Periovulatory changes in female sexual behavior and patterns of ovarian steroid secretion in group-living rhesus monkeys

Kim Wallen, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
Linda A. Winston, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
Suzanne Gaventa, Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
Maryann Davis, University of Massachusetts Medical School
Delwood C. Collins, Emory University

At the time of publication, Maryann Davis was not yet affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.


The behavior of nine intact group-living adult female rhesus was observed for 30 min daily with each of four adult male rhesus across a verified ovulatory menstrual cycle. Blood samples collected from females daily or on alternate days were analyzed for estradiol, testosterone, and progesterone. Female patterns of approach, follow, and initiate proximity increased several days prior to the estradiol peak, peaked on the day of the estradiol peak, then declined completely or to very low frequencies. Mounts, intromissions, and ejaculations increased significantly on the day of the estradiol peak, remained elevated for 2 more days, then declined completely by the fifth day after peak estradiol. Ejaculations never occurred outside of a 10-day period starting 4 days before the estradiol peak and ending 5 days after the estradiol peak. During this period females initiated over 90% of all approaches. Female hand slap, threaten away, and stand up increased significantly on the first day of increased copulation, remained elevated while copulation was significantly elevated, then decreased along with the decline in copulation. Ten of eleven patterns of female behavior correlated significantly with estradiol level prior to the estradiol peak. All were significantly inversely correlated with progesterone level after the estradiol peak. No pattern of female behavior correlated significantly with testosterone either before or after the estradiol peak. Similarly, male patterns of behavior correlated with female levels of estradiol and progesterone, but not testosterone. These results demonstrate a relationship between increased serum estradiol and increased female initiation of sexual behavior. The finding that some patterns of female behavior increase several days prior to copulation, whereas other behaviors increase coincident with increased copulation suggests that the behavior of group-living rhesus females serves two functions. The first is to communicate sexual interest and the second is to maintain the consort pair and increase the probability that ejaculation will occur. In addition, the strong correlation between preovulatory female behavior and estradiol level suggests that the female's behavior provides precise information about her reproductive state and could thus coordinate copulation with maximal fertility.