Reality Skimming
26Jan/13Off

Not Necessarily Choosy: The Case for Sexually Assertive Females

In the Vrellish Essay, I defended the sexual assertiveness and promiscuity of female Vrellish highborns on the grounds that they they have trouble getting pregnant.

Meredith F. Small's entertaining and thought provoking book Female Choice: Sexual Behavior of Female Primates, is one I wish I had known about when I wrote that essay.

She makes some points, based on anthropological studies of non-human primates, which point out issues that ring true for me such as:

  • whether or not evolutionary biologists think females should be choosy about what male they mate with, many just, well, aren't.
  • females can be more concerned with getting pregnant, period, than picking "Mr. right".
  • sperm can be a limiting resource

Quote from Female Choice:

"But at the end of the breeding season, 506 copulations later, I found myself questioning the current party line about female choice. Yes, these females were making choices, but they seemed to choose every male in the group, one after another... " p. 84

"In one study, the possibility of pure choice by females without male interference was tested in the laboratory. Pigtail macaque females were trained to hit a switch when they wanted to release a male into their presence (Eaton 1973). Females released males most of the time, but seemingly for purely sexual reasons: the females copulated throughout their cycles with any male they set free. They were also rather easy with their favors - most females released three of the seven possible males they were paired with." p. 105

"In seasonally breeding groups, there may not be enough males to go around, and it's possible that females mating at a high rate will deplete the sperm supplies for other females (Small 1988). Two studies have given preliminary evidence that this is true. A comparison across eighteen field studies of baboons shows that when the ratio of males to females decreases, the birth rate declines (Dunbar and Sharman 1983). Similarly, in a captive group of bonnet macaques, female fertility was lowest in the years when the ratio of females to males was the highest (Silk 1988)." p. 106

"Primatologists have empowered primate females by acknowledging their sexual assertiveness, but we often stop short in accepting the fact that sexual assertiveness may result in less than choosy behavior."

p. 182

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