ArticlePDF Available

Sperm competition in humans: Implications for male sexual psychology, physiology, anatomy, and behavior



With the recognition afforded by evolutionary science that female infidelity was a recurrent feature of our evolutionary past has come the development of a new area of study within human mating: sperm competition. A form of male-male postcopulatory competition, sperm competition occurs when the sperm of two or more males concurrently occupy the reproductive tract of a female and compete to fertilize her ova. Just as males must compete for mates, if two or more males have copulated with a female within a sufficiently short period of time, the sperm from different males will compete for fertilizations. In the 2 decades since Smith (1984) first argued that sperm competition occurs in humans, this theory has been enriched with new ideas and discoveries. We review the recent theoretical and empirical work on human sperm competition, identify limitations and challenges of the research, and highlight important directions for future research.
Human sperm competition—p. 1
[in press, Annual Review of Sex Research, June 2007]
Sperm Competition in Humans:
Implications for Male Sexual Psychology, Physiology, Anatomy, and Behavior
Aaron T. Goetz, Ph.D. Todd K. Shackelford, Ph.D.
Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University
Department of Psychology Department of Psychology
2912 College Avenue 2912 College Avenue
Davie, Florida 33431 Davie, Florida 33431
Office: 954-236-1179 Office: 954-236-1179
Fax: 954-236-1099 Fax: 954-236-1099
E-mail: E-mail:
Steven M. Platek, Ph.D.
University of Liverpool
School of Biological Sciences
Biological Sciences Building
Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK
Office: +44 (0) 151 795 4517
Fax: +44 (0) 151 795 4088
Valerie G. Starratt, M.A. William F. McKibbin, M.A.
Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University
Department of Psychology Department of Psychology
2912 College Avenue 2912 College Avenue
Davie, Florida 33431 Davie, Florida 33431
Office: 954-236-1179 Office: 954-236-1179
Fax: 954-236-1099 Fax: 954-236-1099
E-mail: E-mail:
Human sperm competition—p. 2
With the recognition, afforded by evolutionary science, that female infidelity was a recurrent
feature of our evolutionary past has come the development of a unique area of study within
human mating: sperm competition. A form of male-male postcopulatory competition, sperm
competition occurs when the sperm of two or more males concurrently occupy the reproductive
tract of a female and compete to fertilize her ova. Males must compete for mates, but if two or
more males have copulated with a female within a sufficiently short period of time, the sperm
from different males will compete for fertilizations. In the two decades since Smith (1984) first
argued that sperm competition occurs in humans, the application of sperm competition theory to
humans has been enriched with exciting new ideas and discoveries. In this article, we review this
recent theoretical and empirical work on human sperm competition, identify limitations and
challenges of this research, and highlight important directions for future research.
Human sperm competition—p. 3
Sperm Competition in Humans:
Implications for Male Sexual Psychology, Physiology, Anatomy, and Behavior
Male competition for mates may take many forms. Males may compete by displaying the
grandest plumage, having the largest antlers, or even fighting to the death (Alcock, 2004). They
may even compete at the level of their sperm. This phenomenon is known as sperm competition.
Broadly defined, sperm competition is intrasexual (male-male) competition that occurs
after the initiation of copulation. Whereas Darwin (1871) and others (see Andersson, 1994)
identified precopulatory adaptations associated with intrasexual competition (e.g., horns on
beetles, status seeking in men), researchers studying sperm competition aim to identify
postcopulatory adaptations. Thus, an alternative way of thinking about sexual selection is that in
some species there is not only a competition between males for mates, but a competition between
males for fertilizations.
Sperm competition is the inevitable consequence of males competing for fertilizations. If
females mate in a way that concurrently places sperm from two or more males in the
reproductive tract of a female, this generates several selection pressures on males. If these
selection pressures are recurrent throughout a species’ evolutionary history, males will evolve
tactics to aid their sperm in out-competing rivals’ sperm for fertilizations. These tactics may take
the form of anatomical, physiological, and psychological adaptations. Although revolutionary for
its time, the first definition of sperm competition, “the competition within a single female
between the sperm of two or more males for the fertilization of the ova” (Parker, 1970), does not
capture the full spectrum of male anatomy, physiology, psychology, and behavior associated
with sperm competition. In this article, we review the current state of knowledge regarding
human sperm competition.
Human sperm competition—p. 4
Sperm Competition as an Adaptive Problem in Humans
Smith (1984) presented theoretical arguments for the existence of sperm competition in
humans. Sperm competition in humans requires that a woman copulates with more than one man
within roughly a five-day period, although some have argued for a more conservative estimate
(e.g., Gallup, Burch, & Berens Mitchell, 2006). Smith outlined several contexts in which sperm
from two or more men might concurrently occupy the reproductive tract of a woman.
Prostitution, communal sex (e.g., wife-swapping and orgies), courtship (e.g., short-term
matings), rape, and female infidelity are contexts that can place the sperm of different men into
competition. Prostitution and communal sex are relatively rare and probably did not represent a
recurrent context over the evolutionary history of humans in which sperm competition could act
as a selective force (Smith, 1984). Courtship, in the form of short-term matings, was likely more
common than prostitution and communal sex, but the majority of women’s multiple matings
probably did not occur within a sufficiently short period of time to generate sperm competition.
Rape of females by males, however, probably was a recurrent feature of human
evolutionary history whether an adaptation or byproduct of other evolved mechanisms
(Lalumière, Harris, Quinsey, & Rice, 2005; Smith, 1984; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000). Despite
cultural institutions that punish and discourage rape, rape of women by men is universal across
cultures (see Lalumière et al., 2005, for a review). There also is a strong association between
rape and war, a key feature of our evolutionary past (Gottschall, 2004; Thornhill & Palmer,
2000). These reports suggest that rape could have provided a recurrent context for sperm
competition to act as a selection pressure on humans.
Female infidelity, however, is likely to have been the most common context for the
concurrent presence of sperm from two or more men in the reproductive tract of a woman
Human sperm competition—p. 5
(Smith, 1984). Therefore, the extent to which sperm competition occurred in ancestral human
populations would have depended largely on rates of female sexual infidelity and cuckoldry.
Current estimates of worldwide cuckoldry rates range from around less than 1% to more than
30% with a mean of about 4% (Anderson, 2006; Bellis, Hughes, Hughes, & Ashton, 2005).
Although current estimates of cuckoldry rates provide only a proxy of the occurrence of
cuckoldry throughout human evolutionary history, even the most conservative estimates of these
rates would have generated sufficient selection pressures on males to avoid the costs of
cuckoldry. The tremendous variance in cuckoldry rates suggests that ancestral males would have
benefited reproductively by possessing anti-cuckoldry tactics designed to thwart or “correct”
incidences of female infidelity (see Platek & Shackelford, 2006 for overview).
Moreover, the cross-cultural ubiquity and power of male sexual jealousy provides
evidence of an evolutionary history of female infidelity (and therefore, sperm competition), as
jealousy is an emotion experienced when a valued relationship is threatened by a real or
imagined rival, and functions to maintain relationships by activating behaviors that deter rivals
from mate poaching and deter mates from infidelity (e.g., Buss, Larsen, Westen, & Semmelroth,
1992; Daly, Wilson, & Weghorst, 1982; Symons, 1979). Female infidelity, of course, does not
necessarily result in sperm competition, but female infidelity likely occurred throughout human
evolution with a frequency that would result in nontrivial levels of sperm competition. Finally,
recent research that we review below has identified several anatomical, physiological,
psychological, and behavioral features that are parsimoniously explained if female infidelity
occurred with sufficient frequency over human evolutionary history.
Men’s Adaptations to Sperm Competition
Human sperm competition—p. 6
Although men likely do not have adaptations that have evolved to deal with particularly
high levels of sperm competition, men may have adaptations that evolved to deal with variable
levels of sperm competition. Sperm competition theory can be used to generate the hypothesis
that, where the risk of sperm competition is variable, individual males will allocate their sperm
prudently to inseminate more sperm when the risk is high. Adaptations to variable levels of
sperm competition are likely to take the form of physiological adaptations that enable males to
alter the number of sperm they inseminate according to variations in the risk or intensity of
sperm competition.
Is There Evidence of Prudent Sperm Allocation by Men?
Sperm competition theory can be used to generate the predictions that, across species,
investment in sperm production will depend on the level of sperm competition, and that, where
the risk of sperm competition is variable, individual males will allocate their sperm in a prudent
fashion and will, accordingly, inseminate more sperm when the risk is higher (Parker, 1982,
1990a, 1990b). It is possible that adaptations to variable levels of sperm competition will be seen
in species where overall levels are not especially high—but where sperm competition is a
sufficiently frequent occurrence to select for mechanisms that allow prudent sperm allocation.
