In Sex at Dawn, husband and wife team Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá have written a book that questions both modern-day standards of human sexual behavior and the scientific history of our early ancestors. The book first explains and defines what it refers to as “the standard narrative”, the story of how humans evolved from our prehistoric ancestors to be monogamous beings with conflicting biological imperatives for males and females. Then, it goes on to refute this narrative, providing evidence from noted modern scholars like Steven Pinker, Malcolm Gladwell, and Frans De Waal, as well as renowned scientists and philosophers like Charles Darwin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Thomas Hobbes.
Ryan and Jethá write, “Science all too often grovels at the feet of the dominant cultural paradigm.” Indeed, one of the most powerful ideas that Sex at Dawn puts forth is that culture has a way of coloring scientific and historical “fact”. Some of the examples given are quite disturbing, especially when large institutions are clearly engaged in cover ups of our true nature. The authors assert that many sexual myths (for example, that masturbation is some kind of medical affliction) have been repeated and disseminated over the years by religious, health, and state organizations. They take a controversial stance that this “cover up” tactic has also been applied to the non-monogamy of our closest primate relatives and early man. They believe that even if non-monogamy is not the dominant mode of being for contemporary humans, at the very least it should be viewed as a historic basis for our desires and behaviors.
The narration, which alternates between Allyson Johnson and Jonathan Davis, is clear and straightforward, particularly well-suited to this kind of book. Johnson especially makes the information, which can sometimes be dense, easily digestible and relatable. One of the authors, Christopher Ryan, reads the preface, which gives a hint of how he came to be interested in exploring the given subject matter. Through this section, we also get a way to connect directly to the authors and thus, the human (as opposed to the scientific) aspect of the issues discussed.
To claim that this work is exclusively or even mostly about sexual behavior would be a stretch. The book is very holistic, tackling bigger-picture issues of science, culture, history, and philosophy. That said, these large ideas are needed as building blocks for the claims the authors make about sex. Another triumph of Sex at Dawn is the attention the authors have given to presenting material on sex as it applies to men and women equally. Along those lines, another high point of the narration is that it echoes this sentiment through the interchanging male and female voices, reminding us that these ideas apply to both sexes in different ways.
What the book posits exactly is somewhat unclear. The authors themselves admit that they're not exactly sure what to do with all the information they have unearthed. That said, the great strength of Sex at Dawn is that it opens the discourse about human sexual behavior sans many of the taboos that traditionally accompany the topic. Gina Pensiero
Since Darwin's day, we've been told that sexual monogamy comes naturally to our species. Mainstream science - as well as religious and cultural institutions - has maintained that men and women evolved in families in which a man's possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman's fertility and fidelity. But this narrative is collapsing. Fewer and fewer couples are getting married, and divorce rates keep climbing as adultery and flagging libido drag down even seemingly solid marriages.
How can reality be reconciled with the accepted narrative? It can't be, according to renegade thinkers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.
Ryan and Jetha's central contention is that human beings evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care, and, often, sexual partners. Weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors show how far from human nature monogamy really is. Human beings everywhere and in every era have confronted the same familiar, intimate situations in surprisingly different ways. The authors expose the ancient roots of human sexuality while pointing toward a more optimistic future illuminated by our innate capacities for love, cooperation, and generosity.
BONUS AUDIO: Includes a Preface written and read by author Christopher Ryan.
©2010 Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha (P)2010 Audible, Inc
“Funny, witty, and light ... Sex at Dawn is a scandal in the best sense, one that will have you reading the best parts aloud and reassessing your ideas about humanity’s basic urges well after the book is done.” (Newsweek)
“Sex at Dawn is the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948.” (Dan Savage)
"My favorite book of 2010...it's the only book I read this year that proved that I was badly mistaken about something." (Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!)
I gave up after 90 minutes. The authors paint theories with which they disagree in cartoonish strokes and then assert their conclusions without any supporting data or argument. Perhaps it gets better but would anyone with anything to say really spend the first hour and a half wasting the listener's time? And the occasional turn of phrase the authors think is clever is anything but. Just a really, really bad book. Try the Selfish Gene, the Blank Slate, the Red Queen (by Matt Ridley), or anything by E. O. Wilson.
