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The evolution of masturbation is associated with postcopulatory selection and pathogen avoidance in primates

Brindle, Matilda; Ferguson-Gow, Henry; Williamson, Joseph; Thomsen, Ruth; Sommer, Volker; (2023) The evolution of masturbation is associated with postcopulatory selection and pathogen avoidance in primates. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences , 290 (2000) , Article 20230061. 10.1098/rspb.2023.0061. Green open access

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Abstract

Masturbation occurs throughout the animal kingdom. At first glance, however, the fitness benefits of this self-directed behaviour are unclear. Regardless, several drivers have been proposed. Non-functional hypotheses posit that masturbation is either a pathology, or a byproduct of high underlying sexual arousal, whereas functional hypotheses argue an adaptive benefit. The Postcopulatory Selection Hypothesis states that masturbation aids the chances of fertilization, while the Pathogen Avoidance Hypothesis states that masturbation helps reduce host infection by flushing pathogens from the genital tract. Here, we present comprehensive new data documenting masturbation across the primate order and use these, in conjunction with phylogenetic comparative methods, to reconstruct the evolutionary pathways and correlates of masturbation. We find that masturbation is an ancient trait within the primate order, becoming a more common aspect of the haplorrhine behavioural repertoire after the split from tarsiers. Our analyses provide support for both the Postcopulatory Selection and Pathogen Avoidance Hypotheses in male primates, suggesting that masturbation may be an adaptive trait, functioning at a macroevolutionary scale.

Type: Article
Title: The evolution of masturbation is associated with postcopulatory selection and pathogen avoidance in primates
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2023.0061
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2023.0061
Language: English
Additional information: © 2023 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Keywords: Bayesian phylogenetics, masturbation, pathogen avoidance, postcopulatory sexual selection, Animals, Male, Masturbation, Phylogeny, Primates
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Div of Biosciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > Div of Biosciences > Genetics, Evolution and Environment
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10171773
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