Sex and Attraction: What Do Apes and Humans Have in Common?

Every aspect of human behavior is governed by our instincts and shaped by our evolutionary past. But surely, when it comes to sex and attraction, we can’t have much in common with these hairy, naked, and altogether unashamed animals, can we? After all, we have had four million years of evolution and hundreds of centuries of cultural development to get the better of the primitive urges that rule the lives of our ape cousins.

But despite this, the key to species survival has always been the same for all primates: in order to continue as a species, we must reproduce and pass on our genes to the next generation. And the only way to do that, whether you’re a bonobo or a baboon, is to attract (and be attracted to!) the right mate. So despite centuries of trying to tame our most basic, animalistic urges, evidence of our primal origins are still strikingly apparent in modern human love lives. Not only are the things we look for and find attractive in a partner founded on the same evolutionary rules that dictate ape mate preferences, but the way we woo, seduce, and keep hold of our other halves are almost exactly the same:

First Impressions

First, we look at the significance of making the right first impression. Just like apes, both sexes are constantly scanning the horizons for a sexy pair of genes. For males of any primate species, the priority is simple – fertility. While for females, it’s resources and security that are a girl’s best friend. But these differing priorities shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that it’s the females of the ape family that sacrifice their bodies and invest months of calories when producing their offspring. While for a male ape, as long as there’s an egg ready and waiting he needn’t have a care in the world after copulation. So to help us find the right match, we apes have not only evolved traits which help us advertise ourselves, but also efficient ways of identifying suitable mates. Rather than waiting until the first date (or first mate, if you’re a chimp) to figure out whether your prospective partner is male or female, fertile or infertile, healthy or unhealthy, humans and apes use various visual cues to make snap judgments about whether to pursue a fellow species member.

Making a Move

The next step in the process of finding a mate, is making the first move. In the ape world, once the two sexes have set their sights on each other, courtship begins. Although the female may have exchanged glances, or even initiated eye contact with the male, it’s nearly always the male that makes the approach and does the mounting. It’s then up to the female to decide whether to let him or not. If she changes her mind, or the attention is unwanted, she’ll simply walk away and wait for someone more preferable to try his luck.

And it’s just the same in human societies, where it’s men who are traditionally expected to make the first move, while women can simply hang back and wait for Mr. Right to come their way. And the way a male approaches the female can influence her receptiveness to the advance. Be too intimidating, and she’ll run away, but be unconfident and she’ll lose interest. The most successful male apes use a winning combination of confidence and kindness. A dominant stride paired with some attentive grooming, and perhaps even an offering of food, are the surest way to an ape female’s heart. And charming a human female is no different.

Protecting the Bond

Even after all that, an ape’s work isn’t done. The next task on a male ape’s agenda is to guard his female from any opportunistic rivals who may want to try their luck. Alpha male apes are masters at this – after mating with an estrus female, any sneaky subordinates who are caught trying to get a piece of the action are immediately chased away, either by the alpha himself or by one of his specially employed bodyguards. This is because successfully defending his mates will give him the best chance of fathering lots of offspring. We humans also instinctively react when someone tries to steal our woman from us. After all that time and effort spent wooing and seducing your chosen female, the last thing you’d want is for her to be stolen by another guy. So not only will we show you how doing it the ape way can help you successfully attract, approach and secure your perfect mate, we’ll show you how to keep her once you do.

Tune in to Going Ape: Hooking Up tonight at 10P. In this episode of Going Ape, we will show you how you can put this primate knowledge into practice, and how the secrets to successful ape mating can be used for successful human dating. To demonstrate this, we carry out a series of unique and exciting experiments designed to bring out the inner ape in members of the public, and analyze their behavior with the help of experts in primatology and psychology.


  1. Kelley
    Columbus, Ohio
    May 21, 2013, 3:15 am

    I am really amazed in how much we are truly so similar to our cousins, the primates. Just a question though, I see that you focus allot of the show on the influence on the male role. I was wondering if you could show the female’s prospective/dominance??!! Thank you

  2. pamela smith
    May 21, 2013, 8:25 am

    This morning I had your channel on and was so utterly offended that the gentlemen [and I am not sure they are gentlemen] took the name of Jesus Christ in vain several times. I am Christian and am very offended. I am sure you would not do the same with Budda or any other religion. I heard a man say once there are 3 reasons for swearing #1 wanting to impress someone[very childish} #2 Has the habit so bad they can not control themselves,But can control it if they want to. #3 They are too dumb and have a very limited vocabulary. I would think a station like nN.G. COULD DO BETTER AT HIRING. no longer a fan. And will let my social network friends how I feel. Pam Smith

  3. Reyansh Singhania
    June 12, 2013, 4:11 am

    I Am Amazed By This Facts. But I Also Want To Know The Other Side Of The Picture.

  4. alister penman
    September 27, 2013, 6:25 am

    do apes have intercourse if female ape is not on season