I am surprised by the overly positive reviews for this book. The basic idea presented is interesting alright (but not that new), and it probably rings with the feeling of being trapped in current societies sexual rules and restrictions. But the book is very repetitive and focuses too much on picking a fight with established theories of human sexuality instead of presenting arguments for the "new" theory. I guess this would have been good as a 2 hour lecture, there is not enough substance for a 10 hour book. I stopped half way through, to turn to a better use of my time.
I really enjoyed this book; the authors have a dry and sarcastic wit that I liked, and the information is really well presented. All that being said, I disagree with some of the 'facts', but the book is a great look at a fascinating subject.
The narrators are wonderful, as well. Clear diction without being stuffy; and Allyson Johnson has a knack for delivery of the better lines.
The ideas and evidence provided in this book are richly provocative to a menopausal woman (read - low libido) who has bought into the 'standard narrative' of our cultural view of monogamy. Living true to myself, I have ended up in serial monogamy and two marriages struggling to understand my own sexuality, the mismatched instincts I didn't understand then, and only now see so clearly because of this book. Having recently created the love of my life - I am committed to this relationship in an entirely generative way - meaning it is recreated every moment - the flavor of the intimacy, the commitment, the joy, the practicality. The partner I have created is highly sexual - and leans toward polyamory. This book has given me access to even having a conversation around accepting what is not my experience with compassion for what drives and motivates him, and a little PLAY in the mix to make the conversation light - afterall, its only sex - lighten up!! I thank the universe for bringing this book into my life through the course Evolutionize Your Life!! (Connie Barlow and Micheal Dowd). Within the course, discussion of this book is giving me access to a conversation I was locked out of only a month ago! I love the ease of the audio version and the accessibility it provides to rewind and listen again while driving to work or doing the dishes or working out. Fantastic!
This book goes into depth on just how far Big-Religion has gone to de-nature one of our most basic forms of human expression. I've been arguing this case for a long time, and this is the first study to come along that expresses all of my thoughts on the subject, and many, many more. When you're ready to put down your bible, and read a non-fiction book...this is the one. :)
This is the first somewhat serious scientific book I have listened to. A different experience from fiction or memoir. And this book is still written for a general audience, not a scientist, so it wasn't difficult to understand. It has some humor, which the reader was very skilled at presenting.
The subject is certainly controversial, but I thought the authors did a great job of making their point. They include many quotes from other scientists, both to support their theory, and from the other side. Then they point out the errors, or inconsistencies from the contrary position. Anyone with an interest in human sexuality would find this book to be interesting.
Everything I always thought and couldn't quite say at polite dinner parties! Brilliant and keeps your interest all the way through. One of the best non fiction I've read.
I enjoyed this book immensely. It had a great sense of humor, and erased many of the preconceived notions about monogamy that I had been harboring for my entire life. It was a great read and would have gotten 5 stars if they were able to offer some conclusions about their findings.
The first half of this book is spent disproving everyone from Jane Goodall to Einstein, in topics that vary wildly from the anticipated subject suggested by the title. The authors make some rather outrageous postulations that they continually promise to back up with data, and although some interesting theories and research results are presented in the book, they fail to live up to initial claims.
The authors aim to prove that humans are, in fact, inclined to promiscuity through genetics and learned behaviors demonstrated throughout history, and that this lies in sharp contrast to society's imposed "norms" such as marriage and monogamy. The aforementioned efforts to disprove multiple existing/ accepted theories on human behavior serves to show that everyone else has been on the wrong track. Much is extrapolated from studies of primates such as chimps and bonobos, although some studies on human subjects are thrown in to substantiate claims. Further evidence is provided by re-examining history through the lens that the authors create.
The performance is filled with flippant, off-putting remarks and attempts at slang that are apparently meant to break the aggressive tone towards existing theories and perhaps strike a humorous tone with readers. This effort fails and serves more to offend in a topic that some might find sensitive to begin with.
In a nutshell, the author's theories about promiscuity of the human race throughout history have some merit...but believing them remains a matter of personal choice.
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