The evolutionary approach has more to say about the early social environment
than some of its critics may think. As Wright (1994) says, "if we want to
know, say, how levels of ambition or of insecurity get adjusted by early experience,
we must first ask why natural selection made them adjustable?' The same is true
of levels of sexual restraint and of willingness to use violence to obtain desired
goals. Although some individual differences in these behaviors may be due to genetic
differences (Ellis 1989), "a larger role is played by genetic commonalties:
by a generic species-wide developmental program that absorbs information from
the social environment and adjusts the maturing mind accordingly" (Wright
1994). Even when a behavior is heritable, an individual's behavior is still a
product of development, and thus it has a causal environmental component.
example involving heritable resistance to an infectious disease should be illustrative.
An individual who is genetically predisposed to infection with the disease cannot
get it without encountering the infectious agent. And the genes in question may
not affect a disease state, even when the individual encounters the agent, if
the individual is well nourished and capable of combating the agent.
evolutionary model views the human brain as a bundle of numerous specialized
adaptations created by specific, evolved gene-environment interactions during
their ontogeny. After their ontogenetic construction, these adaptations interact
with specific aspects of the environment to produce rape.
all men have sexual psychological adaptations designed for obtaining a large number
of mates. However, heritable adjustments in the details of certain sexual adaptations
in response to environmental cues processed during development probably create
some individual differences in ease of activation of these adaptations. The mechanisms
that make such adjustments are facultative-that is, dependent on specific environmental
variables. Even if there are significant genetic differences among individual
men in some or all of the psychological adaptations that underlie rape, to fully
understand rape and to reduce it we will have to determine how environmental differences
affect the propensity to rape. The same holds if the psychological adaptations
that generate rape reflect multiple sexual adaptations that exist in a mix in
the population of men as a result of frequency-dependent selection (as may be
true of psychopathic versus non-psychopathic phenotypes, for example).
is important to realize that "this emphasis on psychological development
doesn't leave us back where social scientists were twenty-five years ago, attributing
everything they saw to often unspecified 'environmental forces" (Wright 1994,
p. 82). Instead, an understanding of the ultimate evolutionary reasons why humans
have facultative adaptations that respond to variables in the social environment
greatly enhances our ability to specify what social variables influence development
in what ways. This also gives the evolutionary approach an advantage over approaches
that use arbitrarily chosen environmental factors to explain rape. For example,
many proponents of the social science theory of rape (e.g., Denmark and Friedman
1985; Stock 1991) hold that one specific way in which males in some cultures are
taught to rape is through the viewing of violent pornography, which inspires imitative
behavior. The social scientists pushing this notion, however, cannot explain why
the human brain is purportedly structured so as to respond in this specific way
to the specific environmental stimulus of violent pornography. Why, for example,
should males seek out and imitate violent pornography but not other human activities
depicted in videos? There is no consideration of the ultimate basis for the asserted
proximate explanation, no sound theoretical foundation for it. Aside from the
obvious fact that violent pornography cannot account for the historical and cross-cultural
(indeed cross-species) occurrence of rape, such an arbitrary environmental explanation
is refuted by everything we know about biases in human development, perception,
cognition, emotions, and motivation. It also has a logical flaw: An environmental
factor is identified as a cause of a human behavior without any attempt to explain
why other kinds of environmental variables that could conceivably also influence
the same category of behavior do not do so. Consequently, although the viewing
of violent pornography may figure in the proximate causation of the raping behavior
of some men, this view is severely limited in its ability to predict anything
useful about rape or related behaviors. It cannot explain the data on who is raped,
or the data on when and where rape occurs. Although the removal of violent pornography
may be desirable in its own right, it is very unlikely to solve the problem of
Rape occurs among humans under a wide range of "physical"
and "cultural" environments-indeed, it occurs in all the environments
in which humans societies have been known to exist. Hence, cross-cultural evidence
actually indicates that a relatively narrow set of environmental changes (including
the punishments mentioned in the previous chapter and the structural environmental
barriers described below) might be needed to reduce the incidence of rape significantly.
The real lesson to be drawn from cross-cultural studies is not that rape will
vanish with the end of patriarchy.
