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On Sexual Imprinting in Humans
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
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.
Keyword [en]
Sexual Imprinting, Paraphilia, Fetishism, Sexual Preferences, Partner Preferences, Sexual Development
National Category
Ecology Natural Sciences
Research subject
Ethology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57270ISBN: 978-91-7447-308-7OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-57270DiVA: diva2:415143
Public defence
2011-06-10, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
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
List of papers
1. Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis
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
Series
, International Perspectives in Philosophy and Psychiatry
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57271 (URN)978-0-19-955866-7 (ISBN)
Available from: 2011-05-05 Created: 2011-05-05 Last updated: 2011-05-05Bibliographically approved
2. Parental influences on sexual preferences: The case of attraction to smoking
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Parental influences on sexual preferences: The case of attraction to smoking
2011 (English)In: Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, ISSN 0737-4828, Vol. 9, no 1, 21-41 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

We investigated whether a sexual preference for smoking can be related to past experiences of parental smoking during childhood, as predicted by the theory of sexual imprinting, but also by sexual conditioning theory. In a sample of over 4000 respondents to five Internet surveys on sexual preferences, we found that parental smoking correlates with increased attraction to smoking in self-reported hetero- and homosexual males. Maternal smoking was associated with an increase in attraction to smoking both in hetero- and homosexual males, while paternal smoking was associated with an increase in attraction to smoking only in males who prefer male partners. We could not explain these findings by considering other factors than parental smoking habits, such as possibly biased reporting, indicators of a sexually liberal lifestyle or phenotype matching. Our data are consistent with the hypothesis that sexual preferences are acquired early in life by exposure to stimuli provided by individuals in the child’s environment, such as caregivers. The sex specificity of the parental effect is consistent with sexual imprinting theory but not with conditioning theory.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Budapest, Ungern: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2011
National Category
Biological Sciences
Research subject
Ethology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-55641 (URN)10.1556/JEP.9.2011.12.1 (DOI)
Available from: 2011-05-05 Created: 2011-03-23 Last updated: 2011-05-05Bibliographically approved
3. Parental effects on sexual preferences in humans: A web study of attraction to glasses
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Parental effects on sexual preferences in humans: A web study of attraction to glasses
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57419 (URN)
Available from: 2011-05-09 Created: 2011-05-09 Last updated: 2011-05-09Bibliographically approved
4. Parental influences on sexual preferences
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Parental influences on sexual preferences
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-57420 (URN)
Available from: 2011-05-09 Created: 2011-05-09 Last updated: 2011-05-09Bibliographically approved
5. Exposure to Mother's Pregnancy and Lactation in Infancy is Associated with Sexual Attraction to Pregnancy and Lactation in Adulthood
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Exposure to Mother's Pregnancy and Lactation in Infancy is Associated with Sexual Attraction to Pregnancy and Lactation in Adulthood
Show others...
2011 (English)In: Journal of Sexual Medicine, ISSN 1743-6095, Vol. 8, no 1, 140-147 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Introduction.  Several theories, including psychodynamic theories, sexual imprinting and early conditioning have been formulated to explain sexual development. Empirical data, however, remain insufficient for a thorough evaluation of these theories.

Aim.  In this study, we test the hypothesis that a critical period exists for the acquisition of sexual preferences, as suggested by empirical findings in birds and mammals (sexual imprinting).

Methods.  An Internet questionnaire was used.

Main Outcome Measures.  We gather data from individuals with a sexual preference for pregnant and/or lactating women, under the hypothesis that pregnancy or lactation may become sexually attractive in adulthood following an exposure to pregnant or lactating women in infancy.

Results.  We find that these preferences are more common in older siblings, i.e., in individuals who have been exposed to more maternal pregnancy and lactation. This result is independent of respondent and sibling sex. In addition, only maternal pregnancies and lactations experienced between 1.5 and 5 years of age are associated with the preferences.

Conclusions.  We discuss our findings in relation to theories of sexual development and to earlier reports of birth order effects on sexual behavior. We suggest that this age range may constitute a sensitive period for the acquisition of sexual preferences.

Keyword
Sexual Imprinting, Sexual Development, Sexual Stimuli, Paraphilia, Fetishism, Birth Order, Exposure to Pregnancy and Lactation
National Category
Developmental Biology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-54454 (URN)10.1111/j.1743-6109.2010.02065.x (DOI)000285892000014 ()
Available from: 2011-02-02 Created: 2011-02-02 Last updated: 2012-01-24Bibliographically approved

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