Studying humans, Baker and Bellis (1989, 1993a) documented a negative relationship
between the proportion of time a couple has spent together since their last copulation and the
number of sperm ejaculated at the couple’s next copulation. As the proportion of time a couple
spends together since their last copulation decreases, there is a predictable increase in the
probability that the man’s partner has been inseminated by another male (Baker & Bellis, 1995;
Shackelford et al., 2002). Additional regression analyses documented that the proportion of time
a couple spent together since their last copulation is a significant predictor of sperm number
Human sperm competition—p. 7
ejaculated at the couple’s next copulation, but not at the man’s next masturbation (Baker &
Bellis, 1989, 1995). Inseminating more sperm following separation from a partner may function
to outnumber or dilute sperm from rival men that may be present in the reproductive tract of the
Psychological Mechanisms Associated with Prudent Sperm Allocation
The findings of Baker and Bellis (1989a, 1993) suggest that men may be capable of such
prudent sperm allocation, but it is not clear how men accomplish this. Recent empirical research
has focused on the psychological mechanisms that might be involved in regulating such
responses. Adaptive changes in semen parameters can serve no function unless they are
accompanied by a desire to copulate with a partner when cues of sperm competition risk are
present. Accordingly, Shackelford, LeBlanc, Weekes-Shackelford, Bleske-Rechek, Euler, and
Hoier (2002) investigated the psychological responses of men to cues of sperm competition risk,
arguing that there must be psychological mechanisms in men that evolved to motivate behavior
that would have increased the probability of success in sperm competition in ancestral
Inspired by Baker and Bellis’s (1993) demonstration of male physiological adaptations to
sperm competition, Shackelford et al. (2002) documented that human male psychology may
include psychological adaptations to decrease the likelihood that a rival man’s sperm will
fertilize a partner’s ovum. Consistent with their predictions, Shackelford et al. (2002) found that
a man who spends a greater (relative to a man who spends a lesser) proportion of time apart from
his partner since the couple’s last copulation (and, therefore, faces a higher risk of sperm
competition) rates his partner as more attractive, reports that other men find his partner more
attractive, reports greater interest in copulating with his partner, and reports that his partner is
Human sperm competition—p. 8
more interested in copulating with him. These effects were independent of relationship
satisfaction, total time since last copulation, and total time spent apart, which rules out several
alternative explanations (e.g., that men are simply “sexually frustrated”). These perceptual
changes may motivate men to copulate as soon as possible with their partner, thereby entering
their sperm into competition with any rival sperm that may be present in her reproductive tract.
Shackelford and his colleagues argued that no existing theory other than sperm competition
theory can account for the predictive utility of the proportion of time spent apart since the
couple’s last copulation, independent of the total time since last copulation and independent of
relationship satisfaction. Additionally, they argued that their findings support the hypothesis that
men, like males of other socially monogamous but not sexually exclusive species, have
psychological mechanisms designed to solve the adaptive problems associated with a partner’s
sexual infidelity.
Men are also distressed by, and more persistent in response to, a partner’s sexual
rejection when there is a greater risk of sperm competition. Shackelford, Goetz, McKibbin, and
Starratt (2007) documented that men who spent a greater (relative to men who spend a lesser)
percentage of time apart from their partner since last copulation reported greater distress, more
persistence, and change in interest in sex with their partner following the partner’s denial of a
request for copulation. These psychological mechanisms may motivate a man to seek intercourse
with his partner quickly, in an attempt to correct a situation of sperm competition that may occur
if his partner has recently committed an extra-pair copulation.
Psychological mechanisms associated with prudent sperm allocation may explain why
men are continually interested in copulating with their partners throughout the duration of a
mateship (Klusmann, 2002, 2006), a prediction first made by Baker and Bellis (1993). According
Human sperm competition—p. 9
to Baker and Bellis’s (1993) “topping-up” model, a woman’s primary partner should desire to
maintain an optimum level of sperm in his partner’s reproductive tract as a sperm competition
tactic. Surveying German participants, Klusmann (2006) documented that sexual desire for one’s
partner declines in women but remains constant in men for the duration of a mateship and
interpreted the results in accordance with the topping-up model. Although men report that their
sexual satisfaction (Klusmann, 2002, 2006) and the quality of marital sex (Chien, 2003) decline
with the duration of the mateship, men’s desire for sex with their partner does not (Klusmann,
The crux of the topping-up model is that continued sexual desire functions to motivate
sexual activity throughout the mateship (i.e., sexual desire without sexual behavior would be an
incomplete strategy). Klusmann (2006) found, however, that sexual activity declined in men and
women with the duration of the mateship. This finding is not fatal to Klusmann’s interpretation
of the data or to Baker and Bellis’s (1993) model when considering the fact that sexual activity
typically requires a consenting partner. Over the duration of a mateship, women (but not men)
experience decreased sexual desire and, accordingly, women (but not men) desire sex with their
partner less often (Klusmann, 2006). Because women more than men control sexual access,
women’s waning interest in sex translates into a decrease in sexual activity for both partners.
Sexual rejection by a woman might signal to her partner strategic interference and could activate
psychology and behavior associated with sexual coercion. We elaborate on this hypothesis in the
section titled, Sperm Competition and Men’s Sexual Coercion in Intimate Relationships.
Sperm Competition and Men’s Reproductive Anatomy and Copulatory Behavior
In primates, testis weight relative to body weight is correlated positively with the
incidence of polyandrous mating (Harcourt, Harvey, Larson, & Short, 1981; Harvey & Harcourt
Human sperm competition—p. 10
1984; Short, 1979). Smith (1984) argued that the fact that men have testes that are larger relative
to body size than those of monandrous species such as the gorilla and orangutan suggests that
polyandry was an important selection pressure during human evolution. As Gomendio, Harcourt,
and Roldán (1998) noted, however, human relative testis size is closer to these monandrous
primates than to the highly polyandrous chimpanzee. Nevertheless, Gomendio et al.’s (1998)
conclusion that humans are monandrous is not justified. Dichotomizing species into monandrous
and polyandrous groups is not useful when there is continuous variation across species in the
frequency with which females mate multiply. When the degree of polyandry is considered along
a continuum, it is likely that, although human males have not experienced levels of sperm
competition as high as have been documented in some primate species, is it unlikely that sperm
competition was completely absent over human evolutionary history.
Men’s testes seem to be influenced by sperm competition. Might other features of their
reproductive anatomy be affected by an evolutionary history of sperm competition? In many
nonhuman species, features of the penis may have evolved in response to the selective pressures
of sperm competition. Waage (1979) was the first to study how male’s genitals might remove
rival sperm. He documented, for example, that the penis of the damselfly is equipped with spines
that are able to remove up to 99% of the sperm stored in a female (Waage, 1979). Sperm
displacement is not limited to damselflies, but is a sperm competition mechanism in many insect
species. Although only 3% of bird species possess a penis (Briskie & Montgomerie, 1997), for
these species the penis often has features designed to displace rival sperm. Spines, ridges, and
knobs on the penis of some waterfowl are positioned in a way to displace rival sperm and these
protuberances are larger in species for which the intensity of sperm competition is greater
Human sperm competition—p. 11
(Coker, McKinney, Hays, Briggs, & Cheng, 2002; McCracken, Wilson, McCracken, & Johnson,
2001; cf. Briskie & Montgomerie, 1997).
The human male’s penis does not possess barbs and spines for removing rival sperm, but
recent empirical evidence suggests that the human penis may have evolved to function, in part,
as a semen displacement device. Several arguments have been offered to explain how the length
and shape of the human penis might reflect adaptation to an evolutionary history of sperm
competition. A long penis may be advantageous because being able to deposit an ejaculate deep
inside the vagina and close to the cervix may increase the chance of fertilization (Baker & Bellis,
1995; Short, 1979; Smith, 1984). Additionally, it has been suggested that the length, width, and
shape of the human penis indicate that it may have evolved to function as a semen displacement
Using artificial genitals and simulated semen, Gallup et al. (2003) empirically tested
Baker and Bellis’s (1995) hypothesis that the human penis may be designed to displace semen
deposited by other men in the reproductive tract of a woman. Gallup and his colleagues (2003)
documented that artificial phalluses that had a glans and a coronal ridge that approximated a real
human penis displaced significantly more simulated semen than did a phallus that did not have a
glans and a coronal ridge. When the penis is inserted into the vagina, the frenulum of the glans
makes possible semen displacement by allowing semen to flow back under the penis alongside
the frenulum and collect on the anterior of the shaft behind the coronal ridge. Displacement of
simulated semen only occurred, however, when a phallus was inserted at least 75% of its length
into the artificial vagina, suggesting that successfully displacing rival semen may require specific
copulatory behaviors. Following allegations of female infidelity or separation from their partners
(contexts in which the likelihood of rival semen being present in the reproductive tract is
Human sperm competition—p. 12
relatively greater), both sexes report that men thrusted deeper and more quickly at the couple’s
next copulation (Gallup et al., 2003). Such vigorous copulatory behaviors are likely to increase
semen displacement.
