First, least there be any confusion – this is not a thread attempting to explain away the horrors of rape. Rape is a horrible act. This is not a thread about whether rape is wrong – it is. And the harm goes much deeper than physical injury. So - this thread is in no way saying that if rape occurs it’s a little more understandable simply because some men are biologically inclined to rape as a strategy for reproduction. It’s wrong in the same way that our natural emotion called “aggression” leads, sometimes, to murder is wrong – Murder is wrong and so is rape. Instead, this is a thread about possible biological links to the act called rape. It’s also about the common idea that rape is caused by the desire for power / control in the rapist - and the corresponding idea that rape has nothing to do with sex and more subtly, procreation. I have not seen any scientifically based evidence for the assertion that rape is about control / power and not naturally motivated as a means to pass genes when other alternatives aren’t available.
That rape may be an evolved alternative seems to be supported. Women and men have vastly different interests when it comes to sex. A man’s genetic drive / interest is to impregnate as many women as possible. A woman’s interest is to ensure that the man will help with the child both before and after birth.
No doubt rape is maladaptive for the female because of the personal risks involved. Child birth and independant child rearing don’t come risk free. BUT why is it maladaptive for the raping male? First, the energy expended by a male during copulation can be recovered by eating a grape. If the child dies copulate again. Of course, this different for a human female who carries and nourishes a baby for nine months, places her life at risk during childbirth, and then must care for the baby/child all through the extended human childhood. That energy might be recovered by eating 50 million grapes - give or take a few hundred thousand. Hence – the male is a non-discriminating copulating machine while it is in the female’s interest to pick a male who shows signs of ‘love’ (e.g. he’ll hang around) and signs of being a good provider for her and the baby (e.g. powerful /influence others / rich) - Both ‘qualities’ help ensure additional life expectancy in the competitive world where warmth and food are scarce and predators and enemies are plentiful-
Again, there is very little to risk for the rapist but the wrath of the female’s relatives and/or society. If those aren’t factors, like it might be when the rapist isn’t known by relatives or during wartime, than most of the risk disappears. If the male feels he can’t win the woman’s consent by other methods than rape might be an evolutionary alternative that would allow his genes to pass.
In the alternative, if rape were about control / power it would appear that women who were raped would be spread fairly evenly by age. This isn’t the case. Rape victims are overwhelmingly women who are in their peak reproductive years.
Other telling characteristics of rape include -
Rape is one of the ‘universals’ - found in all human cultures no matter the time, place, or contacts with other cultures.
Rape is found in many of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. (orangutans and chimps). Rape is also found in many other species besides.
Rape victims are murdered at a rate of 1 in 500 rapes. (A rate that certainly does not preclude rape as a means of passing genes.) Non-mental “serious injury” occurs in 4% of rape victims.
(The above statistics are from Thornhill and Palmer’s book A Natural History of Rape –)
In regards to the existence of rape (in its various forms) in primates - here’s some observations from Jane Goodall –