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Theory of Coercive Sexual Strategies

Aurelio Josť Figueredo

Much of my recent research has involved the application of Brunswikian approaches to the behavioral evolution and development of coercive sexual strategies.

Over the past several years, my various collaborators and I have been systematically applying these Brunswikian perspectives to the evolutionary psychology of spousal abuse, spousal rape of women, stranger and acquaintance sexual assault of adult women, parental physical and sexual abuse of children, child molestation by adolescents, and juvenile delinquency.

The proposed genetic basis for these coercive sexual strategies is the evolution of conditional adaptive strategies involving elements of reactive heritability. Any hypothetical gene or set of genes controlling the choice of sexual strategy, which we might term Sexual Strategy Regulator Genes (SSRGs), must be sensitive to critical environmental contingencies, including the presence of other strategically relevant genetic traits.

To determine which strategies work best for each individual, one must assess both its environment and itself within that environment. Psychosexual development thus involves a comprehensive self-assessment of sociosexual capabilities and opportunities, calibrating optimal utilization of physical assets such as size, strength, health, and attractiveness, as well as psychosocial assets such as intelligence, self-efficacy, social skills, personality, and socioeconomic status and/or prospects (Figueredo, 1999; Hunter & Figueredo, 1999).

An emergent construct, also derived from evolutionary theory, that is relevant to this proposed etiology of coercive sexual strategies is that of the Competitively Disadvantaged Male (CDM). The designation CDM was first used in a study examining the causes of domestic violence (Figueredo & McCloskey, 1993).

In this work, CDMs were theorized to rely on coercion as their primary means of obtaining sex. CDMs were thought to be unable or unwilling to effectively use mainstream sexual strategies; hence, they are forced to acquire sex by coercing their partner through verbal threats, manipulation, or physical force.

CDM characteristics may include: (1) poor competency/skills in social or sexual situations, (2) physical unattractiveness to women, and (3) low socioeconomic status. CDMs may possess some or all of these characteristics, and as a result, have a "relative disadvantage in the sexual marketplace" (Figueredo & McCloskey, 1993).

This formulation suggests that those males who have psychological or social problems would be more inclined to utilize more aggressive (criminal) tactics in order to stay competitive in the sexual marketplace (Figueredo, 1992, 1995).

More recently, Figueredo et al. (1999) applied this same framework to address the ultimate causes of adolescent sex offending behavior by proposing a Brunswikian Evolutionary Developmental (BED) Theory, wherein an inability to use mainstream sexual strategies leads an individual to develop deviant sexual strategies.

Because some adolescents suffer psychosocial problems and consequent competitive disadvantages in the sexual marketplace, sex offending behavior may represent the culmination of a tragic series of failing sexual and social strategies, leading from psychosocial deficiencies to sexual deviance, thence to antisocial deviance, and finally to sexual criminality.

When indirect means of sexual competition fail, more direct means are selected (Thornhill & Thornhill, 1992). Alternatively, noncoercive mate diversification strategies may be developmentally selected by individuals who are supernormally endowed with certain sexually attractive attributes, such as men low in Fluctuating Asymmetry (a cue indicating high pathogen resistance) and women low in Waist-to-Hip Ratio (a cue indicating high fecundity). Such sex-specific factors alter the relative cost-benefit ratios of mating effort with respect to parental effort in these individuals (Gangestad & Simpson, 1999).

One distinctive feature of the evolutionary applications of Brunswikian perspective is that when an organism establishes its hierarchy of alternative ("vicarious and intersubstitutable") responses based on experience with the relative ecological validities of alternative means for producing a given distal achievement (Petrinovich, 1979), it may be assessing the relative efficacies of various biologically prepared adaptive strategies with respect to genetically predetermined goals.

Thus, Brunswikian learning need not be totally de novo, but might be based instead on evolved behavioral programs of some sophistication and complexity, in a manner analogous to that of human language acquisition (see Pinker, 1994; see also, Garcia & Ervin, 1968; Garcia et al., 1974; Mayr, 1974; Seligman, 1970; Seligman & Hager, 1972; Waddington, 1957).

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