both higher levels of general antisocial mechanisms as well as specialized mechanisms particularly relevant to gaining sexual access via aggression.



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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Kevin Beaver
    • 1
  1. 1.Florida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA