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Concept: Secondary sex characteristic


Compelling evidence from many animal taxa indicates that male genitalia are often under postcopulatory sexual selection for characteristics that increase a male’s relative fertilization success. There could, however, also be direct precopulatory female mate choice based on male genital traits. Before clothing, the nonretractable human penis would have been conspicuous to potential mates. This observation has generated suggestions that human penis size partly evolved because of female choice. Here we show, based upon female assessment of digitally projected life-size, computer-generated images, that penis size interacts with body shape and height to determine male sexual attractiveness. Positive linear selection was detected for penis size, but the marginal increase in attractiveness eventually declined with greater penis size (i.e., quadratic selection). Penis size had a stronger effect on attractiveness in taller men than in shorter men. There was a similar increase in the positive effect of penis size on attractiveness with a more masculine body shape (i.e., greater shoulder-to-hip ratio). Surprisingly, larger penis size and greater height had almost equivalent positive effects on male attractiveness. Our results support the hypothesis that female mate choice could have driven the evolution of larger penises in humans. More broadly, our results show that precopulatory sexual selection can play a role in the evolution of genital traits.

Concepts: Sexual selection, Penis, Charles Darwin, Physical attractiveness, Sex organ, Human penis size, Secondary sex characteristic, Baculum


It is well known that sexual selection is the main driving force of substantial diversity of genitalia found in animals. However, how it facilitates the diversity is still largely unknown, because genital morpho/physical features and motions/functional morphology of the structures in sexual intercourse are not linked for the vast majority of organisms. Here we showed the presence of material gradient and numerically studied an effect of stiffness gradient of the beetle penis during its propulsion through the female duct. We found that stiffness gradient on the penis essentially affects its propulsion. Microscopic investigation suggests the possibility that the tip of the hyper-elongated penis is softer than the rest of it, and our numerical model confirms that this type of distribution of stiffness gradient aids in faster propulsion than other types. This result indicates that previously ignored physical properties of genital materials are of crucial importance in evolutionary studies of genitalia.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Sex, Penis, Scrotum, Vulva, Sex organ, Secondary sex characteristic, Sex organs


Short stature and later maturation of youth artistic gymnasts are often attributed to the effects of intensive training from a young age. Given limitations of available data, inadequate specification of training, failure to consider other factors affecting growth and maturation, and failure to address epidemiological criteria for causality, it has not been possible thus far to establish cause-effect relationships between training and the growth and maturation of young artistic gymnasts. In response to this ongoing debate, the Scientific Commission of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) convened a committee to review the current literature and address four questions: (1) Is there a negative effect of training on attained adult stature? (2) Is there a negative effect of training on growth of body segments? (3) Does training attenuate pubertal growth and maturation, specifically, the rate of growth and/or the timing and tempo of maturation? (4) Does training negatively influence the endocrine system, specifically hormones related to growth and pubertal maturation? The basic information for the review was derived from the active involvement of committee members in research on normal variation and clinical aspects of growth and maturation, and on the growth and maturation of artistic gymnasts and other youth athletes. The committee was thus thoroughly familiar with the literature on growth and maturation in general and of gymnasts and young athletes. Relevant data were more available for females than males. Youth who persisted in the sport were a highly select sample, who tended to be shorter for chronological age but who had appropriate weight-for-height. Data for secondary sex characteristics, skeletal age and age at peak height velocity indicated later maturation, but the maturity status of gymnasts overlapped the normal range of variability observed in the general population. Gymnasts as a group demonstrated a pattern of growth and maturation similar to that observed among short-, normal-, late-maturing individuals who were not athletes. Evidence for endocrine changes in gymnasts was inadequate for inferences relative to potential training effects. Allowing for noted limitations, the following conclusions were deemed acceptable: (1) Adult height or near adult height of female and male artistic gymnasts is not compromised by intensive gymnastics training. (2) Gymnastics training does not appear to attenuate growth of upper (sitting height) or lower (legs) body segment lengths. (3) Gymnastics training does not appear to attenuate pubertal growth and maturation, neither rate of growth nor the timing and tempo of the growth spurt. (4) Available data are inadequate to address the issue of intensive gymnastics training and alterations within the endocrine system.

