Does a pregnant female mammal know that its pregnancy is the consequence of a previous mating? Or are humans the only mammals which are conscious of it?

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    $\begingroup$ Some animals present potential mates with nesting sites; the female chooses the mate based of the suitability of the site. Many females are attracted to mates by specific characteristics before they mate (a present of food to demonstrate hunting prowess, etc.) Some females protect their litters from non-paternal males, but allow the patenal male access. Does this mean anything in terms of consciousness of the result of mating or is it all sub-cortical? We'd have to have some method of communicating with animals to know. Otherwise we risk projecting our beliefs onto the animals. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 3, 2017 at 0:08
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    $\begingroup$ Within mammals there is a huge diversity in any trait, including cognition. A dolphin can make concepts connections that a shrew certainly can't. Are you interested to any mammal? $\endgroup$
    – have fun
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 19:47

2 Answers 2


I have trouble citing the exact source now as it's in one of my books at home, has 'sex' in the title (Sex in History), and I'm at work and can't Google that. But needless to say, the book made mention of studies of isolated, modern human tribes where it was evident that the people of the tribe had not made the connection between pro-creation and child-birth. Rather, intercourse was often tied to specific rituals that had a side effect of birth.

So there are a few things that one can extrapolate from this:

  1. Pre-historic humans may have often not been aware that sex led to procreation
  2. From that one can extrapolate further that no animals have this awareness either, as we are the most intellectual species on the planet

Further, the evolutionary development of sex points to this too. The ultimate cause of child-bearing is propagation, but the proximate cause of child-bearing is pleasure. Before life could be aware of the connection, there needed to be a reason to have sex, and so we would have developed in a way that encouraged pro-creation for no other reason than we liked doing it. Eventually we were bound to connect the dots, but we're oriented for this behavior regardless.

  • $\begingroup$ "The Trobriand Islanders, and some Australians, are reported to be unaware of the causal connection between sexual intercourse and procreation; they are said to believe that spirit-children enter the wombs of women on appropriate occasions, and that sexual intercourse alone is not a determinant of birth." --"Primitive Mentality" essay by Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy. (By "primitive," the author means, of course, "original."). $\endgroup$
    – user37894
    Commented Nov 19, 2017 at 14:32
  • $\begingroup$ This really cast doubts on (or is casted doubt on by) the concept of paternity. In species where the father expends significant effort for the offspring, I am wondering how this can be motivated without a sense of ownership of the offspring. If such a sense exists, I wonder how it can come about without knowing that the offspring it is born of the father as much as of the mother $\endgroup$
    – TheChymera
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ It is completely feasible for paternalistic behavior to exist without being 'conscious' of the connection between mating and pregnancy, but without going further into that in a comment, I'll just say that parental behavior across the animal kingdom is incredibly diverse. $\endgroup$
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Wow, I've asked a question about this on another stack exchange. Please if you find the book, I would be very grateful if you gave an answer. See my question here. $\endgroup$
    – Eff
    Commented Feb 17, 2018 at 21:24

For that an animal would have to know the concept of mating and pregnancy. It’s not called the sex “drive” because it requires consciousness in order to mate or become pregnant. It’s pretty automatic and subconscious. As any couple that actually tries to become pregnant but can’t can probably attest to.

So unless you need to communicate a concept to somebody else you may as well not have a concept. Like those human cultures that only have three numbers. One two and many.


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