In an independent test of the hypothesis that successfully displacing rival semen may
require specific copulatory behaviors, Goetz and his colleagues (2005) investigated whether and
how men under a high risk of sperm competition (i.e., men mated to women who have
personality characteristics that attract mate poachers) might attempt to “correct” a female
partner’s sexual infidelity. Using a self-report survey, men in committed, sexual relationships
reported their use of specific copulatory behaviors arguably designed to displace the semen of
rival men. These copulatory behaviors included number of thrusts, deepest thrust, depth of
thrusts, on average, and duration of sexual intercourse. An increase in these behaviors would
afford a man a better chance to displace rival semen. As hypothesized, men mated to women
who place them at a high recurrent risk of sperm competition were more likely to perform
semen-displacing behaviors, suggesting that men perform specific copulatory behaviors
apparently designed to correct female sexual infidelity by displacing rival semen that may be
present in the woman’s reproductive tract.
One concern with the hypothesis that the human penis has evolved as a semen
displacement device is that, during copulation, the penis would frequently remove a man’s own
semen, even if the least conservative estimates of the frequency of extra-pair copulations are
accepted. The consequences of such an effect might be minimized, however, if the temporal
spacing between successive in-pair copulations is much greater than the spacing between
copulations involving different men. Indeed, the refractory period may have been designed for
this purpose (Gallup & Burch, 2004). The inability to maintain an erection following ejaculation
Human sperm competition—p. 13
may function to minimize self-semen displacement. Furthermore, the costs associated with self-
semen displacement might be minimal because ejaculation follows copulatory behavior that
might have removed sperm. A savings account will not deplete if a deposit quickly follows each
Sperm Competition and Men’s Mate Selection
As Baker and Bellis (1995) noted, an evolutionary history of sperm competition may be
responsible for myriad male behaviors related directly and indirectly to mating. Research
informed by sperm competition theory is just beginning to uncover those behaviors. Aspects of
men’s short-term mate selection, for example, may have their origins in sperm competition.
To avoid sperm competition or to compete more effectively, men may have evolved mate
preferences that function to select as short-term sexual partners women who present the lowest
risk of current or future sperm competition (Shackelford, Goetz, LaMunyon, Quintus, &
Weekes-Shackelford, 2004). The risk of sperm competition for a man increases with a
prospective short-term partner’s involvement in one or more relationships. Women who are not
in a long-term relationship and do not have casual sexual partners, for example, present a low
risk of sperm competition. Consequently, such women may be perceived as desirable short-term
sexual partners. Women who are not in a long-term relationship but who engage in short-term
matings may present a moderate risk of sperm competition, because women who engage in
short-term matings probably do not experience difficulty obtaining willing sexual partners.
Women in a long-term relationship may present the highest risk of sperm competition. The
primary partner’s frequent inseminations might therefore make women in a long-term
relationship least attractive as short-term sexual partners.
Human sperm competition—p. 14
As predicted, Shackelford et al. (2004) found that men’s reported likelihood of pursuing a
short-term sexual relationship was lowest when imagining that the potential short-term partner is
married, next lowest when imagining that she is not married but involved in casual sexual
relationships, and highest when imagining that she is not married and not involved in any casual
sexual relationships. These results suggest that, when selecting short-term sexual partners, men
may do so in part to avoid sperm competition. Other benefits are reaped from selecting
uninvolved women as short-term sexual partners (e.g., avoiding retaliation by kin and resident
males), but among those benefits are avoiding sperm competition.
An alternative explanation for the pattern of results is that by preferring unmated women,
men can avoid the costs associated with contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The
data, however, refute this alternative explanation. The potential short-term partner most likely to
be infected with an STD would be the one having casual sex and, therefore, would be least
preferred according to this alternative hypothesis. The married potential sexual partner, however,
was the least preferred. Men’s preferences, therefore, suggest that avoiding STDs may be less
important than avoiding sperm competition when selecting short-term partners.
Sperm Competition and Men’s Sexual Arousal and Sexual Fantasies
It is well documented that men’s sexual fantasies often involve multiple, anonymous
partners (Ellis & Symons, 1990), but men’s sexual fantasies include more than sexual variety.
Because sperm competition seems to have been a recurrent feature of human evolutionary
history, it may be useful to interpret some facets of men’s sexual fantasies in the light of sperm
Although never investigated empirically, one may assert with confidence that many men
are sexually aroused by the exclusive sexual interaction between two women. Hollywood seems
Human sperm competition—p. 15
to be aware of this preference as well. A common scenario in many mainstream movies and
television shows, for example, involves two women (often implied or explicit heterosexuals)
kissing or performing other sexual acts with one another while an audience of one or more men
observes the acts and becomes sexually aroused. Similarly, two women dancing seductively with
one another tends to stimulate interest among observing men. It could be argued that the sight of
two heterosexual women engaging in sexual behaviors is sexually arousing because it might
suggest that both women are sexually available and copulation with both is possible. An
interpretation informed by sperm competition theory, however, might argue that the sight of two
heterosexual women engaging in sexual behaviors is sexually arousing because it is a cue to an
absence of sperm competition. If given a choice, men might prefer to avoid sperm competition
and thus be the sole fertilizer of a woman’s egg(s). Thus, two women engaging in sexual
behaviors may signal to men that the women are without male partners and, therefore, pose no
risk of sperm competition. Although highly speculative and difficult to test, this hypothesis
serves to illustrate how the application of sperm competition theory to human mating psychology
and behavior generates interesting and novel hypotheses.
Although the absence of sperm competition in a potential sexual partner is expected to be
sexually arousing, it also has been argued that the presence of sperm competition may result in
sexual arousal. Pound (2002) argued that men should find cues of increased sperm competition
risk to be sexually arousing because frequent copulation can be an effective method of paternity
assurance. Pound (2002) hypothesized that men, therefore, should be more aroused by
pornography that incorporates cues of sperm competition than by comparable material in which
such cues are absent. Content analyses of pornographic images on World Wide Web sites and of
commercial “adult” video releases revealed that depictions of sexual activity involving a female
Human sperm competition—p. 16
and multiple males are more prevalent than those involving a male and multiple females. An
online survey of self-reported preferences and an online preference study that unobtrusively
examined image selection behavior yielded corroborative results. Pound (2002) argued that the
most parsimonious explanation for such results is that male arousal in response to visual cues of
sperm competition risk reflects the functioning of psychological mechanisms that would have
motivated adaptive patterns of copulatory behavior in ancestral males exposed to evidence of
female promiscuity. This increased perception of sperm competition could antagonize the
Coolidge effect. That is, whereas typically a male might be expected to show a decline in sexual
interest in a sexual partner, visual cues of sperm competition could reduce this effect and
increase sexual interest.
Pound’s hypothesis recently has been supported by experimental evidence that men
viewing images depicting cues to sperm competition produce more competitive ejaculates than
men viewing comparable images in which cues to sperm competition are absent (Kilgallon &
Simmons, 2005). Kilgallon and Simmons documented that men produce a higher percentage of
motile sperm in their ejaculates after viewing sexually explicit images of two men and one
woman (sperm competition images) than after viewing sexually explicit images of three women.
More generally, these results support the hypothesis that men adjust their ejaculates in
accordance with sperm competition theory. One might hypothesize that a man could produce
even more competitive ejaculates when viewing images depicting cues to sperm competition that
included a woman that resembled his partner. Computerized morphing techniques (e.g., Platek,
Burch, Panyavin, Wasserman, & Gallup, 2002; Platek et al., 2003) could be used to test this
hypothesis, but caution must be taken given the sometimes dangerous consequences of male
sexual jealousy (Buss, 2000).
