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The diversity of social interactions between sexual partners has long captivated biologists, and its evolution has been interpreted largely in terms of 'direct fitness' pay-offs to partners and their descendants. Inter-sexual interactions also have 'indirect effects' by affecting the fitness of relatives, with important consequences for inclusive fitness. However, inclusive fitness arguments have received limited consideration in this context, and definitions of 'direct' and 'indirect' fitness effects in this field are often inconsistent with those of inclusive fitness theory. Here, we use a sociobiology approach based on inclusive fitness theory to distinguish between direct and indirect fitness effects. We first consider direct effects: we review how competition leads to sexual conflict, and discuss the conditions under which repression of competition fosters sexual mutualism. We then clarify indirect effects, and show that greenbeard effects, kin recognition and population viscosity can all lead to episodes of indirect selection on sexual interactions creating potential for sexual altruism and spite. We argue that the integration of direct and indirect fitness effects within a sociobiology approach enables us to consider a more diverse spectrum of evolutionary outcomes of sexual interactions, and may help resolving current debates over sexual selection and sexual conflict.

Original publication




Journal article


Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

Publication Date





2314 - 2323


Altruism, Animals, Competitive Behavior, Conflict (Psychology), Cooperative Behavior, Female, Fertility, Genetic Fitness, Interpersonal Relations, Male, Selection, Genetic, Sex, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Sociobiology