Is rape biological?

jmorgant's picture

I was fascinated by the concept of “cryptic choice” introduced in the video “Nature: What Females Want…and What Males Will Do.” Female red-sided garter snakes are rendered immobile by males competing to inseminate her. They have, however, evolved a means of defense against forced copulation: they can choose which of the snake’s sperm will fertilize their eggs. Another example of “cryptic choice” is seen in ducks’ reproductive systems: they twist opposite ways to make reproduction more difficult. A third of ducks’ copulations are forced, but they produce only 3% of the young. Explained the narrator, “Evolution has given females the edge.” Last week, my psychology-major roommate sent me an article called “Women’s Avoidance of Rape” which, like the video, acknowledged that “Sexual coercion and rape have been documented in many different species.”

The article's basic premise is that “women may possess evolved mechanisms that motivate rape avoidance.” The authors found that during their fertile phase, women demonstrated increased physical strength, decreased risky behavior, engaged in more consensual sex, and were more attuned to signs of male sexual coercion. These mechanisms have evolved psychologically, the authors argued, because women who avoided rape were more “reproductively successful” than women who did not. Upon skimming the article initially, I was disgusted at the idea that scholars can interpret rape as evolutionary, which to me implies that it is innate, unchangeable, and rational. The authors acknowledged this viewpoint, but explained its “naturalistic fallacy:” “the error of deriving what ought to be from what is.” Despite my attempts to think rationally about rape from an evolutionary perspective, I’m having a lot of difficulty. I’m curious to hear what others think about this article, especially after watching the video.


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