Human sperm competition—p. 17
The idea that men might experience increased sexual motivation in response to cues of
sperm competition risk also is supported by anecdotal accounts of men who engage in
“swinging” or “partner-swapping.” Encouraging one’s partner to copulate with other men
appears to be a maladaptive strategy in that it increases the risk of cuckoldry. However, it seems
that in some contemporary societies some men do just this—perhaps because such men often
report that they find the sight of their partner interacting sexually with other men to be sexually
arousing (Talese, 1981). Moreover, they report that they experience increased sexual desire for
their partner following her sexual encounters with other men, and some indicate that this increase
in desire is particularly acute when they have witnessed their partner having sexual intercourse
with another man (Gould, 1999). Thus, it appears that psychological cues to sperm competition
might serve to antagonize the Coolidge effect.
Men may also voluntarily expose themselves to cues of sperm competition risk through
their participation in sexual “role-playing” with their partner. Pretending to be someone other
than himself may activate mechanisms in men associated with an increased risk of sperm
competition, resulting in increased sexual arousal. For example, by “role-playing,” a man might
get to see his partner behave as if she were copulating with another man. Alternatively, role-
playing may be sexually arousing to men and women because it is exploiting mechanisms
associated with sexual variety. Teasing the two hypotheses apart would require, among other
tests, documenting how willing or excited men and women are to adopt a different role during
role-playing. If the data revealed that when role-playing with their partners men are willing and
excited to adopt a different role themselves, while simultaneously unconcerned with whether or
not their female partners adopts a different role, this may constitute preliminary support for the
Human sperm competition—p. 18
sperm competition risk hypothesis. Again, applying sperm competition theory to aspects of
human sexual psychology and behavior may generate unique perspectives and hypotheses.
Throughout this and the previous section, we discussed seemingly contradictory findings
and hypotheses. We discussed (a) the findings of Shackelford and his colleagues (2004) who
found that when selecting short-term sexual partners, men may do so in part to avoid sperm
competition and (b) the speculative hypothesis that men’s sexual arousal at the site of two
women engaging in sexual behaviors may signal to men that there is no risk of sperm
competition. We also discussed, however, (c) Pound’s (2002) work showing that men found cues
of increased sperm competition risk to be sexually arousing, (d) Kilgallon and Simmons’s (2005)
findings that men viewing images depicting cues to sperm competition produce more
competitive ejaculates than men viewing comparable images in which cues to sperm competition
are absent, (e) that a small percentage of men (e.g., swingers) report that they experience
increased sexual desire for their partner following her sexual encounters with other men, and (f)
the speculative hypothesis that some forms of role-playing might serve to activate mechanisms in
men associated with an increased risk of sperm competition. To understand why men might
sometimes avoid sperm competition (as in “a” and “b” above), and at other times encourage
sperm competition (as in “c” through “f” above), one must consider whether the circumstance
involves actual or imagined behavior. If the circumstance involves actual behavior, encouraging
sperm competition might be maladaptive and, thus, circumstances involving actual sexual
behavior should involve avoiding sperm competition (e.g., selecting short-term partners who
present the lowest risk of sperm competition). If the circumstance involves imagined behavior
(e.g., sexual fantasies), encouraging sperm competition is not maladaptive and functions to
increase sexual arousal. Sexual fantasies and sexual scenes involving cues to sperm competition
Human sperm competition—p. 19
increase sexual arousal which subsequently increases sperm numbers and competitiveness
(Pound, Javed, Ruberto, Shaikh, & Del Valle, 2002). That is, imagining or viewing cues to sperm
competition can increase the competitiveness of an ejaculate. Thus, circumstances involving
imagined behavior might involve encouraging sperm competition (e.g., viewing images or
imagining scenarios depicting cues to sperm competition) as a means to increase sexual arousal
and subsequent sperm quantity and quality, which is not maladaptive.
This “actual versus imagined behavior” hypothesis, however, does not explain why some
men (e.g., swingers) allow and encourage their partners to copulate with other men (i.e., point
“e” above). “Swinger psychology” appears to generate maladaptive behavior. Swinger
psychology, however, is not typical of male psychology. Swingers occur very infrequently in the
population (Talese, 1981), and probably represent the negative tail on a distribution of normal
jealousy. That is, most men have jealousy mechanisms that are activated given appropriate input
(e.g., nontrivial cues to infidelity), and these men represent the middle of the jealousy
distribution. Men at the positive tail of this distribution might become jealous by inappropriate or
trivial cues—such men may be labeled morbidly jealous (Easton, Schipper, & Shackelford, in
press). Thus, the “actual versus imagined behavior” hypothesis for why men appear to avoid and
encourage sperm competition is appropriate given that swinger psychology is noise associated
with to developmental errors, mutation, and malfunctioning mechanisms.
Sperm Competition and Men’s Sexual Coercion in Intimate Relationships
Noting that instances of forced in-pair copulation (i.e., partner rape) followed extra-pair
copulations in waterfowl and reports that forced in-pair copulation in humans often followed
accusations of female infidelity, Thornhill and Thornhill (1992) and Wilson and Daly (1992)
hypothesized that sexual coercion in response to cues of a partner’s sexual infidelity might
Human sperm competition—p. 20
function in humans to introduce a man’s sperm into his partner’s reproductive tract at a time
when there is a high risk of extra-pair paternity. Goetz and Shackelford (2006) found empirical
support for this hypothesis. In two studies, Goetz and Shackelford found that men’s sexual
coercion in the context of an intimate relationship was related positively to his partner’s
infidelities. According to men’s self-reports and women’s partner-reports, men who used more
sexual coercion in their relationship are mated to women who had been or were likely to be
unfaithful. Starratt, Goetz, Shackelford, and McKibbin (under review) also reported that men
who use certain types of insults against their partners, particularly accusations of sexual
infidelity, are more likely to sexually coerce their partners. In other words, men who accuse their
partners of having sex with one or more other men are more likely, relative to men who do not
make those accusations, to sexually coerce their partners. Goetz and Shackelford (2007) have
also documented that men’s sexual coercion in intimate relationships is better predicted by
women’s infidelity than by men’s controlling behavior, relationship violence, and dominant
personality. This finding is important because there currently are two general hypotheses to
explain why many women experience sexual coercion by their intimate partners. The
“domination and control” hypothesis, typically argued by feminists and standard social scientists,
posits that sexual coercion in intimate relationships is motivated by men’s attempts to dominate
and control their partner and that this expression of power is the product of men’s social roles
(e.g., Basil, 1999; Brownmiller, 1975; Gage & Hutchinson, 2006; Johnson, 1995). The sperm
competition hypothesis, again, proposes that sexual coercion in intimate relationships functions
to introduce a male’s sperm into his partner’s reproductive tract at a time when there is a high
risk of cuckoldry, such as when a man suspects his partner has been sexually unfaithful.
Although further research needs to be conducted, the sperm competition hypothesis seems to
Human sperm competition—p. 21
better account for men’s sexual coercion in intimate relationships than the domination and
control hypothesis.
What Are The Neurocognitive Correlates of Sperm Competition?
Although there is accumulating evidence that males prudently allocate sperm and engage
differential psychological strategies that appear to be designed as a response to female infidelity,
the neural correlates of such strategies have only recently been investigated. If, as hypothesized
above, prudent sperm allocation is related to perceptions of infidelity, then two recent studies
suggest a network of brain substrates that might be implicated in the neural control of sperm
competitive physiological changes. Rilling, Winslow, and Kilts (2004) used positron emission
tomography (PET) to measure brain activation when male rhesus macaques were allowed to
observe their exclusive female mating partner engaging in copulation with a rival male. When
challenged with such a situation, activation was observed in the right superior temporal sulcus
(STS) and amygdala. Rilling et al. (2004) suggest that activation of these areas might relate to
similar reports of humans experiencing increased vigilance and anxiety under conditions of
purported sexual infidelity by their partners. A similar study, conducted in humans, documented
similar activation (right amygdala) in men who were asked to read sentences that depicted their
partner engaging in sexual infidelity (Takahashi et al., 2006). Because the amygdala is highly
innervated with androgen receptors, one can conclude that increased anxiety and vigilance about
partner infidelity could subsequently activate a system designed to act in response to possible
sperm competition. This hypothesis was partially supported by Rilling et al. (2004), who also
demonstrated increases in circulating testosterone levels when macaques where challenged with
the observation of their mate engaged in a sexual infidelity.
