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Matilda Brindle
PhD Research
Evolution and Adaptation

Auto-Sexual Behaviours in Primates: Evolution and Functions

The most common sexual behaviour in female and male primates – including humans – is masturbation. However, the evolutionary significance of auto-sexual activities has not been comprehensively studied. This project will compile and categorise the, as yet, scattered information about its distribution and forms across hundreds of species, from lemurs, lorises and tarsiers to monkeys and apes, aiming to develop testable hypotheses about potential mechanisms and functions. Bayesian phylogenetic analyses will reconstruct the evolutionary history of auto-sexual behaviours. The data will also be examined for trends between and within species as well as for relationships with socio-ecological variables, such as life-style, pathogen load or mating systems. The theoretical work will be complemented by fieldwork on macaque monkeys and experiments with human volunteers, aiming to better understand how masturbation influences the composition and quantity of ejaculate as well as the quality of spermatozoa. Finally, we aim to explore the physiological changes within the vagina of human female subjects during arousal and orgasm by use of a novel data logging device. Thus, this project has health-related implications that go beyond its primary aim, i.e., to better understand the evolution, mechanisms and functions of primate auto-sexual behaviour.
Volker Sommer
Guy Cowlishaw
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