Human Rape: Adaptation or By-Product? Author(s): Craig T. Palmer Source: The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 28, No. 3 (Aug.

, 1991), pp. 365-386 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 29/01/2010 18:52
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The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 365-386 August, 1991

Human Rape: Adaptation or By-Product?
Institute of Social and Economic Research Memorial University of Newfoundland

This paper examines two alternative evolutionaryexplanations of human rape. Oneexplanation sees human rape as a facultative male reproductive tactic. The other explanation sees human rape as an evolutionary byproduct of certain evolved differences in the reproductive strategies of human males and females. These two explanations generate alternative testable predictionsconcerningcross-species, cross-cultural,and modern societal data on rape. Existing evidence is found to be insufficient to warrant an adaptive explanation of rape per se in humans. The question of whether the search for adaptations needs to be shifted frombehavioral categories to the underlying psychologicalmechanisms is discussed. KEY WORDS: Rape, evolution, by-product, adaptation Rape has received growing attention from social scientists in many diverse disciplines. One recent approach has been to apply evolutionary theory to the understanding and prevention of these acts (see Alcock, 1983; Alexander, 1979, 1987; Alexander & Noonan, 1979; Barash, 1977, 1979, 1982; Hagen, 1979; Shields & Shields, 1983; Symons, 1979; Thornhill, 1980; Thornhill & Thornhill, 1983, 1987, in prep.). Except for creating controversy, the evolutionary approach has made little impact on the larger literature on rape (see Baron, 1985; Dusek, 1984; Sunday & Tobach, 1985; for exceptions, see Ellis, 1989, & Rhodes, 1981). Much of this controversy has centered around attempts to support an adaptive explanation of human rape. Some objections (i.e., those based on the naturalistic fallacy of confusing statements about what "is" with those about what "should be") are simply the result of misunderstandings of modern evolutionary theory (see Ruse, 1978). However, more legitimate objections to adaptive arguments have also been made. These objections have led many critics to reject an evolutionary approach in its entirety. This paper presents a broader evolutionary approach that equally
Requests for reprints should be sent to Craig T. Palmer, Ph.D., Institute of Social and Economic Research, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland A1C 5S7. 365

1966). Williams. Daly & Wilson. Symons. The first complication comes from the fact that an "adaptation" is formed by natural selection in the past. Burian. Simply measuring the current reproductive effects of a given behavior relative to alternative forms of behavior. economy. Thornhill and Thornhill. 11. 122). Curio. Alexander. Many researchers follow the criteria set forth by Williams (1966) to differentiate adaptations from by-products (see also Alcock. While this does not require showing "perfection" in the functioning of the trait. Such misplaced functional explanations are particularly likely when the proximate causes of the proposed trait are ignored: . etc. 1966. p. Dewsbury. The term adaptation does not imply anything about the present or future fitness of the individual exhibiting the trait. 200). Differentiating adaptations from by-products is a central task in modern evolutionary biology. Williams (1966) suggests that the key to establishing that a given structure or behavior is actually an adaptation is demonstrating that it has been "designed" by natural selection for a specific function (see Symons.366 PALMER considers the adaptive hypothesis and the hypothesis that rape is only an evolutionary by-product of other adaptations. efficiency. is often a very useful type of information. Proposing evolutionary functions for "arbitrarily demarcated parts of organisms" often leads to functional explanations of structures or behaviors which are not actually adaptations (Symons. 1989). These criteria are necessary because there is no simple way of identifying an adaptation. This means demonstrating the "appropriateness of the means to the end" (Williams. 1980. 1973. p. pp. 1975)." (Williams. p. 1983. Thus. 11). Ruse. 1979.10). p. 1975. Wilson. 254. 1966. Hinde. 142). 1987. as suggested by Caro and Burgerhoff Mulder (1987). p. see also Crawford & Galdikas. 1986. 206. but it cannot be taken as a conclusive test of a trait being an adaptation (see Symons. there is the possibility that "the trait. Such an approach might lead to a more objective and productive evaluation of an evolutionary perspective on rape. p. 1980. 1983. 1979. 1978. although once adaptive under conditions that no longer exist. Symons 1980. 1983. 1983. A second complicating factor is the need to establish that the trait proposed to be an adaptation is really a distinct and independent entity. 1987. p. Besides the use of cross-species comparisons. is currently maladaptive" (Alcock. 1979. a "plausible demonstration of design" consists of demonstrating that a trait accomplishes its alleged function with "sufficient precision. 1979. 1983. it does entail demonstrating that the trait is better explained by the proposed function than by any other effect (see Symons. 12.

