A Natural History of Rape

A Natural History of Rape

Biological Bases of Sexual Coercion

By Craig T. Palmer and Randy Thornhill

A biologist and an anthropologist use evolutionary biology to explain the causes and inform the prevention of rape.

A Bradford Book





A biologist and an anthropologist use evolutionary biology to explain the causes and inform the prevention of rape.

In this controversial book, Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer use evolutionary biology to explain the causes of rape and to recommend new approaches to its prevention. According to Thornhill and Palmer, evolved adaptation of some sort gives rise to rape; the main evolutionary question is whether rape is an adaptation itself or a by-product of other adaptations. Regardless of the answer, Thornhill and Palmer note, rape circumvents a central feature of women's reproductive strategy: mate choice. This is a primary reason why rape is devastating to its victims, especially young women. Thornhill and Palmer address, and claim to demolish scientifically, many myths about rape bred by social science theory over the past twenty-five years. The popular contention that rapists are not motivated by sexual desire is, they argue, scientifically inaccurate.

Although they argue that rape is biological, Thornhill and Palmer do not view it as inevitable. Their recommendations for rape prevention include teaching young males not to rape, punishing rape more severely, and studying the effectiveness of "chemical castration." They also recommend that young women consider the biological causes of rape when making decisions about dress, appearance, and social activities. Rape could cease to exist, they argue, only in a society knowledgeable about its evolutionary causes.

The book includes a useful summary of evolutionary theory and a comparison of evolutionary biology's and social science's explanations of human behavior. The authors argue for the greater explanatory power and practical usefulness of evolutionary biology. The book is sure to stir up discussion both on the specific topic of rape and on the larger issues of how we understand and influence human behavior.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262201254 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262700832 272 pp. | 6 in x 9 in


  • This is a courageous, intelligent, and eye-opening book with a noble goal—to understand and eliminate a loathsome crime. Armed with logic and copious data, Thornhill and Palmer will force many intellectuals to decide which they value more: established dogma and ideology, or the welfare of real women in the real world.

    Steven Pinker

    Professor of Psychology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of How the Mind Works and Words and Rules

  • By dispelling the most dangerous social science myths and attempting to explain rape, Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer have scientifically unveiled one of the most hideous scourges of the human condition for what it really is- and this armed us with the intelligence to finally prevent victimization. This book should be read by every woman and by every man who cares about a woman.

    Michael P. Ghiglieri

    PH.D., Professor of Physical Anthropology, Northern Arizona University and author of The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origin of Male Violence and East of the Mountains of the Moon: Chimpanzee Society in the African Rainforest