Male Violence and Sexual Intimidation in a Wild Primate Society

Alice Baniel, Guy Cowlishaw, and Elise Huchard


Sexual violence occurring in the context of long-term heterosexual relationships, such as sexual intimidation, is widespread across human populations [1-3]. However, its evolutionary origins remain speculative because few studies have investigated the existence of comparable forms of sexual coercion in animals [4, 5], in which repeated male aggression toward a female provides the aggressor with delayed mating benefits [6]. Here, we test whether male aggression toward females functions as sexual coercion in wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus). We found support for all three main predictions of the sexual coercion hypothesis [7]: male aggression (1) is greatest against cycling females, (2) is costly and represents the main source of injuries for cycling females, and (3) increases male mating success with their victims in the future. Detailed analysis of chronological sequences between aggression and matings ruled out other coercive mechanisms, such as short-term harassment and punishment, by showing that aggression and matings are temporally decoupled. This decoupling may explain why some forms of sexual violence have been largely overlooked in well-studied animal populations despite their likely impact on the fitness of both sexes. Finally, we found no support for alternative hypotheses such as a female preference for aggressive males [8, 9]. This new, detailed study of the forms and intensity of sexual intimidation in a wild primate suggests that it may be widespread across mammalian societies, with important implications for understanding the evolution of mate choice and sexual conflict in mammals, as well as the origins of human sexual violence.


injury; intersexual aggression; intimidation; mating success; primates; promiscuous mating; sex roles; sexual coercion; sexual conflict;

Published in

Current Biology, July 2017, pp. 2163–2168