This approach holds that "despite a widespread prejudice among psychologists to the contrary. 1983. Cavalli-Sforza & Feldman. Donald Symons even suggests that "there is a seamless continuum of heterosexual couplings" and there may be "no behavior(s) distinctive to rape. it is necessary to demonstrate that proposed behavioral be "sufficiently distinct and bounded" before the adaptations assumption that they themselves were favored by natural selection can be supported (Martin Daly. Durham. p. 1980. 1978. Sade. 1988). just as morphological adaptations must be distinct entities. 32). alternative behavioral "tactics" must be "discontinuous. 1983. Identifying distinct traits that could be adaptations is particularly important and difficult when dealing with behavior (see Caplan. 1984. 1987).. 1988). personal communication. Lewontin." (Donald Symons." (Dominey. insufficient attention toproximateconcernsmay result in a misreading ofthe forces at workin the selection process. There has been a recent theoretical shift that is relevant to this issue: "Research emphasis needs to shift away from the description and in adaptive terms-to the discovery and analysis of behavior-even characterization of psychological mechanisms as adaptations" (Tooby and Cosmides. 1979. Gallup. February 22. 1982. Symons concludes that "rape" is not even "the name for the sort of thing that could be a human adaptation. 1987). 1978. Gould & Lewontin. 1988). It has been suggested that many names of behaviors are "so phenotypically vague as to be virtually descriptively empty" (Donald Symons.. 1980. 336. 1988). 386). 1981. evolutionary considerations render it highly implausible that the psyche consists of .HUMANRAPE 367 . March 6. February 22. 1978. 1989. February 23. personal communication." (personal communication. 1981. & Symons. [and] mutually exclusive . February 22. Since rape does not appear to be a distinct aspect of a phenotype. The necessity of an adaptation to be a precise and distinct aspect of a phenotype is crucial to determining if human rape is an adaptation. 1987. 1979. Cloak. see also Gould.Researcherswho concentrate exclusively on ultimate function run the risk of cataloguing behaviors as 'adapted'which may instead be by-productsor secondary effects of other adaptations (Losco. They argue that it is questionable whether the infinitely varied attempts of human males to copulate with females can be divided into distinct categories (Martin Daly. Gallup & Suarez. This is because several authors have emphasized the vagueness of the behavioral category of "rape" compared to other types of copulation. 1975. personal communication. 1988). personal communication. . p. Thus. . Sociobiological Study Group. Such vagueness is a crucial problem because. Gould. p.

I auggest that it can always be determined whether a certain act constitutes rape. Tooby and Cosmides. The question therefore becomes whether there is evidence of psychological mechanisms in the human male designed to produce this type of behavior. 1989. 1987. this approach assumes "the human nervous system is comprised of a very large number of complex special purpose mechanisms" (emphasis added." the word "rape" has generally been used in discourse without confusion. p. Although I will use this new terminology. . The evidence used to support these two alternative explanations will now be examined.). With regard to rape. I do not agree with claims that the behavioral category of rape is indistinguishable from other forms of sexual activity. The question of adaptation or by-product now becomes whether the mechanisms involved in rape have been selected for rape itself. this means that the type of thing that could be an adaptation is a psychological mechanism in the human male's psyche that exists solely because it allowed males to increase their reproductive success by raping. Although many societies may be experiencing a slight change in the acts denoted by the word "rape. a behavior can be considered "an adaptation only if at least one of those mechanisms was designed by selection specifically to produce it" (Symons. p. even if it is difficult to make the definition explicit. in prep. see Palmer 1988b). 31. see also Cosmides and Tooby. or the reasonable likelihood that such resistance would result in death or bodily harm to the victim or others whom she commonly protects. As an alternative. In an earlier paper (Palmer 1989b). 1989. 1989. Although the categorizing of some acts as rape may be less obvious than others. 34). p. Thorhill and Thornhill. METHOD Although there are several possible explanations of rape consistent with the basic tenets of evolutionary theory (including rape as an individual pathology or a product of novel environments. Hence. I suggested that rape refers to copulations involving either the victim's resistance to the best of her ability. the most likely possibilities are the adaptive and by-product explanations. or for a variety of other types of behaviors. The fact that such communication occurs implies that people agree about the acts that the word 'rape" refers to. 139).368 PALMER a single or small number of domain-general purpose mechanisms or processes" (Tooby and Cosmides.