Human sperm competition—p. 22
This neural response system might be “on line” in men prior to observation or suspicion
of infidelity. Shackelford et al. (2002) found that perceptions of mate attractiveness increase as a
function of time spent apart from a partner. Interestingly, perceptions of attraction in men
correlate with increased activity in the amygdala (Winston, O’Doherty, Kilner, Perrett, & Dolan,
in press). Similarly, Winston et al. (in press) found increased anterior cingulate cortex (ACC)
activation in men during rankings of attractiveness. The differential in ACC by sex activation is
suggested by these authors to relate to differences in arousal that stem from internal monitoring.
In other words, a man might employ this substrate as part of a mechanism enabled to make
appropriate arousal valuations under circumstances when he suspects or has directly observed his
partner’s infidelity. This arousal might then lend to increased execution of sperm competitive
behaviors and possibly prudent sperm allocation.
There are accumulating data implicating the superior temporal sulcus (STS) in decisions
about social interactions (e.g, Frith & Frith 1999). Thus, the STS activation reported Rilling et al.
and Winston et al. might reflect the degree to which evaluations about infidelity and
trustworthiness are made. Processing associated with social evaluation might also feed into the
ACC. Platek, Keenan, and Mohamed (2005) identified a sex difference in activation of the ACC
in response to children’s, but not adult’s, faces that share facial resemblance. Because facial
resemblance appears to serve as an indicator of paternity (Platek et al., 2002, 2003, 2004), this
finding suggests that the ACC might serve as a broad scale evaluation substrate for fidelity
Although future research is necessary to more fully understand how the neural networks
cause sperm competition responses, behaviorally, physiologically, and psychologically,
preliminary evidence suggests that the network will involved several key neurocognitive
Human sperm competition—p. 23
mechanisms: 1) social evaluation of partners on the basis of presumed propensity towards
trustworthiness and fidelity (STS), 2) decisions about attractiveness and relation to internal
monitoring, or decisions about belief in suspicions (ACC, STS, medial prefrontal cortex), and 3)
automatic response generators (amygdala) that serve to moderate prudent sperm allocation and
behaviors involved in “correcting” a suspected or discovered partner infidelity (e.g., semen
displacement, forced in-pair copulation, violence, or defection from pair bond). It is
hypothesized that this specific network is specific to men and may be quickly called into action
during all phases of anti-cuckoldry tactics (mate guarding, sperm competition, and parental
investment decisions; see Platek & Shackelford, 2006).
Is There Evidence of Contest Competition between Men’s Ejaculates?
Apart from the remarkable feat of traversing a hostile reproductive tract to fertilize an
ovum or ova, sperm do some astonishing things. Sperm of the common wood mouse (Apodemus
sylvaticus) have a hook that allows the sperm to adhere to one another to form a motile “train” of
several thousand sperm (Moore, Dvorakova, Jenkins, & Breed, 2002). These trains display
greater motility and velocity than single sperm, facilitating fertilization. This cooperative
behavior between sperm of a single male reveals that sperm are capable of complex behavior.
Might mammalian sperm display equally complex behavior in the presence of rival sperm?
Baker and Bellis (1988) proposed that, in mammals, postcopulatory competition between
rival male ejaculates might involve more than just scramble competition and that rival sperm
may interfere actively with each other’s ability to fertilize ova. Mammalian ejaculates contain
sperm that are polymorphic (i.e., existing in different morphologies or shapes and sizes).
Previously interpreted as the result of developmental error (Cohen, 1973), Baker and Bellis
(1988) proposed that sperm polymorphism was not due to meiotic errors, but instead reflected a
Human sperm competition—p. 24
functionally adaptive “division of labor” between sperm. Baker and Bellis (1988) proposed two
categories of sperm: “egg-getters” and “kamikaze” sperm. Egg-getters comprise the small
proportion of sperm programmed to fertilize ova. Baker and Bellis (1988) argued that most of the
ejaculate is composed of kamikaze sperm that function to prevent other males’ sperm from
fertilizing the ova by forming a barrier at strategic positions within the reproductive tract.
Preliminary evidence for the Kamikaze Sperm Hypothesis came from the observation that the
copulatory plugs of bats are composed of so-called “malformed” sperm (Fenton, 1984), and from
documentation that, in laboratory mice, different proportions of sperm morphs are found reliably
at particular positions within the female reproductive tract (Cohen, 1977).
Harcourt (1989) challenged Baker and Bellis’s (1988) Kamikaze Sperm Hypothesis.
Harcourt argued that “malformed” sperm were unlikely to have adaptive functions, citing
evidence from Wildt et al. (1987) that, in lions, inbreeding results in an increase in the proportion
of deformed sperm. Harcourt (1989) argued that, if deformed sperm were produced by an
adaptation, inbreeding would not increase the expression of the trait, but instead would decrease
it. Harcourt (1989) also argued that the presence of malformed sperm in the copulatory plugs of
bats is a consequence of the malformed sperm’s poor mobility and, therefore, that plug formation
was not a designed function of deformed sperm. Following Cohen (1973), Harcourt (1989, p.
864) concluded that “abnormal sperm are still best explained by errors in production.”
Baker and Bellis (1989b) responded to Harcourt’s (1989) objections and elaborated on
the Kamikaze Sperm Hypothesis. In their elaboration, Baker and Bellis (1989b) proposed a more
active role for kamikaze sperm, speculating that evolutionary arms races between ejaculates
could result in kamikaze sperm that incapacitate rival sperm with acrosomal enzymes or by
inducing attack by female leucocytes. Baker and Bellis (1995) proposed specialized roles for
Human sperm competition—p. 25
kamikaze sperm and identified two categories of kamikaze sperm: “blockers” and “seek-and-
destroyers.” Baker and Bellis (1995) documented that, when mixing ejaculates from two
different men in vitro, agglutination and mortality of sperm increased. Baker and Bellis
interpreted these findings as an indication that, when encountering sperm from another male,
some sperm impede the progress of rival sperm (blockers) and some sperm attack and
incapacitate rival sperm (seek-and-destroyers). The Kamikaze Sperm Hypothesis and the
reported interaction of rival sperm have generated substantial criticism, however (see, e.g.,
Birkhead, Moore, & Bedford, 1997; Short, 1998).
Moore, Martin, and Birkhead (1999) performed the first and, thus far, only attempt to
replicate some of Baker and Bellis’s (1995) work, but failed to replicate the findings of Baker
and Bellis. It should be noted, however, that only a few of the predictions derived from the
Kamikaze Sperm Hypothesis were tested by Baker and Bellis (1995) and even fewer were tested
by Moore et al. (1999). After mixing sperm from different men and comparing these
heterospermic samples to self-sperm (i.e., homospermic) samples, Moore et al. (1999) observed
no increase in aggregation and no greater incidence of incapacitated sperm in the heterospermic
samples. Moore and his colleagues did not replicate exactly the methodological procedures used
by Baker and Bellis (1995), however. Heterospermic and homospermic samples, for example,
were allowed to interact for just one to three hours, whereas Baker and Bellis (1995) allowed
them to interact for fully three to six hours. Moore et al. (1999) offered theoretical reasons for
this shorter interactive window (i.e., because one to three hours is the time that sperm normally
remain in the human vagina), but perhaps this interval was too restrictive. Upon insemination,
sperm have one of two initial fates: some are ejected or secreted from the vagina and some travel
quickly from the vagina to the cervix and uterus. Perhaps the majority of sperm warfare takes
Human sperm competition—p. 26
place in the cervix and uterus, locations in the reproductive tract where sperm are able to interact
for a prolonged period. If this is the case, Baker and Bellis’s (1995) longer, three to six hour
interactive window would be more valid ecologically. In addition, both Baker and Bellis (1995)
and Moore et al. (1999) investigated sperm interactions in vitro, and one cannot be sure that
sperm in a petri dish behave precisely as they do in the human vagina. Clearly, more work
remains before we can draw a clear conclusion about the status of the hypothesis. Recent work
by Kura and Nakashima (2000) might be viewed as encouraging for supporters of the hypothesis,
however. Kura and Nakashima (2000) used theoretical and mathematical models to describe the
conditions necessary for soldier sperm classes to evolve, and concluded that such conditions are
not stringent and far from unlikely.
Future Directions
One possible future direction would be to demonstrate evidence that these sperm
competition behaviors in humans serve the thus far theoretical function of increasing the
probability of producing offspring. For instance, research has demonstrated evidence of prudent
sperm allocation according to risk of sperm competition, where men inseminate more sperm
when the risk is higher (Parker, 1982, 1990a, 1990b). It would be interesting to determine
whether these behaviors actually translate into increased probability of insemination. Were this
supported, these findings would not only add to the support for sperm competition theory in
humans, but also could have practical, medical implications for couples with fertility problems.
