The ethical corollary of “sex is a basic human need” is that rape is justified.

(Trigger Warning: This post discusses rapist logic and rape.)

Some men argue that when women “withhold sex” from men, we are depriving men of their basic needs:

A sense of entitlement? That’s what you want to call the basic human need for love, companionship, approval, and sex? […] And then you wonder why guys perceive hostility from women. Gee, I wonder.

— unapproved comment from a Geek Feminism post

If a woman declines to have sex with a man, is she violating the man’s human rights, his alleged “right to sex”, or is the man’s experience of being deprived of his rights actually evidence of his sense of “entitlement” over women’s bodies?

Physiological - breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion. Safety - security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property. Love/belonging - friendship, family, sexual intimacy. Esteem - self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others. Self-actualization - morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts. This visual representation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts “sex” at the bottom base of the pyramid (falling under the category “Physiological” needs, which are the most basic needs), but “sexual intimacy” is also at the third rung from the bottom, falling under the category of “Love/belonging” needs. “Security of body” is at the at the second rung from the bottom of the pyramid, falling under the category of “Safety” needs, which is above “Physiological” needs but below “Love/belonging” needs.

If the “right to be not raped” falls under “Safety” and “security of body”, then is the alleged “right” to obtain sex a more basic need than the “right to be not raped”? Or does “Safety”/”security of body”/the “right to be not raped” have higher priority than fulfilling everyone’s alleged “need” for sex?

Of course, if one assumes that sex is a more basic need than security of body, then the ethical corollary would be that rape is justified. If you accept “rape is wrong” as an axiom, then you should agree that a person’s security of body/the right to be not raped has a higher priority than a person’s “need” for sex.

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Some scientists criticize the field of evolutionary psychology.

In The evolution of rape?, PZ Myers writes:

There are days when I simply cannot bear the entire field of evolutionary psychology: it’s so deeply tainted with bad research and a lack of rigor. And that makes me uncomfortable, because the fundamental premise, that our behaviors are a product of our history, is self-evidently true. It’s just that researchers in this field couple an acceptance of that premise to a deep assumption of adaptive teleology, the very thing that they should be evaluating, and produce some of the most awesomely trivial drivel.

I’ve just finished reading an article titled “Darwin’s Rape Whistle: Have women evolved to protect themselves from sexual assault?“, and it’s everything I despise about evolutionary psychology. It’s nothing but sloppy thinking and poor science propped up by a conviction that plausibility is sufficient support for certainty.


Another way to look at it is that they are hypothesizing that women are more likely to behave in ways that invite physical attack and brutal abuse when they aren’t ovulating. That is a remarkable assertion. It also carries the strange implication that the consequences of rape can be measured by the likelihood of immediate fertilization, rather than by the toll of physical injury and emotional trauma, a peculiar thing for psychologists to neglect. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a general hypothesis that people, men and women, who can avoid violence at any time in their life, are more likely to be reproductively successful and thereby pass on their genes to subsequent generations? That’s all they’re saying, essentially, and the straining to sex it up by tying globally useful behaviors to reproductive cycles is unconvincing.

In Evolutionary psychology for the masses, Jerry Coyne writes:

Now I don’t oppose evolutionary psychology on principle. The evolutionary source of our behavior is a fascinating topic, and I’m convinced that the genetic influences are far stronger than, say, posited by anti-determinists like Dick Lewontin, Steve Rose, and Steve Gould.  Evolved adaptations are particularly likely to be found in sexual behavior, which is intimately connected with the real object of selection: the currency of reproduction.  I’m far closer in my views on this topic to Steve Pinker than to Steve Gould.  And there are many good studies in the field, so I don’t mean to tar the whole endeavor.

But, for crying out loud, let’s have the journalists and scientists show a little more responsibility when reporting on evolutionary psychology.  If there are problems with a study, describe them.  If an idea is pure speculation, say it.  If there are other explanations for a phenomenon, give them.  Let’s not gull the public into claiming that we understand something with near certainty when we don’t.   These lax reportorial standards, pervasive in evolutionary psychology, seem to be much tighter in other areas of science, like physics or molecular biology.  And this despite the enormous difficulty of demonstrating that any human behavior is an evolved adaptation.

Every time I write a piece like this, one that’s critical of evolutionary psychology, I get emails from its practitioners, chewing me out for being so hard on their field.  And my response is always the same: I’ll stop being so hard on your field when you guys start being more critical yourselves.  If you policed your own discipline better, I wouldn’t have to.

Of course, not only practising scientists see the poor logic of many evolutionary psychology arguments. Members of the general public can generally detect the logical fallacy formally known as affirming the consequent.

Evolutionary psychologists invent narratives based on faulty assumptions.

In Why Do We Rape, Kill and Sleep Around? The fault, dear Darwin, lies not in our ancestors, but in ourselves., Sharon Begley (Newsweek) writes:

These have not been easy days for evolutionary psychology. For years the loudest critics have been social scientists, feminists and liberals offended by the argument that humans are preprogrammed to rape, to kill unfaithful girlfriends and the like. (This was a reprise of the bitter sociobiology debates of the 1970s and 1980s. When Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed that there exists a biologically based human nature, and that it included such traits as militarism and male domination of women, left-wing activists—including eminent biologists in his own department—assailed it as an attempt “to provide a genetic justification of the status quo and of existing privileges for certain groups according to class, race, or sex” analogous to the scientific justification for Nazi eugenics.) When Thornhill appeared on the Today show to talk about his rape book, for instance, he was paired with a sex-crimes prosecutor, leaving the impression that do-gooders might not like his thesis but offering no hint of how scientifically unsound it is.

(The theory of evolution by natural selection is not part of the set of faulty assumptions, of course. The faulty assumptions made by evolutionary psychologists concern humans’ evolutionary past, the human brain, and some basic facts about non-Anglo countries that some didn’t bother checking.)

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