Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis

Hanna Aronsson

in Maladapting Minds

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199558667
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754647 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Sexual imprinting and fetishism: an evolutionary hypothesis

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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.

Chapter.  11471 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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