Also, much of the work presented here is correlational in design. It will be important for future
research to utilize experimental methods. For example, it has been shown that men at greater risk
of sperm competition report their partner to be more attractive, and report that their partner finds
them more attractive (Shackelford et al., 2002). It may be useful to manipulate experimentally
Human sperm competition—p. 27
cues of sperm competition risk such that some men are exposed to cues of sperm competition
whereas others are not. Men in the former, experimental condition are predicted to subsequently
rate their partner to be more attractive and to report that their partner finds them more attractive,
for example.
Concluding Remarks
Sperm competition and its effects have been documented or inferred to exist in dozens of
non-human species, but researchers are beginning to uncover adaptations in humans that are
most parsimoniously explained by sperm competition theory. In humans, sperm competition may
have influenced reproductive anatomy and physiology, men’s attraction to and sexual interest in
their partners, men’s copulatory behaviors, men’s short-term mate selection, men’s sexual
arousal and sexual fantasies, and men’s sexual coercion in intimate relationships.
Although this article focuses on men’s adaptations to sperm competition, women are not
passive sperm receptacles. If sperm competition was a recurrent feature of human evolutionary
history, we would expect to identify adaptations not only in men but also adaptations in women
in response to sperm competition. In deed, intersexual conflict between ancestral males and
females produces a co-evolutionary arms race between the sexes, in which an advantage gained
by one sex selects for counter-adaptations in the other sex (see, e.g., Rice, 1996). Thus, men’s
numerous adaptations to sperm competition are likely to be met by numerous adaptations in
women (e.g., Gallup & Burch, 2006). This is clearly an area for future work (and see
Shackelford, Pound, & Goetz, 2005).
The likelihood or selective importance of sperm competition in humans was once an
issue of scholarly debate and controversy. Those questioning the application of sperm
competition to humans (e.g., Birkhead, 2000; Dixson, 1998; Gomendio et al., 1998) contended
Human sperm competition—p. 28
that sperm competition in humans, although possible, may not be as intense as in other species
with adaptations to sperm competition. Recent work on the psychological, behavioral, and
anatomical evidence of human sperm competition (reviewed in this article), however, was not
considered in these previous critiques of human sperm competition. When considering all of the
evidence of adaptations to sperm competition in humans, it is now reasonable to conclude that
sperm competition is likely to have been a recurrent and selectively important feature of human
evolutionary history.
Human sperm competition—p. 29
We thank Gordon Gallup, Nicholas Pound, Rebecca Burch, and an anonymous reviewer for
comments that greatly improved this article.
Human sperm competition—p. 30
Alcock, J. (2005). Animal Behavior: An evolutionary approach (8th ed.). Sunderland, MA:
Sinauer Associates
Anderson, K. G. (2006). How well does paternity confidence match actual paternity? Evidence
from worldwide nonpaternity rates. Current Anthropology, 47, 513-520.
Andersson, M (1994). Sexual Selection. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Baker, R. R., & Bellis, M. A. (1988). “Kamikaze” sperm in mammals? Animal Behaviour, 36,
Baker, R. R., & Bellis, M. A. (1989a). Number of sperm in human ejaculates varies in
accordance with sperm competition theory. Animal Behaviour, 37, 867-869.
Baker, R. R., & Bellis, M. A. (1989b). Elaboration of the kamikaze sperm hypothesis: A reply to
Harcourt. Animal Behaviour, 37, 865-867.
Baker, R. R., & Bellis, M. A. (1993). Human sperm competition: Ejaculate adjustment by males
and the function of masturbation. Animal Behaviour, 46, 861-885.
Baker, R. R., & Bellis, M. A. (1995). Human sperm competition. London: Chapman & Hall.
Basil, K. C. (1999). Rape by acquiescence: The ways in which women “give in” in unwanted sex
with their husbands. Violence Against Women, 5, 1036-1058.
Bellis, M. A., Hughes, K., Hughes, S., & Ashton, J. R. (2005). Measuring paternal discrepancy
and its public health consequences. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 59,
Birkhead, T. (2000). Promiscuity. London: Faber and Faber.
Birkhead, T. R., Moore, H. D. M., & Bedford, J. M. (1997). Sex, science, and sensationalism.
Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 12, 121-122.
Human sperm competition—p. 31
Briskie, J. V., & Montgomerie, R. (1997). Sexual selection and the intromittent organ of birds.
Journal of Avian Biology, 28, 78-86.
Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: Men, women, and rape. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Buss, D. M. (2000). The dangerous passion. New York: The Free Press.
Buss, D. M., Larsen, R. J., Westen, D., & Semmelroth, J. (1992). Sex differences in jealousy:
Evolution, physiology and psychology. Psychological Science, 3, 251-255.
Chien, L. (2003). Does quality of marital sex decline with duration? Archives of Sexual
Behavior, 32, 55-60.
Cohen, J. (1973). Cross-overs, sperm redundancy and their close association. Heredity, 31, 408-
Cohen, J. (1977). Reproduction. London: Butterworth.
Coker, C. R., McKinney, F., Hays, H., Briggs, S. V., & Cheng, K. M. (2002). Intromittent organ
morphology and testis size in relation to mating system in waterfowl. The Auk, 119, 403-
Daly, M., Wilson, M., & Weghorst, S. J. (1982). Male sexual jealousy. Ethology and
Sociobiology, 3, 11-27.
Darwin, C. (1871). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex. London: Murray.
Dixson, A. F. (1998). Primate sexuality. Oxford University Press.
Easton, J. A., Schipper, L. D., & Shackelford, T. K. (in press). Morbid jealousy from an
evolutionary psychological perspective. Evolution and Human Behavior.
Ellis, B. J., & Symons, D. (1990). Sex differences in sexual fantasy: An evolutionary
psychological approach. Journal of Sex Research, 27, 527-555.
Fenton, M. B. (1984). The case of vepertilionid and rhinolophid bats. In R. L. Smith (Ed.),
Sperm competition and the evolution of animal mating systems (pp. 573-587). London:
Human sperm competition—p. 32
Academic Press.
Frith, C. D., & Frith, U. (1999). Interacting minds—A biological basis. Science, 286, 1692-1695.
Gage, A. J., & Hutchinson, P. L. (2006). Power, control, and intimate partner sexual violence in
Haiti. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35, 11-24.
Gallup G. G., & Burch, R. L. (2004). Semen displacement as a sperm competition strategy in
humans. Evolutionary Psychology, 2, 12-23.
Gallup, G. G., & Burch, R. L. (2006). The semen-displacement hypothesis: Semen hydraulics
and the intra-pair copulation proclivity model of female infidelity. In S. M. Platek & T.
K. Shackelford (Eds.), Female infidelity and paternal uncertainty. New York: Cambridge
University Press.
Gallup G. G., Burch, R. L., & Berens Mitchell, T. J. (2006). Semen displacement as a sperm
competition strategy: Multiple mating, self-semen, displacement, and timing of in-pair
copulations. Human Nature, 17, 253-264.
Gallup G. G., Burch, R. L., Zappieri, M. L., Parvez, R. A., Stockwell, M. L., & Davis, J. A.
(2003). The human penis as a semen displacement device. Evolution and Human
Behavior, 24, 277-289.
Goetz, A. T., Shackelford, T. K. (2006). Sexual coercion and forced in-pair copulation as sperm
competition tactics in humans. Human Nature, 17, 265-282.
Goetz, A. T., Shackelford, T. K. (2007). Sexual coercion in intimate relationships is better
predicted by women’s infidelity than by men’s dominance and control. Manuscript under
editorial review.
Goetz, A. T., Shackelford, T. K., Weekes-Shackelford, V. A., Euler, H. A., Hoier, S., Schmitt, D.
P., & LaMunyon, C. W. (2005). Mate retention, semen displacement, and human sperm
Human sperm competition—p. 33
competition: A preliminary investigation of tactics to prevent and correct female
infidelity. Personality and Individual Differences, 38, 749-763.
Gomendio, M., Harcourt, A. H., & Roldán, E. R. S. (1998). Sperm competition in mammals. In
T. R. Birkhead & A. P. Møller (Eds.), Sperm Competition and sexual selection (pp. 667-
756). New York: Academic Press.
Gottschall, J., (2004). Explaining wartime rape. Journal of Sex Research, 41, 129-36.
Gould, T. (1999). The lifestyle. New York: Firefly.
