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Question: Do animals mate for pleasure or instinct?

Asked by danix1 to Sam on 13 Jun 2011.

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  • Photo: Sam TazzymanSam Tazzyman answered on 13 Jun 2011:

    It’s a very difficult question. We can’t get inside the brain of an animal and see whether they find mating pleasurable – or even whether they experience “pleasure” in the same way that we do. So what do we know? Well, we know that humans frequently mate for pleasure. And we know that humans evolved just like everything else in the living world. From an evolutionary perspective it would make sense that animals feel some pleasure in mating. Think about it like this: imagine two animals, one of which has a gene that makes it pleasurable to mate, and the other which doesn’t. The one that gets pleasure from mating is more likely to mate, and so is more likely to have offspring. So the genes that cause pleasure when mating will get passed on. The one that doesn’t get pleasure is less likely to mate, and so is less likely to have offspring. So the genes that don’t cause pleasure in mating will be less likely to be passed on. Therefore the genes that cause it to be pleasurable to mate are more likely to stick around, and so it is likely that animals do get some pleasure from mating. This isn’t to say that it can’t be instinct as well as pleasure.

    But then we also know that humans have much more complicated brains that everything else. It doesn’t seem sensible to say that, for example, plants feel pleasure. But they do mate. My guess would be that animals with brains that are developed enough to feel pleasure probably do feel some sort of pleasure in mating. But that’s mainly my opinion. It’s hard to get full scientific facts about what animals do or don’t feel because we can’t ask them. Most research into what animals “like” or “don’t like” just looks at what activities they do when they’re given the opportunity, and what activities they avoid. In most species, mating is certainly something animals do when given the opportunity. So I think it’s probably instinct and pleasure.

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Comments

  • Photo: EdEd commented on 13 Jun 2011:

    That’s a very good and well thought out answer by Sam, with which I agree wholeheartedly. In summary, it’s very hard to tell what animals actually feel, but it certainly makes evolutionary sense that they would find mating pleasurable. Similarly, they probably also find eating and cuddling each other pleasurable too.

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  • Photo: ximwithstupidxximwithstupidx commented on 14 Jun 2011:

    only dolphins and humans have sex for pleasure :) i read it in a science book

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    • Photo: SamSam commented on 14 Jun 2011:

      @ximwithstupidx: I would be interested to know what science book that was because I would like to know what their evidence is for that conclusion. I know for example that Bonobos (which are a close relative to the Chimpanzee, and to us) engage in lots of sexual activity for a variety of reasons such as greeting each other, solving arguments, and making friends after arguments. Now, I don’t have any way of getting inside a Bonobo’s head to see whether it is feeling pleasure or not, but they are closely related to us, and they perform sexual behaviours a lot, so I would find it surprising if they didn’t derive some pleasure from them.

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      • Photo: danix1danix1 commented on 16 Jun 2011:

        Thank you for your very detailed answer :) what about species that after mating try and kill each other?

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