Mate Deprivation Hypothesis

Sexual coercion is one of the most controversial problems spread throughout the world, among different races, nationalities, ethnicities, among all the social strata and communities. In this or that way, this issue affects everyone, every member of the society, because no one is insured against it and at the same time both short- and long-term outcomes are wide enough to influence our lives. Therefore it is natural to look for methods to cope with the high rates of rape, and to find those methods, a lot of comprehensive research by sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and other scholars is required. However, the issue is under research. On the one hand, the situations are rather hard to be investigated objectively; on the other hand, most of rape victims are women. And, as it is supposed by some scientists, “women are very ambivalent about subjecting rape to scientific scrutiny” (Thornhill & Palmer, 2001, p. ix) because it takes too much effort and pain for them to be involved even in discussion, let alone testing.

In the early 1980s Randy Thornhill developed the idea to link the predisposition to committing sexual coercion with two important factors: on the one hand, the likely committers were those with lower economic opportunities (male’s inability to acquire resources), on the other hand, these were those lacking alternative reproductive options. In other words, the most probable candidates to rappers are the men who are denied access to sexual relationships with women they desire. In this way, the so-called mate deprivation hypothesis was proposed, with the evidence of psychological mechanism designed to make rape contingent upon lack of resources and/or lack of access to females (Thornhill & Palmer, 2001, p. 67). Initially, the hypothesis was based on the Freud’s theory of libido and beyond the pleasure principal.

Further on, in 1996 Martin L. Lalumière conducted a study to verify the mate deprivation hypothesis. Lalumière intended to check the Haberlandt’s explanation that “when men cannot secure mates through the means of attraction they experience deprivation, which prompts them to use sexually aggressive tactics to avoid being excluded entirely” (Jewkes, 2002, p. 1423). For that, he attracted 156 males between 17 and 36 years of age to take part in a survey on their sexual experiences. The test took place in the Canadian University, and most of the participants were heterosexual (seven participants were further omitted for reporting homosexual preference) and single, divided into groups from five to twenty five members. Naturally, the participants were assured of confidentiality and anonymity. Then, the males were provided with debriefing form where the goals and objectives of the study were reflected. Information on sexual coercion was spread as well.

There were twelve questions in the questionnaire where the direct form was combined with the description of situations in which the participants could have or would have taken part. The context of sexual coercion was implied. Then the consent form was administered in counterbalanced order.

First of all, the differential access to mates was indexed by self-perceived mating success and self-reported sexual history What is more, to check the second evidence provided by Thornhill on the correlation between socioeconomic status and sexual aggression, the survey included question on estimation of relative earning potential. One of the methods of evaluation was the method of sexual experiences survey introduced by M. P. Koss in late 1980s. The sexual experiences survey is regarded as a popular instrument for “assessing various degrees of sexual aggression and victimization among male offenders and female victims” (Jewkes, 2002, p. 1425).

According to the results of the survey, seventeen participants (0.9 %) reported to have not experienced intercourse at all, eighty eight participants (56.4 %) did not have coercive sexual history; forty four participants (28.2 %) had some coercive experience but with no physical violence; and seven participants (4.5 %) indicate physical sexual coercion in their experience. Surprisingly, the answers on how males are disadvantaged in getting access to desirable mates did not prove the hypothesis. Higher self-perceived mating success was reported but the same males who were more disposed to sexual aggression by their own identification. Besides, those with more extensive sexual histories did not report being more financially vulnerable than other participants. Meanwhile, “coercive men reported a greater preference for partner variety and casual sex” (Lalumière et al., 1996, p. 301).

To go on with the investigation, Lalumière suggested applying sexual strategies theory. Within this theory, two alternative models of sexual coercion were proposed. According sexual strategies theory, men and women have evolved different sexual behaviors, which often become the reason for conflicts rising in sexual relationships. The mechanisms of sexual behavior are reported to develop according to the particular environmental circumstances. Thus, through the entire human evolutionary history different adaptive problems appeared. While there is a wide range of mating strategies, men and women often act differently. It is supposed that males with sexually coercive inclinations are more aimed at short-term strategies, while women and other men have “evolved” for long-term mating. It is quite normal that males are more concerned on initial effort for short-term mating, as the minimum contribution they have to make for procreation, while women are always bound to a greater parental investment. At the same time men are on average more sexually aggressive and more willing to resort to violent tactics. Consequently, a man can typically raise up seed quantitatively, by impregnating as many females as needed. And if needed, he can easily use physical force to fulfill his natural duty. This is a description of the first “micro-mate deprivation model”.

Apart from that, the second model implies heritable psychological mechanisms of sexual strategies. The choice for particular strategy is supposed to be justified evolutionary. Here there is a link with status differences and hierarchies which resulted in sexual control differences as well.
In this way, the mate deprivation hypothesis has proved to be not the best explanation for sexual offences committed by males. It has been disproved by practical studies, which revealed that easy access to females does not deny inclination to sexually aggressive behaviors. Moreover, sometimes sexual coercion doesn’t have even sexual reasons. Very often the rappers tend to blame their victims for provocative behavior they often misread. And though sexual coercion is more spread among lower socioeconomic classes, impulsivity and exaggerated sense of masculinity typical for potential rappers do not differentiate among social classes.

All in all, the hypothesis that “men who are less able to compete for the resources and status necessary to attract women turn to sexual aggression so not to be excluded entirely from reproduction”, turned out to be falsified, though the survey provided a base for further comprehensive research and theories development.

Jewkes, R. (2002). Intimate partner violence: causes and prevention. Lancet. 359, 1423”“1429.
Lalumière, Martin L., Chalmers, Lori J., Quinsey, Vernon L. & Seto, Michael C. (1996). A test of the mate deprivation hypothesis of sexual coercion. Ethology and Sociobiology, 17(5), 299-318.
Thornhill, Randy & Palmer, Craig T. (2001). A Natural History of Rape: Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion. Cambridge:

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