Harcourt, A. H. (1989). Deformed sperm are probably not adaptive. Animal Behaviour, 37, 863-
Harcourt, A. H., Harvey, P. H., Larson, S. G., & Short, R. V. (1981). Testis weight, body weight,
and breeding system in primates. Nature, 293, 55-57.
Harvey, P. H., & Harcourt, A. H. (1984). Sperm competition, testis size, and breeding systems in
primates. In R. L. Smith (Ed.), Sperm competition and the evolution of animal mating
systems (pp. 589-600). San Diego: Academic Press.
Johnson, M. P. (1995). Patriarchal terrorism and common couple violence: Two forms of
violence against women. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 57, 283-294.
Kilgallon, S. J., & Simmons, L. W. (2005). Image content influences men’s semen quality.
Biology Letters, 1, 253-255.
Klusmann, D. (2002). Sexual motivation and the duration of partnership. Archives of Sexual
Behavior, 31, 275-287.
Klusmann, D. (2006). Sperm competition and female procurement of male resources as
explanations for a sex-specific time course in the sexual motivation of couples. Human
Nature, 17, 283-298.
Kura, T., & Nakashima, Y. (2000). Conditions for the evolution of soldier sperm classes.
Human sperm competition—p. 34
Evolution, 54, 72-80.
Lalumière, M. L., Harris, G. T., Quinsey, V. L., & Rice, M. E. (2005). The causes of rape:
Understanding individual differences in male propensity for sexual aggression.
Washington, DC: APA Press.
McCracken, K. G., Wilson, R. E., McCracken, P. J., & Johnson, K. P. (2001). Sexual selection:
Are ducks impressed by drakes’ display? Nature, 413, 128.
Moore, H. D., Dvorakova, K., Jenkins, N., & Breed, W. (2002). Exceptional sperm cooperation
in the wood mouse. Nature, 418, 174-177.
Moore, H. D., Martin, M., & Birkhead, T. R. (1999). No evidence for killer sperm or other
selective interactions between human spermatozoa in ejaculates of different males in
vitro. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 266, 2343-2350.
Parker, G. A. (1970). Sperm competition and its evolutionary consequences in the insects.
Biological Reviews, 45, 525-567.
Parker, G. A. (1982). Why are there so many tiny sperm? Sperm competition and the
maintenance of two sexes. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 96, 281-294.
Parker, G. A. (1990a). Sperm competition games: Raffles and roles. Proceedings of the Royal
Society of London, B, 242, 120-126.
Parker, G. A. (1990b). Sperm competition games: Sneaks and extra-pair copulations.
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series, B, 242, 127-133.
Platek, S. M., Burch, R. L., Panyavin, I. S., Wasserman, B. H., & Gallup, G. G., Jr. (2002).
Reactions to children’s faces: resemblance matters more for males than females.
Evolution and Human Behavior, 23, 159-166.
Human sperm competition—p. 35
Platek, S. M., Critton, S. R., Burch, R. L., Frederick, D. A., Myers, T. E., & Gallup Jr., G. G.
(2003). How much resemblance is enough? Sex difference in reactions to resemblance,
but not the ability to detect resemblance. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24, 81-87.
Platek, S. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (Eds.). (2006). Female infidelity and paternal uncertainty.
New York: Cambridge University Press.
Platek, S. M., Raines, D. M., Gallup Jr., G. G., Mohamed, F. B., Thomson, J. W., Myers, T. E.,
Panyavin, I. S., Levin, S. L., Davis, J. A., Fonteyn, L. C. M., & Arigo, D. R. (2004).
Reactions to children’s faces: Males are still more affected by resemblance than females
are, and so are their brains. Evolution and Human Behavior, 25, 394-405.
Platek, S. M., Keenan, J. P., Mohamed, F. B. (2005). Sex differences in neural correlates of child
facial resemblance: An event-related fMRI study. NeuroImage, 25, 1336-1344.
Pound, N. (2002). Male interest in visual cues of sperm competition risk. Evolution and Human
Behavior, 23, 443-466.
Pound, N., Javed, M. H., Ruberto, C., Shaikh, M. A., & Del Valle, A. P. (2002). Duration of
sexual arousal predicts semen parameters for masturbatory ejaculates. Physiology and
Behavior, 76, 685-689.
Rice, W. R. (1996). Sexually antagonistic male adaptation triggered by experimental arrest of
female evolution. Nature, 381, 232-234.
Rilling, J. K., Winslow, J. T., & Kilts C. D. (2004). The neural correlates of mate competition in
dominant male rhesus macaques. Biological Psychiatry, 56, 364-375.
Shackelford, T. K., Goetz, A. T., LaMunyon, C. W., Quintus, B. J., & Weekes-Shackelford, V.
A. (2004). Sex differences in sexual psychology produce sex similar preferences for a
short-term mate. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 33, 405-412.
Human sperm competition—p. 36
Shackelford, T. K., Goetz, A. T., McKibbin, W. F., & Starratt, V. G. (2007). Absence makes the
adaptations grow fonder: Proportion of time apart from partner, male sexual psychology,
and sperm competition in humans. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121, 214-200.
Shackelford, T. K., LeBlanc, G. J., Weekes-Shackelford, V. A., Bleske-Rechek, A. L., Euler, H.
A., & Hoier, S. (2002). Psychological adaptation to human sperm competition. Evolution
and Human Behavior, 23, 123-138.
Shackelford, T. K., Pound, N., & Goetz, A. T. (2005). Psychological and physiological
adaptation to human sperm competition. Review of General Psychology, 9, 228-248.
Short, R. V. (1979). Sexual selection and its component parts, somatic and genital selection as
illustrated by man and the great apes. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 9, 131-158.
Short, R. V. (1998). Review of Human Sperm Competition: Copulation, Masturbation and
Infidelity, by R. R. Baker and M. A. Bellis. European Sociobiology Society Newsletter,
47, 20-23.
Smith, R. L. (1984). Human sperm competition. In R. L. Smith (Ed.), Sperm competition and the
evolution of animal mating systems (pp. 601-660). New York: Academic Press.
Starratt, V. G., Goetz, A. T., Shackelford, T. K., & McKibbin, W. F. (under review). Men’s
partner-directed insults and sexual coercion in intimate relationships. European Journal
of Social Psychology.
Symons, D. (1979). The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press.
Takahashi, H., Matsuura, M., Yahata, N., Koeda, M., Suhara, T., & Okubo, Y. (2006). Men and
women show distinct brain activation during imagery of sexual and emotional infidelity.
NeuroImage, 32, 1299-1307.
Talese, G. (1981). Thy neighbor’s wife. New York: Ballantine.
Human sperm competition—p. 37
Thornhill, R. & Palmer, C. T. (2000). A natural history of rape. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Thornhill, R. & Thornhill, N. W. (1992). The evolutionary psychology of men’s coercive
sexuality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 15, 363-421.
Waage, J. K. (1979). Dual function of the damselfly penis: Sperm removal and transfer. Science,
203, 916-918.
Wildt, D. E., Bush, M., Goodrowe, K. L., Packer, C., Pusey, A. E., Brown, J. L., Joslin, P., &
O’Brien, S. J. (1987). Reproductive and genetic consequences of founding isolated lion
populations. Nature, 329, 328-331.
Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1992). The man who mistook his wife for a chattel. In J. H. Barkow, L.
Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind (pp.289-322). New York: Oxford
University Press.
Winston, J. S., O’Doherty, J., Kilner, J. M., Perrett, D. I., & Dolan, R. J. (in press). Brain
systems for assessing physical attractiveness. Neuropsychologica
Full-text available
The Oxford Handbook of Human Mating covers the contributions and up-to-date theories and empirical evidence from scientists regarding human mating strategies. The scientific studies of human mating have only recently risen, revealing fresh discoveries about mate attraction, mate choice, marital satisfaction, and other topics. Darwin’s sexual selection theory primarily guides most of the research in the scientific study of mating strategies. Indeed, research on the complexities of human mate competition and mate choice has centred around Darwin’s classic book. This book discusses theories of human mating; mate selection and mate attraction; mate competition; sexual conflict in mating; human pair bonding; the endocrinology of mating; and mating in the modern world.
The interface of sexual behavior and evolutionary psychology is a rapidly growing domain, rich in psychological theories and data as well as controversies and applications. With nearly eighty chapters by leading researchers from around the world, and combining theoretical and empirical perspectives, The Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Sexual Psychology is the most comprehensive and up-to-date reference work in the field. Providing a broad yet in-depth overview of the various evolutionary principles that influence all types of sexual behaviors, the handbook takes an inclusive approach that draws on a number of disciplines and covers nonhuman and human psychology. It is an essential resource for both established researchers and students in psychology, biology, anthropology, medicine, and criminology, among other fields. Volume 1: Foundations of Evolutionary Perspectives on Sexual Psychology addresses foundational theories and methodological approaches.