Rape. and less discriminating criteria of sexual partners (Symons. " (1979. . 1987). a greater willingness to engage in impersonal sex. The crucial environmental condition influencing a male to adopt the rape tactic is the vulnerability of the victim. 284)." (Symons. rape is expected to occur only when its potential benefit (production of an extra offspring) exceeds its potential cost (energy expended and risk taken) owing to some probability of resistance or retributionthat would reduce a rapist's (or his kin's)reproductivesuccess (Shields & Shields. 253)." a lesser ability to abstain from sexual activity. 1983." (Symons. .. 1979.HUMANRAPE 369 Rape as a By-product In his 1979 book The Evolution of Human Sexuality. 1979. These different mechanisms include those involved in the male's greater visual arousal. p. to the study ofhuman sexual behavior. Symons proposed that rape was only a by-product of evolved differences in the behavioral and emotional mechanisms of males and female sexuality (see also Symons. a much greater desire for sexual variety per se. 267). p. he rejected the notion that human rape itself was an adaptation produced by natural selection: "I do not believe that available data are even close to sufficient to warrant the conclusion that rape itself is a facultative adaptation in the human male . Donald Symons argued for the importance of an evolutionary approach. greater autonomous "sex drive. according to Symons. 264-267). These traits combine to produce a situation in which "the typical male is at least slightly sexually attracted to most females. Instead of a specific reproductive tactic. according to Symons. These evolved differences. 115). Rape as an Adaptation Two specific adaptive explanations of human rape as an adaptative behavioral category were put forth in 1983. 1979. . and rape. are the ultimate reason why "everywhere sex is understood to be something females have that males want. pp. seduction. This is because: ultimately. Shields and Shields (1983) suggested that the human male reproductive strategy is composed of three alternative conditional tactics: honest courtship. Rape was included among the behaviors that he felt were only understandable in the context of evolved differences between men and women. p. is an outcome of this situation but is not itself an adaptive reproductive tactic because none of the mechanisms involved in rape was selected specifically for rape. based on parental investment theory Trivers 1972).. p. whereas the typical female is not sexually attracted to most males. Despite this fact.

p. However. Gowaty. there must be evidence of a psychological mechanism evolved specifically to link the vulnerability of females with the male response of rape.370 PALMER rests largely on the actual of this explanation Evaluation distinctiveness of "honest courtship.) A number of species of insects (Thornhill. (For debate over using the term "rape"in nonhumans. 1979. Burns. 1985b.1979. McKinney & Stolen. 1987. Tsubaki & Ono. 1985. 1989b). Evidence: Cross-Species Data These early arguments for human rape being an adaptation relied heavily on comparisons with "rape" in other species: the idea that rape is a maladaptive outcomeof an adaptive male strategy lacks a foundationin comparativebiologywhichwe feel is a majorstrength of the view that rape is an evolved facultative mating tactic of males (Thornhill & Thornhill. Thornhill. the reproductive benefits ofrape to men will always exceed the costs associated with the behavior" (Thornhill & Thornhill. 1980. MacKinnon. 138). they stressed the effect of available alternative reproductive options on the cost/benefit ratio of committing rape (see also Alexander. amphibians (Wells. & McKinney. 1982. 1981. Hilton. 286). 1985. 1987.1987) argued that human rape was a condition-dependent facultative tactic that should only occur when the evolutionary benefits of the act outweigh the evolutionary costs. 1985a. Harding. Dusek. They predict that the males most likely to rape are those "unable to compete for resources and status necessary to attract and reproduce successfully with desirable mates" (Thornhill & Thornhill. and rape. fish (Constanz. They point out that 'in the absence of alternatives. 1983. p. 1980). 1986). 1975). Estep & Bruce. Blackman. The Thornhills' hypothesis that rape is produced by a male physiological mechanism linking rape with the inability to attain the resources necessary to attract consenting mates predicts that "rape" (or "forced copulation") will be found in distantly related species which share the common characteristic of males contributing resources to their mates. 1985. Cheng. 1977)." To support this explanation. 1979. 1982. 1974. 277). . see also Thornhill & Thornhill. p. Mitani 1985) may meet this first criterion (see Palmer. 1982. Sunday. 1987. The acceptance of this hypothesis hinges on evidence of a physiological mechanism in human males selected to link the absence of available mating opportunities with the response of rape. 1984. Palmer 1989b. Alexander & Noonan. 138. Thornhill and Thornhill (1983. 1985. 1983. p. 1980. see Baron. and primates (Galdikas. 1979. seduction.