Concepts: Sex, Human height, Puberty, Ovary, Idiopathic short stature, Gymnastics, Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique, Secondary sex characteristic


Negative frequency-dependent sexual selection maintains striking polymorphisms in secondary sexual traits in several animal species. Here, we test whether frequency of beardedness modulates perceived attractiveness of men’s facial hair, a secondary sexual trait subject to considerable cultural variation. We first showed participants a suite of faces, within which we manipulated the frequency of beard thicknesses and then measured preferences for four standard levels of beardedness. Women and men judged heavy stubble and full beards more attractive when presented in treatments where beards were rare than when they were common, with intermediate preferences when intermediate frequencies of beardedness were presented. Likewise, clean-shaven faces were least attractive when clean-shaven faces were most common and more attractive when rare. This pattern in preferences is consistent with negative frequency-dependent selection.

Concepts: Selection, Facial hair, Secondary sex characteristic, Shaving, Beard


According to the ‘good genes’ hypothesis, females choose males based on traits that indicate the male’s genetic quality in terms of disease resistance. The ‘immunocompetence handicap hypothesis’ proposed that secondary sexual traits serve as indicators of male genetic quality, because they indicate that males can contend with the immunosuppressive effects of testosterone. Masculinity is commonly assumed to serve as such a secondary sexual trait. Yet, women do not consistently prefer masculine looking men, nor is masculinity consistently related to health across studies. Here, we show that adiposity, but not masculinity, significantly mediates the relationship between a direct measure of immune response (hepatitis B antibody response) and attractiveness for both body and facial measurements. In addition, we show that circulating testosterone is more closely associated with adiposity than masculinity. These findings indicate that adiposity, compared with masculinity, serves as a more important cue to immunocompetence in female mate choice.

Concepts: Immune system, Human, Male, Female, Gender, Man, Masculinity, Secondary sex characteristic


Based on conceptual extrapolations from sociobiological models concerning the significance of secondary sex characteristics as markers of a female’s capacity to produce and nurture offspring, we reasoned that men’s greater unwillingness to reproduce would be linked to preference for a female body type characterized by the relative absence of such markers. Heterosexual undergraduate men (N = 67) indicated their ideal (most arousing) female body type on-line by means of an adjustable female figure. As expected, the desire to remain childfree was linked to erotic preference for a combination of smaller breasts and larger waist-to-hip ratio. Additional research into individual factors that map onto variations in the preferred body proportions of erotic targets is thus encouraged.

Concepts: Male, Gender, Sex, Body shape, Female body shape, Physical attractiveness, Secondary sex characteristic, Body proportions


A most interesting and intriguing male disorder of sexual differentiation is due to 5α-reductase-2 isoenzyme deficiency. These male infants are born with ambiguous external genitalia due to a deficiency in their ability to catalyze the conversion of T to dihydrotestosterone. Dihydrotestosterone is a potent androgen responsible for differentiation of the urogenital sinus and genital tubercle into the external genitalia, urethra, and prostate. Affected males are born with a clitoral-like phallus, bifid scrotum, hypospadias, blind shallow vaginal pouch from incomplete closure of the urogenital sinus, and a rudimentary prostate. At puberty, the surge in mainly T production prompts virilization, causing most boys to choose gender reassignment to male. Fertility is a challenge for affected men for several reasons. Uncorrected cryptorchidism is associated with low sperm production, and there is evidence of defective transformation of spermatogonia into spermatocytes. The underdeveloped prostate and consequent low semen volumes affect sperm transport. In addition, semen may not liquefy due to a lack of prostate-specific antigen. In the present review, we discuss the 5α-reductase-2 deficiency syndrome and its impact on human fertility.

Concepts: Sexual intercourse, Testosterone, Clitoris, Penis, Vulva, Sex organ, Sexual differentiation, Secondary sex characteristic


Genetic analysis of avian mating systems has revealed that more than 70% of monogamous species show incidence of offspring parentage that does not match the social partner. Extra-pair parentage (EPP) has been linked to a variety of factors, including size and symmetry of ornamental traits, coloration, resource availability, and local conspecific density. We examined how ornamental plumage traits of individual Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) and territory characteristics influence genetic fidelity of socially monogamous pairs. We used seven highly polymorphic microsatellite markers to assign paternity to 79 offspring, and identified 12 (15.2%) as extra-pair young (EPY). Steller’s jays with extra-pair young had significantly lower values of feather brightness and hue, indicating more ultraviolet-blue shifted coloration, and nested in closer proximity to the forest edge than Steller’s jays with no detected EPY. Body size, crest height, asymmetry of ornamental crest stripes, as well as vegetative composition of territories and their proximity to supplemental feeders appeared to have little relationship to EPP. These results indicate that extra-pair parentage plays a role in the evolution of secondary sexual characteristics in both sexes, and suggest local density and availability of resources may influence Steller’s jay mating dynamics.