Sperm competition occurs when a female copulates with two or more males within a sufficiently brief period, resulting in sperm of the different males competing to fertilize ova. Sperm competition has been documented or inferred to occur across many species, ranging from insects to primates, including humans. To open the chapter, the theory of sperm competition is introduced and the role of sperm competition as a recurrent adaptive problem for humans is highlighted. Because sperm competition could be detrimental to male reproductive success through cuckoldry, males have likely evolved anti-cuckoldry adaptations. Therefore, convergent evidence of anatomical, genetic, and physiological adaptations to sperm competition in human males is presented. This is followed by a discussion of behavioral and psychological evidence that is unique to humans and that differentiates them from nonhuman species, such as negative affect in response to sexual rejection by a man’s female partner. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to issues still debated within sperm competition theory, such as male precedence, intensity of sperm competition, the role of sperm heteromorphism, and the relationship between male phenotypic quality and ejaculate quality. The chapter concludes with the message that the evidence for anatomical, biological, physiological, genetic, and behavioral adaptations to human sperm competition provides compelling evidence that sperm competition has been a recurrent feature of human evolutionary history.
Copulatory urgency is produced by a psychological adaptation that evolved to solve the adaptive problem of sexual conflict resulting from the use of conditional mating strategies. Deployment of a long-term mating strategy, in which individuals invest substantially in the formation and maintenance of an enduring, committed relationship with one partner, puts those individuals at risk of loss of that investment (and more) should their long-term partner pursue a conflicting mating strategy. Consequently, people have evolved motivations, such as copulatory urgency, which protect against that loss. As the potential costs of a partner’s use of a conflicting mating strategy are sex-specific, so too are the manifestations of copulatory urgency. Among men, for whom paternity uncertainty, sperm competition, and cuckoldry are of primary evolutionary concern, copulatory urgency is demonstrated in response to increased risk of a partner’s sexual infidelity and results in behaviors that functioned ancestrally to reduce the risk of cuckoldry. Women, on the other hand, are not subject to maternal uncertainty or cuckoldry. However, women are more likely to be reliant on their long-term male partner’s investment of resources into the ongoing relationship, and so are more likely to demonstrate copulatory urgency and associated motivated behaviors when they are at particular risk of loss of that investment and when the loss of that investment would be particularly costly.
Full-text available
Why the sexual climax, in humans, results in a pleasurable experience remains an important biological question. Analysis of evolutionary traits in numerous Vertebrates suggests that orgasm evolved through three phylogenetic stages during the transition from external to internal fertilization and viviparity. First, orgasm is directly dependent on ejaculation in males and the expulsion of fluids from the ovarian and urethral glands (Skene’s) in females. I propose that sexual orgasm could come from the primitive reflex of discharging gametes to ensure reproduction. Thus, the understanding of orgasm should not be reduced to a penis- or a clitoris-centred paradigm. Secondly, orgasm has evolved to stimulate sexual activity because the evolutionary transition from external fertilization to internal fertilization has been accompanied in numerous species with a lessening in reproductive rates. Because sexual activity encourages reproduction, it can be argued that orgasm has evolved to increase sexual activity, particularly in viviparous species with low reproductive rates. Third, internal fertilization in the genital tract of females weakens the visibility of the putative success of fertilization. Female sexual fluids and proteins can bias fertilization in favour of preferred males. Because orgasm could promote a better choice of partner, I argue that female orgasm may have evolved as a post-copulatory selection tactic by which females can increase their control of mates.
Relying on religion as the basis of one’s morality is problematic. Although religion can motivate positive behaviors and cooperation, it also motivates and exacerbates violence in particular contexts, arguably by being shaped by preexisting mechanisms in evolved human psychology. First, we provide a brief overview of human sexual selection from an evolutionary psychological perspective. Second, we discuss how and why an evolutionary perspective and, in particular, the concepts of intersexual and intrasexual competition may be useful in understanding religiously motivated violence. Third, we present an overview of the research addressing several types of religiously motivated violence, such as mate guarding and controlling behaviors, wife beating and uxoricide, honor killing, child abuse and filicide, male and female genital mutilation, suicide, group violence and war, and terrorism (including suicide terrorism). We highlight the potential advantages that religiously motivated violence may have provided ancestrally within a sexual selection theoretical framework, and we conclude with suggestions for future research.
Sperm competition occurs when a female copulates with two or more males within a sufficiently brief time period, resulting in sperm of the different males competing to fertilize ova. Sperm competition has been documented or inferred to occur across several species. We review the evidence for sperm competition in humans. Specifically, we review literature indicating apparently convergent adaptations to sperm competition in humans and nonhumans. We discuss future research directions and conclude that the research that documents anatomical, biological, physiological, and behavioral adaptations to human sperm competition provides compelling evidence that sperm competition has been a recurrent feature of human evolutionary history.
Full-text available
Full-text available
The chapter focuses on the fact that as compared to other mammals, including primates, humans are behaviorally, anatomically, and physiologically monandrous. However, sometimes multimale matings within the window of life-span of sperm and ovum also occur. Moreover, humans show adaptations to the possibility of sperm competition. The issue of sperm competition in humans still needs predictions that separate sperm competition from the alternative hypotheses. On the basis of this information, it can be inferred, that in eutherian mammals, the sperm fertile life-span tends to be short. In addition, there are no sperm-storage organs, the interactions between sperm and the female tract are complex and competition between ejaculates is in the nature of scramble competition not contesting competition. Sperm face major barriers within the female tract and the timing of mating in relation to ovulation determines male success at fertilization to a great extent. Thus, mechanisms of sperm competition in mammals appear to differ to a great extent from other taxa, in which sperm are stored within the female tract for long periods of time.
Although commonly believed that males are more promiscuous than females, new research has revealed that female infidelity is a common occurrence throughout the animal kingdom. Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty is the first book to address how males deal with the consequences of female infidelity and the strategies they have evolved to try to avoid the possibility of raising an offspring they unknowingly did not sire. Each chapter deals with a specific evolved strategy developed to aid males in either limiting opportunities for their mate to be unfaithful or to ‘correct’ the by-products of infidelity should it occur. With sections including mate guarding, intra-vaginal tactics and paternity assessment, this book will appeal to researchers and graduate students in behavioral biology, evolutionary psychology, human sexuality, anthropology, sociology, reproductive health and medicine.
It is suggested that sperm competition (competition between the sperm from two or more males over the fertilization of ova) may account for the fact that sperm are so small and so numerous. In the entire absence of sperm competition, selection may favour an increase in sperm size so that the sperm contributes nutriment to the subsequent viability and success of the zygote. However, an extremely low incidence of sperm competition is adequate to prevent sperm size increasing. Vertebrate sperm should remain at minimal size provided that double matings (one female mated by two males) occur more often than about 4 times the ratio of sperm size:ovum size. The classical theory that sperm are small simply because of the difficulties of ensuring that ova do get fertilized may also explain sperm size, and both effects (sperm competition and ensuring fertilization) are likely to contribute to the stability of anisogamy. Large numbers of sperm can be produced because sperm are tiny and the optimal allocation of reproductive reserves to ejaculates is not trivially small even when double matings are rather rare. It is suggested that of its total mating effort, a male vertebrate should spend a fraction on sperm that is roughly equivalent to a quarter of the probability of double mating. © 2006 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
Publisher Summary Birds, in which, in the absence of lactation both sexes can play an equal role in feeding the young, monogamous mating systems are generally desirable, such that sexual dimorphisms in body size are unlikely to develop. This chapter describes the concept of sexual selection, reproduction in the gorilla, orangutan, chimpanzee, and man. Sexual selection can be subdivided into two components parts: somatic selection, the factors determining general body size, and genital selection, the factors determining the size of the gonads and external genitalia. While, somatic selection is apparently related to the mating system, and is concerned with successful competition for access to a mate, genital selection is far more complex; although influenced by mating type, it is ultimately a reflection of copulatory frequency. The chapter concludes that the most telling anatomical clues, probably, to the reproductive behavior of man and the Great Apes are the relative body sizes of the male and the female, and the relative sizes of the testis and the ovary. However, it remains to be seen whether the significance of these simple anatomical clues will be confirmed by the examination of a far wider range of species.