and howler monkeys all differ significantly from humans in regard to the male contribution of resources. orangutans. Chimpanzees. Burns & McKinney. this prediction is not met among nonhuman primates. Harding. and some primates (Jones. 1977) and chimpanzees (Goodall. 1978. 1983. yet rape attempts occur in all of these species (see Palmer. The fact that rape is apparently committed by "rich"as well as "poor" males in a variety of distantly related species is not consistent with the specific explanation stated by Thornhill and Thornhill (1983). 1979). however. nearly all species of water-fowl (see McKinney. 1980. 1967). . Birkhead et al. rape does not appear to be confined to low status males who lack resources. Gladstone. 1979. 1985. Although the notal organ ofscorpionflies appears to have been "designed" specifically for rape (Thornhill. Derrickson & Mineau. Cheng & McKinney. contrary to the claims of Thornhill and Thornhill (1983). 1979. Sunday. Hoogland & Sherman. Cheng. Thornhill & Thornhill. Hailman. 1978. 1985. The principle of divergent evolution also fails to provide convincing support for the prediction that rape should be found in species with male contribution of resources. 1980. 1979. also receives some support from cross-species comparisons. MacKinnon. Barash. Mineau & Cooke. The by-product explanation. it must also be shown that rape is committed by the subordinate males without resources in these species. Van den Assem. 1985. 1976.. 1985). Barash. Evidence of mechanisms selected to produce rape responses at reproductively optimal times has also been the subject of much debate (see Afton. Evidence of evolved differences in male and female sexual behavior that could produce rape as a by-product are found in many of the same species in which rape occurs (see Alcock. 1983. In many of these species. 1983. 1979. 1983). Existing evidence of nonhuman rape does not. this type of evidence is lacking in other species. Of course it might be consistent with an alternative adaptive explanation such as the one put forth by Shields and Shields (1983). 1989b). provide conclusive evidence of physiological mechanisms selected specifically for rape by males of all social statuses. 1989b). Dominant and/or territorial males commit rape among certain species of fish (Keeneyside. 1972. but not in closely related species in which males do not contribute resources.HUMANRAPE 371 To support the Thornhills' hypothesis. While this may be the case among some species of insects. 1987). 1985. Burns. 1986) in which males do not contribute significant amounts of resources (see Palmer. There is also the fact that rape appears to exist in species such as elephant seals (Cox & LeBoeuf. Beecher & Beecher. Thornhill & Alcock.

or how the costs and risks of FC [forced copulation] attempts for males are offset (McKinney." (my emphasis. Rapes that cannot possibly lead to reproduction. 1986. makes this source of evidence of only limited use (see Palmer. see also Palmer. . 353). The dismal state of ethnographic data on rape. 1979). The limited and contradictory ethnographic descriptions of rape in these societies make . Tewa. and Marshallese) as either not punishing rape or not even having rape. 1989b). This correlation depends largely on the coding of five monogamous societies (Woleai. p. is much stronger than in others. 1969. comparative data appear to indicate that it "may not be possible to develop a single comprehensive theory of forced mating even within the theory of evolution" (Crawford & Galdikas.Derrickson & Mineau. 1983). This means that explanations of human rape must currently be tested largely with human data. This rejection is only valid if one assumes rape is an independent entity that has been acted on by natural selection. 1972). Thornhill and Thornhill (1983) claimed a correlation between polygyny and severity of punishment which they suggest supports their explanation of rape (see also van den Berghe. Instead of providing convincing support for a particular adaptive explanation. such as the interspecific rapes reported among some marine mammals (DeLong. p. but various physiological mechanisms that influence the sexual behavior of males in a variety of other ways. Natural selection may have simply favored a physiological mechanism producing a lower threshold for sexual arousal in males. Such a mechanism could have been selected because it "should often help males avoid missing a potential mate. unfortunately. [although] it also means that males are more likely than females to engage in misdirected or resisted copulatory attempts. Rejections of the by-product explanation also appear to be based on an unjustified assumption: this explanation is unsatisfactory in failing to suggest how natural selection might favor an overflow of sexual motivation. 1975). Timbira. Orians. 1989a). Evidence: Cross-Cultural Data Both the adaptive and by-product explanations generated predictions about the occurrence of rape in different cultures. Evidence of adaptation in some species. 1982. Trivers.372 PALMER Nadler & Miller. 1983. Alcock. It fails to apply if one considers the possibility that the selected trait is not the raping behavior per se. . Yap. are particularly likely to be only by-products of such male physiological adaptations. such as scorpionflies and orangutans. 224. my emphasis. .

