Sexual Conflict

Updated: FEBRUARY 10, 2020

Sexual conflict occurs when creatures of two different sexes disagree about matters concerning reproduction and mating. The term is most commonly used to describe conflict in animals, although it can also apply to sexually-reproducing plants and fungi.

Evolutionary biologists believe the sexual conflict is one of the most significant and dynamic areas of study in their field. Sexual conflict is sometimes called sexual antagonism.

More About Sexual Conflict

Sexual conflict occurs whenever the best outcome for mating is different for males and females. While it is most commonly examined among the animal and plant kingdoms, the principle can also be applied to humans. For example, if a woman desires a baby but the man she is sleeping with does not, sexual conflict will occur. Her best outcome for mating is a child, while his may be an orgasm or a feeling of closeness with his partner.

Sexual conflict can lead to members of each sex evolving traits to make their preferred outcome more likely. For example, females where producing many offspring is not desired, such as humans, have evolved to have elaborate reproductive tracts which pose an obstacle for sperm. These elaborate tracts also ensure that only the fittest sperm, with the most desirable traits, fertilizes the egg, leading to the best possible offspring.

While sexual conflict is common, it does not exist in all species. Species that exist without sexual conflict usually have docile females willing to submit to male dominance, such as rabbits and wolves. There are some exceptions though, such as spiders and ants, which live in female-dominated societies.


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