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Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology. Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution.
2011 (English)In: Maladapting Minds: Philosophy, psychiatry, and evolutionary theory / [ed] PR Adriaens, A De Block, New York: Oxford University Press , 2011, 65-90 p.Chapter in book (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Traditionally, evolutionary psychology has conceptualized sexual preferences as genetically determined adaptations, enabling organisms to single out high quality partners. In this chapter, I argue that the existence of paraphilias, such as fetishism, poses a serious problem for such traditional evolutionary accounts. My own proposal revives the ethological notion of sexual imprinting – a process observed in animals where sexual preferences are acquired through experience with parents and siblings during a sensitive period in early life. Although this process usually generates biologically functional preferences for conspecifics, in certain situations another species or even artefacts can be imprinted on. Acknowledging that it is difficult to provide evidence for the existence of sexual imprinting in humans(and to design studies that would generate such evidence), I suggest that sexual imprinting may provide an explanation for both common and uncommon human sexual preferences.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New York: Oxford University Press , 2011. 65-90 p.
, International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57271ISBN: 978-0-19-955866-7OAI: diva2:415134
Available from: 2011-05-05 Created: 2011-05-05 Last updated: 2011-05-05Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. On Sexual Imprinting in Humans
Open this publication in new window or tab >>On Sexual Imprinting in Humans
2011 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In this thesis I investigate whether human sexual preferences develop through sexual imprinting. Sexual imprinting is the acquisition of sexual preferences through non-rewarded experiences with parents and siblings during an early sensitive period and it is known to exist in many other animals. Learning is often sex specific so that males, for instance, learn to prefer as sexual partners individuals that look like their mother, and avoid individuals that look like their father. First, sexual imprinting in animals and humans is reviewed and compared to prevailing evolutionary views presupposing genetically determined sexual preferences. Further, by means of web surveys, I have explored the relationship between childhood exposure to parents with certain natural and cultural traits and sexual attraction to these traits in a partner. Cultural traits were included because it is unlikely that preferences for them are genetically determined adaptations. Parental effects varied between traits. For instance, in heterosexual males, a positive effect of mother was found on attraction to smoking, but not glasses, while a negative paternal effect was found on attraction to glasses, but not smoking. However, when maternal and paternal effects were investigated for a large number of artificial and natural traits, including smoking and glasses, an overall positive effect of opposite sex parent emerged in both heterosexual males and females. Additionally, in the last study we explored a sexual preference for pregnant and lactating women. Results suggest that exposure to a pregnant and lactating mother had an effect if it occurred when the respondent was between 1,5 and 5 years old. In conclusion, these results suggest that human sexual preferences are the result of sex specific learning during a sensitive period. Sexual imprinting should therefore be recognised as a plausible explanation to human sexual preferences that deserves further scientific investigation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, 2011. 30 p.
Sexual Imprinting, Paraphilia, Fetishism, Sexual Preferences, Partner Preferences, Sexual Development
National Category
Ecology Natural Sciences
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57270 (URN)978-91-7447-308-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2011-06-10, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following papers were unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript. Paper 4: Manuscript. Available from: 2011-05-12 Created: 2011-05-05 Last updated: 2011-05-09Bibliographically approved

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Aronsson, Hanna
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