Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Target Article

The evolutionary psychology of men's coercive sexuality

Randy Thornhilla1 and Nancy Wilmsen Thornhilla2

a1 Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1091, Electronic mail: nthorn@unmvm.bitnet

a2 Departments of Biology and Anthropology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131-1091, Electronic mail: nthorn@unmvm.bitnet


Psychological adaptation underlies all human behavior. Thus, sexual coercion by men could either arise from a rape-specific psychological adaptation or it could be a side-effect of a more general psychological adaptation not directly related to rape. Determining the specific environmental cues that men's brains have been designed by selection to process may help us decide which these rival explanations is correct. We examine six testable predictions against existing data: (1) Both coercive and noncoercive will be associated with high levels of sexual arousal and performance in men. (2) Achieving physical control of a sexually unwilling woman will be sexually arousing to men. (3) Young men will be more sexually coercive than older men. (4) Men of low socioeconomic status will likewise be more sexually coercive. (5) A man's motivation to use sexual coercion will be influenced by its effects on social image. (6) Even in long-term relationships men will be motivated to use coercion when their mates show a lack of interest in resistance to sex because these are interpreted as signs of sexual infidelity. Current data support all six predictions and are hence consistent with the rape-specific hypothesis, but this does not eliminate the side-effect hypothesis, which is likewise compatible with the findings, as well as with the further evidence that forced matings increased the fitness of ancestral males during human evolution. We suggest some research that may help decide between the two hypotheses.