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Sex And Violence

Have you ever stopped to wonder why sex and violence so often go hand in hand?

two male mallards fighting to mate with a female

Photo: longhairedgit (flickr)

There may be a biological basis for this, as we can see when we look at other species.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why sex and violence so often go hand in hand? How come nobody complains about violence and gardening, say, or sex and bowling?


There may be a biological basis for this, as we can see when we look at other species. In his book Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Carl Sagan points to the blue heron when considering this question. The male blue heron will emit a call that attracts females. When one arrives and shows interest in mating, however, the male drives her away and may even attack her.

Once she is gone he cries out again for her return. This behavior continues until eventually the male is able to mate without fighting. Some of the behaviors appropriate for sex are apparently similar to those for aggression, and the two can become confused.

Male Displays

Another example is tropical fish, which use their coloration to show sexual receptiveness. The female display for sexual readiness can look a lot like the male display for aggression. The biologist Konrad Lorenz has documented how frequently the male fish will become angered and charge the female, or another nearby male, displaying all the behaviors appropriate to aggression rather than courtship.

This kind of link between sex and violence is seen through many different species, and we may wonder if human beings don’t share a little in the confusion. If so, it’s up to us to distinguish very carefully between what’s passion and what’s aggression.

  • dimitri poppeliers

    that’s certainly an interesting photo to go with the article.

  • David Gibson

    Sex and Violence go hand and hand and are similar instincts.
    I will give you references and citations so that you can see for yourself that
    I am not completely full of monkey poo. I ask guys this: have you ever gotten
    into a fight defending a girl’s honor? If you did you were probably having sex
    with her or wanted to have sex with her, unless of course she was related to
    you. Read the book “Demonic Males” if you’re really interested in the link
    between sex and violence and I will show you examples of how males use violence
    or aggression to get more sex.

    There are two basic instincts. The first is Thanatos or more
    commonly referred to as the Death Drive. It is an instinct of destruction,
    aggression, and violence directed against the external world or toward
    other individuals or toward one’s self. The instinct is called the destructive
    instinct, the instinct for mastery, or the will to power”, or to seek
    dominance. If used to help the individual, one would basically use aggression
    and perhaps even violence to get higher up on the social hierarchy (
    ). If used in a negative way perhaps the individual may relive traumatic events
    over and over again. Essentially an aggression turned inward or destruction of
    one’s own self. Soldiers returning from war experiencing post-traumatic stress
    disorder is an example of the Death Instinct turned self-destructive.

    The second instinct is Eros or the life drive. It is the
    instinct to find pleasure in addition to survival, propagation, hunger, thirst,
    and sex (

    To put it more simply, one is a violent or aggressive
    instinct. The other is a sex or pleasure instinct. These instincts complement
    each other. For instance, a male Homo Sapien may play the violent sport football
    (Death Instinct) in order to be more attractive to females (Eros). He may even
    seek dominance on the team to get higher up on the hierarchy (Thanatos) to
    become quarterback, running back, or defensive or offensive captain. This may
    get him more attention from females (Eros).

    In the book Demonic Males, it describes how male chimpanzees
    use violence and aggression to get higher up on the social order. They may
    attack potential rivals with fist, teeth, or clubs and perhaps even kill the
    rival in order to become the alpha male(Thanatos). There is a constant
    competition among the males to prove who the alpha male is. The alpha male gets
    more access to females because they are more receptive to the alpha male
    (Eros). Alpha Males get first dibs on food (Eros), but share it with their
    allies, rivals, and females to keep at the top of the hierarchy (Thanatos) and
    keep the other chimps happy.

    In Bonobo society females will defend their sons if they are
    attacked (Thanatos) by another male. Females form close bonds by having sex
    with each other (Eros). These close bonds are also used to defend themselves
    from aggressive males and the society is equal for the most part and much less
    violent than chimp society. Females often times offer sex to a male that is aggravated
    and tense to calm him down. It keeps the group more peaceful. There are also, alpha
    females and males unlike chimp society where there is only the alpha male.

    But human beings are more complicated than chimps and
    bonobos, and have a more developed Super Ego, and Ego. So the base instincts
    Thanatos and Eros are very very well hidden. The Ego and the Super Ego keep
    these two instincts at bay within most individuals so that we can form closer
    bonds that aren’t based simply upon these two instincts that can potentially
    cause crime or other destructive behavior. But the inner Brutish Ape is in all
    males and females too to a certain extent. You just need to know where to look.
    For example, politicians use Thanatos in the form of controlled aggression (mud
    slinging tactics or dominating in debates) to get higher up on the Social
    ladder and thus can have access to more money (Eros) and women (Eros). Solders
    use the Death Instinct in order to survive on the battlefield and they do it
    for the love of their country (Eros), or they know women like a man in a
    uniform (Eros), or they simply like being a soldier and need the money (Eros).
    Everybody goes to work to make money and put food on the table (Eros), but they
    have to use controlled aggression or dominance seeking (Thanatos) to get higher
    up on the socio-economic ladder. Males that are higher up on the socio-economic
    ladder will be more attractive to females. Though sex may not be the main
    motivator to get higher up on the ladder for all males at all times. Sometimes
    they’re married and have children, so they want to get higher up on the ladder
    in order to feed and provide more for the family (Eros). But the wife will use
    sex and seduction to motivate her man to work harder.

  • David Gibson

    The other obvious connection between sex and violence is rape. The ducks in the picture are doing it and so do orangutangs. But all that is disturbing to think about so lets think about something more positive.

    At least mammals have the capacity to love, which the book Demonic Males failed to mention. You have to add Love and Hate into the equation to understand what motivates people and apes. The book takes an ultra-feminist slant and demonizes all male behavior, especially warfare. Chimpanzees go to war (Thanatos) to secure more territory, food, and females (Eros). It helps the group to thrive and secure more food for the group. But with human beings not all war is to secure more resources and money (Eros). It’s defensive often times and the instinct to protect your loved ones and country isn’t evil. Also, it fails to see that female Homo Sapien leaders tend to be aggressive too. For example, Margret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth, and Catherine the Great were all aggressive and good at war (…-is-it-in-our-genes.html ) .

    The Apes in the group form intimate relationships that aren’t based simply upon sex and threat of violence in all circumstances. Even the Alpha male chimpanzee shows compassion to his rivals and other members of the group by sharing food with them. They are social animals that watch out for each other for the most part even though there is a dark side to their nature.

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