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!)
every time you think that they are going to say something, they change the topic. Could have imparted the same information in 10% of the time. They seem to enjoy writing and not research.
There are some good reviews for it here, and many that "nailed it on the head".
A smart and entertaining criticism of the myth that Homo sapiens is monogamous by nature. While not a manifesto of free love by any standard, this book provides an comparative observation of sex in our primate relatives, different practices in different societies, and current beliefs, including masturbation, monogamy, polyandry and many others. The author contrasts his conclusions and observations of many other scientists, psychologists, sociologists, and evolutionists.
The author's view challenges current beliefs and is very thought-provoking. Allyson Johnson's narration is, like always, beautiful and adds another vibrant dimension to a great read.
Yes, it's well-researched and compellingly written.
The majority of the book is narrated by a woman who has a smug, clipped voice. Reeeeally irritating. Excerpts and quotes are narrated by a man whose voice is professorial but much less irritating. I listened to this book despite the narrator because the content was excellent.
The info was very informative and the narrators did try to make it sound interesting, however with a handful of statistics combined with being too wordy [for me], I just wasn't able to get into it because I felt I was too busy processing all of the info. I was excited about reading this one but, I didn't get all the way through this.
My first time reading these guys but they did flow hand in hand.
Happy to have an orator with inflection and interest in the material.
The info was interesting but I just was not into this one.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
Scholarship and objectivity are issues in “Sex at Dawn”; i.e. Christopher Ryan has several degrees from Saybrook University’; his most recent a Ph.D. in psychology. Saybrook is an accredited University but is not well-known. It was founded in 1971 as the “Humanistic Psychology Institute”. Saybrook offers advanced degrees for online study.
Cacilda Jetha, according to her website biography, is an MD and practicing psychiatrist in Barcelona, Spain; educated in Portugal. The authors are married in what they call an open-marriage which is a part of their hypothesis in “Sex at Dawn”. Having decided to have an open-marriage infers some bias in the author’s objectivity. Of course, bias may be equally suggested for one who writes a similar book about monogamy.
Despite reservation about scholarship and objectivity, “Sex at Dawn” is entertaining, if not rigorously scholastic. Parenthetically, one wonders if anyone can be rigorously scholastic in the social sciences.
It is hard to say one will not enjoy reading “Sex at Dawn”; however, in this critic’s opinion, “Sex at Dawn” leads as easily to male and female rationalization as truth. As Karl Popper notes, “Science must begin with myths and with the criticism of myths”. Herein lays this critic’s criticism; not with rancor but with skepticism.
Has made me think differently about all the learned ideas and behaviors of romantic love and relationships I have grown up with. Was loving this book but made me flinch when it went on and on with mud-fling other authors and their ideas…leave that up to the readers to determine… it just comes off as childish.
I am a plastic surgeon by profession A father by heart A trader by choice A teacher by passion A child by curiosity
Amazing scholarly work . Amazing insight into the human condition. Know they self on steroids
So many aha moments must listen
Aha now i understand
Must listen may save families
I listened with my husband and it sparked a lot of interesting discussions. None of the concepts where that new to me but I found the bending of science to fit the cultural view very interesting and apt. It was quite focused on the research which I find fascinating but may not suit everyone. I really liked the way they looked at many aspects for hunter gather life and not just sex.
This book challenges the standard model of human sexuality from an evolutionary standpoint - and it succeeds in what it attempts to do. While I was first skeptical about the path the authors were taking, they put forth a well thought out and convincing argument. The reality is, we do not know anything about human sexuality in the hunter gatherer time because we were not there. A few evolutionary psychologists came along and made some assumptions about how they thought things were back in that time and everyone just go on board with the story. These authors have the wherewithal to call out the traditional beliefs and put something forth that is much more plausible.
Yes, it did pain me when the author attacks Steven Pinker, one of my favorite evolutionary psychology authors, but there is room for both Sex at Dawn and Pinker.
This is an absolute must read for anyone interested in this topic.
Ryan lays out a brilliant case. The book is well researched and funny. Groundbreaking insight to what makes us tick sexually speaking.
The only problem with this book is the narration. The female narrator has a childish mocking tone that distracts from the material. Her voice sounds cynical and disingenuous. Dr. Rayan is a talented storyteller with great voice. Would have been much happier had he narrated the book himself.
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