1981).When he reproachedthe young men for their cruel treatment of the girl. he took the same path and discovered to his great astonishment a young girl stretched out on the ground. see also Broude & Greene. 1976. First. 1976. 117). see also Wedgwood. The similar inconsistencies in the data on all societies reported to lack rape or punishment for rape. Brown. he [the trader] saw 20 young men enter the bushes. completely rigid and unconscious. one after another. There is no evidence that whatever actual sexual freedom is left includes rape. p. Hence. 1969. they replied: "it is customary here for every young man to have intercourse with every girl" (Erdland 1914. it is questionable that this incident actually implies that rape goes unpunished. Sanday. 16). the claim of complete sexual access to all women is modified by the phrase "(except those excluded on account of blood or kin-group relationship)" (Erdland 1914. The evidence that rape goes without any punishment among the Marshallese is even more tenuous as it is based on the following story told to an ethnographer by a non-Marshallese trader: One day while standing with a friend not far from his dwelling at the Ine trading post. p.HUMAN RAPE 373 the conclusion that these monogamous societies have little or no punishment for rape questionable (see Palmer. There is also evidence that the remaining freedom is further restricted by the fact that the mere suspicion of marital infidelity "arouses intense jealousy. 99). which leads to brawls and quarrels" (Kramer & Neverman. Even if this story is true. Evidence: Modern Societal Data Two aspects of human male physiology were hypothesized to have been designed specifically for rape. In 1980. and a crosscultural study on attitudes towards rape by Broude and Greene (1976) concludes that there is simply no information available on such attitudes in this society. including all of the societies used by Thornhill and Thornhill (1983). p." but Salesius states that wife abductions were a major cause of war on Yap and even reports that the customary punishment for rape was a fine paid to the victim's father (1906. Grosse & Haider. 1952. Minturn. 1989a. 185. 1938. 113). (1949) state that "There is no concept of 'rape' in Yap. p. p. Curious to know what was going on. For example. Hunt et al. Chappell. cross-cultural data are currently unable to decide the issue since both adaptive and non-adaptive hypotheses can account for the apparent universal occurrence of rape. Thornhill suggested that . is crucial because the Thornhills' correlation between polygyny and severity of punishment is dependent on the zero rating given to these societies (see Palmer 1989a). 1942.