Once the scientifically false beliefs that
arbitrary learning is all-important in creating human behavior and that rape can
be prevented simply by refraining from teaching males to rape are abandoned, they
can be replaced with ideas derived from the evolutionary model. Those ideas can
then provide direction for efforts to prevent rape by changing the identified
aspects of the environment.
We agree with social scientists that males should be educated not to use force or the threat of force to obtain
sex. However, we suggest that educational programs aimed at preventing rape would
be much more successful if they would focus on the goal that motivates males to
use such tactics. In direct contrast to the social science explanation of rape,
the clearest implication of evolutionary theory is that the motivation for rape
is a result of the differences between male and female sexuality. That is, the
evolved psychological adaptations that produce male sexual motivation are necessary
proximate causes of rape. It follows that creating environmental conditions that
will decrease the frequency of rape requires identification of the exact nature
of the psychological mechanisms that guide male sexual behavior. The more we understand
how these mechanisms develop and what cues they respond to, the better we will
be able to modify male sexual development and associated male sexual behavior.
only are ultimate explanations of male sexual motivation ignored by many of those
who wish to prevent rape; the potential importance of such knowledge is actively
denied by most social scientists and by nearly all academic feminists. For these
individuals, the key to preventing rape is convincing men and women that rape
is a political act that has nothing to do with biological differences between
male and female sexuality Indeed, the idea that rapists are sexually motivated
is often considered to be a "rape myth" that must be eradicated by "education?'
For example, Fonow et al. (1992, pp. 118-119) suggest that "feminist rape
education needs to address the themes of rape as sex and rape as social control"
and report that "women's rejection of rape as sex was reinforced and supported
through the education; men's beliefs were confronted, but perhaps not forcefully
enough?' Syzmanski et al. (1993, pp. 54-55) claim that their "rape awareness
workshop appears to have been an effective educational forum" insofar as
"subjects who had not attended an awareness workshop thought that sex was
a motivation for rape. . . significantly more than did those who had attended
the workshop?' According to Stock (1991, p. 73), "for sexual coercion to
cease, women must accrue enough power through increased access to concrete resources,
expertise, and status to make it less possible for males to continue to maintain
constructs and beliefs that stipulate male domination of females?' Repetition
of the claim that rape is not motivated by sexual desire is the greatest obstacle
to the creation of more effective means of preventing rape.
of the overwhelming evidence that rapists are sexually motivated appears to be
grounded in the belief that rapists driven by lust might not be considered responsible
for their actions. Yet, to our knowledge, proponents of the social science model
never assert that the supposed male drive to control and dominate women excuses
a rapist's behavior, even though that alleged motivation is claimed to be so powerful
as to account for nearly all aspects of male-female relations. (Again, scientific
explanations of behavior only provide information about the causes of actions;
they imply nothing about who should or should not be held responsible for their
In reality, the role of sexual motivation as a
cause of rape should be a reason for optimism about future attempts to prevent
rape. Consider these two points:
o Many men don't rape and are not sexually
aroused by laboratory depictions of rape. This suggests that there are cues in
the development environments of many men that prohibit raping behavior.
the role of sexual motivation allows the formidable and rapidly increasing body
of scientific knowledge about the evolution of male sexuality to be applied to
identifying the cues that prevent rape and to lowering the frequency of rape.
first step in understanding how the "social environment" (that is, the
behavior of other people) influences the ontogeny of male sexuality is to remember
the crucial finding from the evidence on non-human species: male sexual pursuit
of unwilling females commonly emerges from onto-genies that lack any sexual socialization.
That is, rape occurs even when males are not encouraged to rape. In view of this
fundamental aspect of male sexuality, it is not surprising that among humans,
contrary to much social science writing on gender roles, "the great majority
of prescriptive messages concerning [male sexuality, including rape] are intended
to suppress it, not to foster it" (Symons 1979, p. 303). Indeed, any explanation
of the species-typical sexual behavior of human males must be able to account
for the universal presence of "moral traditions" that "limit male
performing sexual acts under certain conditions" (LeVine 1977, p. 222).
Thornhill PhD, Randy and Craig T. Palmer, A Natural History of Rape: Biological
Bases of Sexual Coercion; The MIT Press: Massachusetts, 2000
Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information
about social influences on male sexuality. Write three case study examples regarding
how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What is the first step in understanding how the "social environment"
influences the ontogeny of male sexuality? Record the letter of the correct answer