, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 173-204

Homosexual behavior in primates: A review of evidence and theory

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Abstract

Homosexual behavior is defined as genital contact, genital manipulation or both between same-sex individuals. Available data indicate that this behavior is phylogenetically widespread among the anthropoid primates, but totally absent among prosimians. The majority of the 33 species that demonstrate homosexual behavior do so rarefy, but for a substantial number (N =12) it appears to be a more common pattern under free-ranging conditions. I summarize data on homosexual behavior as it relates to form, living condition, age, sex, social organization, and ecological context, and discuss hormonal, demographic, and sociosexual theories for primate homosexual behavior. Among adult primates, the behavior is not the product of abnormal excesses or deficiencies in androgens. Prenatal excesses of androgens may have some effect on the expression of female homosexual behavior, but these effects might vary over the life span, and data are equivocal at present. Demographic processes that result in skewed sex ratios can favor the expression of homosexual behavior in a population, which causes intraspecific variation. I examine several sociosexual explanations, including (a) proceptivity enhancement, (b) receptivity reduction, (c) dominance assertion, (d) practice for heterosexual copulation, (e) tension regulation, (f) reconciliation, and (g) alliance formation. An evolutionary scenario highlights the transformations this behavior underwent during the evolution of the anthropoid primates. I suggest exaptation as a theoretical framework for interpreting homosexual behavior and conclude that future consideration of sexual selection among primates should address homosexual components of this process.