Palmer. Katz & Mazur. Clark & Lewis. 1979. Chappell & James. Such evidence might just indicate sexual motivation in rape (see Alcock.. in order to support an adaptive explanation. The obvious problem with this hypothesis is the existence of alternative explanations of sexual dimorphism with much greater basis in comparative data (see Alexander et al. but there are several flaws in the existing evidence. Freeman. 1983. be consistent with the explanation of rape as a by-product of physiological mechanisms in the human male that have evolved for a variety of other specific functions. Gorer. It is also crucial to remember that rapists must be shown to "strive" for peak fertility. 1987. 1946. Nimuendaju. Thornhill & Thornhill. see also Thornhill & Thorhill. McCaldron. 1971. 284-285). While the Thornhills claim that their data suggest "that fertility of females is . whereas other men and rapists will find young women at maximum reproductivevalue [in their mid-teens] most desirable for long term pair-bondingpurposes (emphasis in original. 1983. Cohen & Felson. 1977. hence. The most consistent finding of studies on rape. 1983. 1965. the existence of two such distinct beauty evaluating mechanisms might be the result of selection for pair-bonding on the one hand and short-term consenting sexual encounters on the other. In fact. Study after study has shown that rape victims peak somewhere in the 13. 1983.374 PALMER the larger size of males in humans and other species evolved because it allowed males to reproduce by rape. [that is] rapists will find potential victims of maximum fertility [in their early twenties] most desirable. The mere demonstration that rapists strive for relatively young females. at about the age of peak fertility and peak reproductive value. Rada.. p. see also Erdland. Turnbull. LeVine. 1938). Evidence of a distinct beauty evaluating mechanism being used in rape is exactly the type of evidence needed to support an adaptive explanation. This is the use of a beauty evaluating mechanism designed specifically for selecting females at the age of peak fertility: Rapists and non rapists are expected to prefer nubile 25-year age range (Amir. is probably that women in their teens and twenties are vastly overrepresented among rape victims. 1979. MacDonald. 1977. 1978.. Kramer. Rapists in particular are expected to value female fertility of potential victims to a greater degree than female reproductivevalue . p. 167. Thornhill abandons this hypothesis in his later writings specifically on human rape.. in modern and traditional societies. 1914. 1959. 1979). Thornhill & Thornhill. 1938. 1967. instead of peak reproductive value. 1976. First. Groth. This means the issue centers on the second aspect proposed to have been designed for rape. Chappell et al. 1987. 1971. would not be evidence for a distinct beauty evaluation mechanism being used in rape. 1979. Zingg. 1988) and.

HUMANRAPE 375 more important than reproductive value in rape victimization" (Thornhill & Thornhill. Meyer & Fischman. 1978. Hyde. 1985). both adaptive explanations of rape have felt obligated to establish that the reproductive rate of rape is sufficient to support an adaptive explanation. p. 1979). while the fact that young females are overrepresented among rape victims is consistent with an adaptive hypothesis. has seen this as strong evidence against the view that rape is a reproductive tactic. Thornhill and Thornhill (1983) also implied that the behavior of rapists in regard to the types of sex acts they commit is evidence of some type of physiological mechanism designed to maximize reproduction via rape. While it is possible that different types of "sexual assaults" result from completely different physiological mechanisms and have completely different evolutionary explanations than acts which meet the literal definition of rape: The exclusion of behaviors which do not raise the inclusive fitness of the rapist from the category of rape appears to be an artificial division based on theoreticalconstraints rather than considerationof any characteristics of the behavior in question (Harding. Between 0% and 19% of rape victims in various studies have become pregnant (Katz & Mazur. Harding estimates the chances of rape resulting in a surviving offspring to be less than 0. Such pregnancies are also not likely to result in a surviving and reproducing offspring (see Harding. Schiff. 35). McCahill. A low rate of reproduction from rape does not falsify an explanation of rape as an adaptation any more than a low rate of reproduction demonstrates that male ejaculation is not an adaptation. 50). 116). Shields and Shields . 1983. they admit that this has not been demonstrated. it is no less consistent with the by-product hypothesis. Adaptive explanations have also admittedly ignored forms of "sexual assault" that have no chance of producing offspring because they do not involve penile-vaginal intercourse (see Shields & Shields. 1979. Queen's Bench Foundation. 1980. p. They emphasize the fact that penile-vaginal intercourse is the most common sex act reported during rapes (Thornhill & Thornhill. 1985.. but they fail to demonstrate evidence of a mechanism that produces more reproductively efficient behavior during rape than during consenting sexual encounters (see Burgess. and Dusek (1984). p. 1979). In fact. 1982. This author. Arelated issue is the need for evidence that the reproductive benefits of rape have typically outweighed its costs. Glaser et al. Hence. 1987. Baron (1985). This is where the difference between the two versions of the adaptive explanation of rape becomes crucial. 163). as well as Sunday (1985). p. 1986. p. 1983.2% (1985. However. 285).