Concepts: Sex, Monogamy, Corvidae, Secondary sex characteristic, Jay, Blue Jay, Steller's Jay, Cyanocitta


Endogenous progestogens are important regulators of vertebrate reproduction. Synthetic progestins are components of human contraceptive and hormone replacement pharmaceuticals. Both progestogens and progestins enter the environment through a number of sources, and have been shown to cause profound effects on reproductive health in various aquatic vertebrates. Progestins are designed to bind human progesterone receptors, but they also have been shown to strongly activate androgen receptors in fish. Levonorgestrel (LNG) activates fish androgen receptors and induces development of male secondary sex characteristics in females of other species. Although behavior has been postulated to be a sensitive early indicator of exposure to certain environmental contaminants, no such research on the reproductive behavior of gestagen-exposed fish has been conducted to date. The goal of our study was to examine the exposure effects of a human contraceptive progestin, LNG, on the reproductive development and behavior of the viviparous, eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki). Internal fertilization is a requisite characteristic of viviparous species and is enabled by an androgen driven elongation of the anal fin into the male gonopodium (i.e., phallus). In this study, we exposed adult mosquitofish to ethanol (EtOH control), 10 ng/L, and 100 ng/L LNG for 8 d using a static replacement exposure design. After 8 d, a subset of males and females from each treatment were examined for differences in the 4:6 anal fin ratio. In addition, paired social interaction trials were performed using individual control males and control females or females treated 10 ng/L or 100 ng/L LNG. Female mosquitofish exposed to LNG were masculinized as evidenced by the elongation of the anal fin rays, a feature normal to males and abnormal to females. LNG caused significant increases in the 4:6 anal fin ratios of female mosquitofish in both the 10 ng/L and 100 ng/L treatments, although these differences were not significant between the two treatments. LNG caused significant increases in the 4:6 anal fin ratio of males exposed to 100 ng/L, with no effects observed in the 10 ng/L treatment. In addition, the reproductive behavior of control males paired with female mosquitofish exposed to 100 ng/L LNG was also altered, for these males spent more time exhibiting no reproductive behavior, had decreased attending behavior, and a lower number of gonopodial thrusts compared to control males paired to control female mosquitofish. Given the rapid effects on both anal fin morphology and behavior observed in this study, the mosquitofish is an excellent sentinel species for the detection of exposure to LNG and likely other 19-nortestosterone derived contraceptive progestins in the environment.

Concepts: Human, Male, Reproduction, Female, Sex, Mosquitofish, Gambusia, Secondary sex characteristic


Women’s preferences for men’s androgen dependent secondary sexual traits are proposed to be phenotypically plastic in response to exposure to pathogens and pathogen disgust. While previous studies report that masculinity in facial shape is more attractive to women who have recently been exposed to pathogenic cues and who are high in self-reported pathogen disgust, facial hair may reduce male attractiveness under conditions of high pathogens as beards are a possible breeding ground for disease carrying ectoparasites. In the present study, we test whether women’s preferences for beardedness and facial masculinity vary due to exposure to different pathogenic cues. Participants (N = 688, mean age + 1SD = 31.94 years, SD = 6.69, range = 18-67) rated the attractiveness of facial composite stimuli of men when they were clean-shaven or fully bearded. These stimuli were also manipulated in order to vary sexual dimorphism by ±50%. Ratings were conducted before and after exposure to one of four experimental treatments in which participants were primed to either high pathogens (e.g. infected cuts), ectoparasites (e.g. body lice), a mixture of pathogens and ectoparasites, or a control condition (e.g. innocuous liquids). Participants then completed the three-domain disgust scale measuring attitudes to moral, sexual and pathogen disgust. We predicted that women would prefer facial masculinity following exposure to pathogenic cues, but would show reduced preferences for facial hair following exposure to ectoparasites. Women preferred full beards over clean-shaven faces and masculinised over feminised faces. However, none of the experimental treatments influenced the direction of preferences for facial masculinity or beardedness. We also found no association between women’s self-reported pathogen disgust and their preferences for facial masculinity. However, there was a weak positive association between moral disgust scores and preferences for facial masculinity, which might reflect conservatism and preferences for gender typicality in faces. Women’s preferences for beards were positively associated with their pathogen disgust, which runs contrary to our predictions and may reflect preferences for high quality individuals who can withstand any costs of beardedness, although further replications are necessary before firm conclusions can be made. We conclude that there is little support for pathogenic exposure being a mechanism that underpins women’s directional preferences for masculine traits.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Microbiology, Gender, Man, Secondary sex characteristic, Shaving, Beard