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Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships | [Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha]

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

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....
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

“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!)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (2016 )
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Performance
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  •  
    T. Ray 03-05-13
    T. Ray 03-05-13

    nebelwerfer

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    What disappointed you about Sex at Dawn?

    There are subtle political leanings that are untimely crammed into the story.


    What was most disappointing about Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha ’s story?

    It's full of strawmen fallacies, and you can tell the book was written to feed into popular culture and to exonerate unfaithful spouses by telling them "it's ok, it's in your nature".


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    They didn't mispronounce any words. They should have just stuck to one narrator.


    You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

    no


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jon Meridian, ID, United States 12-24-12
    jon Meridian, ID, United States 12-24-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Interesting read to challenge beliefs"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Sex at Dawn to be better than the print version?

    Spoiler alert (not really), the point of this book is that monogamy and life long pair bonding are not "natural" and are a product of the advent of agriculture and property rights. The book included arguments based on history, sociology, psychology, biology, and chemistry. Any work that deals with weighty topics requires a little contemplation, which allows you to test the author's points, and make your own decision. In the print version, you would be able to take that time for reflection. That said, who has time to read everything you want to in print.


    What did you like best about this story?

    I like anything that challenges cultural norms. this book definately did that, and backed up much of its claims with solid arguments.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    You really are best listening to this book in chunks so you can think about it.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Krystyn Foran NJ 12-21-12
    Krystyn Foran NJ 12-21-12 Member Since 2011

    Spending way too much time listening to books (versus reading) since 2011

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    "Incredibly interesting book"
    Where does Sex at Dawn rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Pretty high up there


    What other book might you compare Sex at Dawn to and why?

    Haven't read/listened to many nonfiction


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No but it did keep me very engaged


    Any additional comments?

    One of the few nonfiction books I was able to listen to and keep very engaged

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gustavo 12-03-12
    Gustavo 12-03-12 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Very interesting! (but missing some information)"
    Any additional comments?

    The book makes a strong point about why humans cheat, but it would be great if it included more information on why they started getting married in the first place (other than just mentioning agriculture and the management of land).

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ariyaratne thalangama north, Sri Lanka 11-12-12
    ariyaratne thalangama north, Sri Lanka 11-12-12 Member Since 2012
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A Nice Evolusionary Explanation about Sexuallity"
    What did you love best about Sex at Dawn?

    This evolutionary theory explain lots of issues related to modern day sexuality.


    Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    narrator's performance is outstanding.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    definitely yes, but practically you can't do it one go as the book is very comprehensive and runs for several hours.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ruy Wolfenbuettel, Germany 10-24-12
    Ruy Wolfenbuettel, Germany 10-24-12 Member Since 2012
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    "amazing"

    This is a well researched book, that while focuses on sexual human behavior, touches many other human traits during evolution, such as war and agression, cooperation and the overal impact that our culture might have in the research of our own selves. For an example I liked, they discuss how the victorian values and traditions biased the way Darwin reported his findings, and how his writings were censored to remove ideas offending the common beliefs of that time. The authors clearly name many controversial themes that are deeply ingrained in our cultural behavior and challenge their pertinence to what being human really means.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David H Palo Alto, CA United States 10-15-12
    David H Palo Alto, CA United States 10-15-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Interest and disturbing"

    The book was so well received that Sex at Dusk was written. I followed all their arguments. However, I'm not certain I am ready to divorce sex and love. Yes, it's been done, but my own experience is quite painful when that happens. Would like to know more about the cultures which practice much freer forms of sexuality. I was engrossed in this book and couldn't wait to get back to it. Definitely worth a listen.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcus Plano, TX, United States 10-09-12
    Marcus Plano, TX, United States 10-09-12
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    "Challenging and Articulate"
    What made the experience of listening to Sex at Dawn the most enjoyable?

    Sound quality was clear and there were no technical issues.

    Content was intellectually challenging and I have enjoyed exposure to the ideas. Going head to head with the accepted scientific backing for "how we relate" is daring and I am glad to have been enlightened to another intellectual approach.

    Bravo.


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Viviane Dunedin, New Zealand 04-28-12
    Viviane Dunedin, New Zealand 04-28-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Must read, period."

    One of the most enlightening reads ever. Any (wo)man who has ever wondered where the human race got it so wrong with pair-bonded relationships will find this inspiring, presented in a palatable format. Willingness to get your cob-webbed beliefs thrown out is a prerequisite to make this a most enjoyable audiobook. Have given the printed book to many of my friends. Recommended.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 04-12-12
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 04-12-12 Member Since 2011

    I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "changed my way of thinking about humanity"
    Would you listen to Sex at Dawn again? Why?

    No. Life is too short to relisten


    What did you like best about this story?

    A thoroughly convincing argument to explain human sexuality and debunk the 'traditional' narrative


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    It worked


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I was always disappointed to click the stop button


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommendable to lovers of popular science

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
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