in prep. Thornhill and Thornhill state that "[s]ome studies report that 50% to 60% of rapists have been married at some time prior to their conviction" (Thornhill & Thornhill. However. The Thornhills. Chagnon. The reason they conceded this point is their emphasizing of the fact that "In the absence of alternatives. Gagnon. Gebhard. p. 164). 1983. on the other hand. Even more troublesome to the Thornhills is the fact that many convicted rapists appear to have had alternative reproductive opportunities. Alexander & Noonan. Several studies of sexual aggression among college students also found . and Pomeroy (1965) were from the lowest socioeconomic class (Thornhill & Thornhill. p. readily admitted the low benefits and high costs of rape: In humans the benefits to reproductionare small because of the small probability of conception following a single copulation: this is the case even in societies without moder methods of birth control and it was probablythe case in human evolutionaryhistory (Thornhill& Thornhill. 138). Thornhill and Thornhill cited evidence that men from the lower socio-economic classes are overrepresented among convicted rapists (see Amir. They attempt to do this by suggesting that rape was more often successful in the evolutionary past. Sanders. 1965. even among convicted rapists. 1979. 1968. Thornhill and Thorhill. 1971. 1987. 1978. 1983). 1983. 151). Gebhard.376 PALMER (1983) argued that the slight benefits of rape have outweighed the costs. 1983. Gagnon & Pomeroy. Christenson. Smithyman (1978) indicates that the rapists in his study had a relatively normal dating history. 1980). 142.). Dietz. p. But is there evidence of a physiological mechanism in human males that links rape to an absence of alternative reproductive opportunities? To support their position. before the uses of modern contraceptives and abortions. They also minimize the costs involved by suggesting that rapes were seldom reported (see also Alexander & Noonan. Thornhill & Thornhill. Thornhill & Thornhill. see also Thomhill & Thornhill. 1979). Christenson. p. Thornhill and Thomhill themselves point out that less than a quarter (23%) of the rapists in the large study by Gebhard. Gagnon & Pomeroy (1965) even found that many sex offenders of various types actually had unusually active sex lives. Christenson. at least during the time preceding the rape. 1975. the reproductive benefits of rape to men will always exceed the costs associated with the behavior" (my emphasis. Wartime rapes in a variety of modem countries and traditional societies have also clearly not been limited to males of low social status (see Brownmiller. some rapes are committed by males who are not of extremely low social status. 1983.

In this view.. not merely assumed. We feel that this view isinappropriatebecause of the costs associated with human rape . 1980. 164). p. 1971. Thornhill and Thornhill made the following initial rebuttal to the seemingly damaging evidence of rapists regularly having reproductive alternatives: "This is not to say that rapists have or have had what they perceive as suitable mates. 187. . Kanin & Parcell. but it is certainly contrary to the prediction that rapists lack alternative sexual opportunities. 124. Again." The high costs of human rape are actually not a problem for the by-product explanation. p. 286). . they provided no evidence on the "desirability" of the women rapists have had sexual access to in order to support this explanation. p. Since this view sees a variety of mechanisms for other aspects of male sexuality as the traits. However. not missing any possibility of consenting matings. see MacDonald.e. p. Not only did Thornhill and Thornhill stress that the benefits of rape are low and the costs of rape are usually high. citing studies by Kanin 1957.. they attempted to use these high costs to discredit the by-product explanation of rape: It is a possibility that human rape is simply an inevitable [sic] outcome of an evolutionaryhistory in which males were selected to persist in their attempts to copulate and females were selected to discriminate between males and often refuse copulation. 1977). but Thornhill and Thornhill also point out that the percentages of rapists who are still married at the time of the rape "range from 19% to 43%"(for references and discussion. 1983. it must only demonstrate that other effects of these evolved male sexual mechanisms (i. . [which means that] those who persisted in copulation attempts to the point of rape when costs exceeded benefits would have been out reproducedby males who adopted rape adaptively (Thornhill & Thornhill. or influencing an undecided female to consent to mating) outweighed the net costs of rape. 164). p. Rada 1978. 1987. Thornhill & Thornhill 1983. This evidence does not mean that rapists are necessarily more sexual than non-rapists. 142. However." (Geis & Huston. It is possible that these alternatives were no longer available at the time of the rape.HUMANRAPE 377 that "the more common and most severe aggressors were males who had the largest amount of previous sexual activity. p. 1983. 1983. to support this view it must still be demonstrated. it is theoretically possible that natural selection could have worked on rape per se as a distinct trait in the way just described. Thornhill and Thornhill. that human males have some physiological mechanism evolved specifically to enable them to rape "adaptively. human rape is a maladaptive consequenceof an adaptive general mating strategy of men.Thornhill & Thornhill.see also Shields & Shields.. Women are not equal in their desirability to men" (my emphasis.

The majority of the new data drawn upon consists of the many studies on sexual arousal to rape depictions.. If this assumption is accepted. p. 1989b). because male sexuality seems to be characterized by a combinationof coercionand noncoercion and because there is no distinct dichotomy between coercive and noncoercive sexual tactics of men. The Thornhills' argument rests entirely on their assertion that there is no objective dichotomy between coercive and noncoercive copulations. 1979. Heim and Feshback 1980a. The Thornhills themselves state that male physiological mechanisms that responded to female arousal were favored because it occurred in situations where it increased the probability of continuing exclusive sexual access. the new adaptive explanation is based largely on "the fact that forced/unforced copulation is a continuum and not a dichotomy and on the assumption that sexual coercion of one form or another is an aspect of the majority of human copulations. 1981a. The Thornhills make the following interpretation of this evidence: We have suggested that the sexual response of women is sexually stimulating to men because it implies a man's exclusive sexual access to a woman and therefore a high probability of offspring production by a man. 1980b. Rape. In place of the data described above. We feel that this interpretation will apply to the sexual arousal of men in both forced and unforced sexual settings. 1975. 19).378 PALMER The New Adaptive Explanation of Rape Thornhill and Thornhill have recently written a new adaptive explanation of human rape that focuses explicitly on the physiological and psychological mechanisms involved (Thornhill and Thornhill. in prep.. Malamuth. Malamuth and Check 1980a. p. not because it occurred in coercive situations. I feel this actually supports the by-product explanation of rape. The fact that males become more aroused by depictions of aroused rape victims appears to be clearly a by-product of selection for mechanisms favored in consenting situations.)." (Thornhill and Thornhill. in prep. Schmidt. does not tend to lead to a continuing exclusive sexual relationship with a high probability of producing offspring. then the question of adaptive coercive . (Thornhill and Thornhill. see also Malamuth 1989a. This assumption is crucial to their interpretation of the new data that they use to support an adaptive explanation. in prep. Although I agree with the reason given as to why males are aroused by signs of a female's arousal. even in the rare instances where the victim experiences some arousal. Malamuth. 51). 1983. Particular attention is given to studies indicating that many males become more sexually aroused to rape depictions when the female victim becomes sexually aroused (Farkas. 1981b.

personal communication. this does not mean that we can conclude that rape is a by-product of a male sexuality that has been selected to reproduce purely through "consensual" copulations. the question of adaptation in human rape has still not been answered. and even despite severe protest. and less discriminating criteria of sexual partners could be sufficient to produce raping behavior. Mechanisms in the human male concerning visual stimulation. 1989). It is quite possible that the ability of human males to copulate without obvious signs of consent. 1975). The Thornhills also give little attention to the possibility that the use of coercion to attain sexual goals is just a by-product of coercion to attain nonsexual goals. DISCUSSION As the Thornhills point out. Although the findings of this paper indicate that there is still insufficient evidence to support the claim that human males have been adapted to rape. Of particular importance is a reconsideration of the view that coercive and noncoercive sexual activity cannot be distinguished. 1989b. However. I suggest that this crucial assumption is vulnerable on a fundamental level. If there is 'no distinct dichotomy between coercive and noncoercive sexual tactics of men" how can the Thornhills talk about "forced" and "unforced" sexual settings? The mere fact that they use the words. Martin Daly. yet all of these mechanisms could have been selected solely because they helped human males reproduce by ways other than rape. desire for a variety of partners. Snelling. I also feel there is the need for caution in pursuing the new approach to the search for adaptation. Martin Daly points out that '"nen might have evolved a sexual psyche such that erectile and ejaculatory responses were impossible without the enthusiastic participation of their partners" (emphasis in original.HUMANRAPE 379 sexuality is aforegone conclusion since adaptive mechanisms are surely involved in male sexual behavior in general. on behalf of their partners is the result of physiological mechanisms that were favored by natural selection specifically because they allowed the male to reproduce via rape. The mere fact that researchers can agree on the . greater willingness to engage in impersonal sex. it is also possible that rape is a consequence of the interaction of a variety of mechanisms that were selected because they kept males from missing other kinds of sexual opportunities that might result in reproduction. implies that it is possible to make such a distinction (for attempts at objectively defining rape. autonomous sex drive. and agree on which depictions fit which category. March 20. see Palmer.

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