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!)
Love to read, and Audible has made the two-hour daily commute enjoyable!
Husband and wife research team examines sex both at the dawn of time through archeological and biological data.
The premise is if we're supposed to be monogamist, why are we so bad at it? They show that ancestorally and even recently, we are at our best in civilizations that welcome open, caring relationships. The book struck me as paradigm changing, but I questioned it. I'm not versed enough to tell the legitimacy of their attack of various archeologist and scientists, but it seemed a little too over the top. Also I thought the use of pop culture in music, movies, literature maybe made it approachable, but didn't work for me.
I don't know if its that the thought was so counter to me, or if it is their science that was jangling for me or both. I'm not religious - I'm not even really traditional, but I question how they got to their conclusions.
I found this book to have been very well researched, and provides information that is very interesting and important. I knew some things, suspected some things, but mostly didn't know many things in this book. It changed my perspective on women and sexuality, and I feel it allows for more options, and less fear around alternative sexual lifestyles.There are many lies and secrets in the world. But it seems the lies and secrets surrounding women's sexuality is either the biggest, or one of the biggest.The idea that the conventional relationship/marriage package is the only thing that's right, that's normal and healthy to the exclusion of all the other types of sexual relationships that one could have, is the same thing as a Mcdonald's version of food to all the myriad of variety of cuisine possible. That its an impoverished, scarcity mentality view of sexuality. That the cookie cutter, scripted marriage is an aberration from nature, and not 'the only natural and normal lifestyle' as we're lead to believe by Religious and Mental Health experts, is a truly awakening remarkable idea. Of course not new, as our ancient ancestors lived this way. But its new for the modern person. Its very sobering from our egocentric, competitive and distorted perception of reality and awakening from the passionless distorted lull of our every day lives in the modern world.There are so many great examples in this book, of exactly how and why polygamy, polyamory, promiscuity, and however else you want to call it, are what's really 'natural.' It doesn't mean we should all run out and do it right away. Because freedom always comes at a price, and you first have to weigh things very carefully, to see if its a price you are willing to pay. However, the ideas in the book, if you really see them as true, change everything regarding, where we came from, who we are, and where we are going, what drives us and what our ultimate purpose in existence is, as human beings, and as women and men.
Addicted to Audible since 2009
Okay so this title wasn't nearly as good as I thought it would be but it was still very interesting nevertheless. The narrators do a good job but it's easy to keep the listeners interested when talking about an intriguing subject such as sex and how it relates to evolution.
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.
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!
No. Life is too short to relisten
A thoroughly convincing argument to explain human sexuality and debunk the 'traditional' narrative
I was always disappointed to click the stop button
Highly recommendable to lovers of popular science
I get a high from learning new things and seeing the world in a different light. Books do that for me and audio books fit my daily routine.
I've already listened to this book twice because I found its thesis so liberating. As a scientist I pursue deeper understanding of nature. When you get it right, everything falls into place and makes sense. I felt that happening as I listened to this book. What we assume about the relationship between men and women was wrong before: 180 degrees wrong! The authors are right about the real nature of our sexuality. Listen to this book and liberate yourself from the failed paradigms foisted on us generation after generation.
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 nothing more than a rehash of Hobbes blank slate. This is social science pretending to be biology. The authors are clearly supporting the Tabula Rasa paradigm of human nature, and it's ideological extension; feminism. Already in the introduction they boldy - and incorrectly, as Steve Pinker has proven - state, that the reason men and women behave differently is because men own more than women. I.E Patriarchy.
Steven Pinker har made a career of disproving this model. Anyone who want's to get a good understanding of the subject should buy his books instead.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
The subtitle was irresistible: "How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships". The subtitle is still irresistible. I would still love to read that book. Sex at Dawn, however, is not that book. Christopher Ryan spends a huge amount of time ripping apart other people's research and taking pot shots at his vast assemblage of straw men. He loves to accuse real researchers of confirmation bias and cherry picking. He seems oblivious to the fact that he is himself a master of confirmation bias and cherry picking, as he proves over and over in chapter after chapter. I make the comment "real researcher" because Ryan's only research apparently consists of reading the research of other people. He cavalierly chooses to ignore the conclusions of the actual researchers in favor of his own self-serving conclusions. In his defense, I suspect he is not always wrong, but it becomes an issue of where does one draw the line.
Ryan is obsessed with debunking what he calls "the standard narrative of human sexuality". The problem is that there is no standard narrative to debunk. The honest truth about human nature is well known to every adult on the planet. What would be interesting is the latest insights from evolutionary science and psychology. But what we get here is a mish-mash of old news. Ryan is evidently one of those people who believe that every society on Earth is natural except our own. He goes to great lengths to document obscure fringe societies as examples of how we would behave if we were only "natural". He has no interest in exploring how our own society evolved (naturally or otherwise). In fact, he has nothing good to say about our own society at all. I kept thinking his view might be different if he had any understanding of economics. And then, to my surprise and dismay, he brought up economics. His ignorance on that subject was staggering. Rather than view it as an empirical discipline to explain human behavior, he honestly believes it is a collection of arbitrary rules invented by economists to control the rest of us!
After regaling us with his tawdry excuse for scholarship through the bulk of the book, he feels he has earned the right to give us advice! The very brief conclusion of the book is his "advice" that we would be better off adopting a looser attitude toward sexual fidelity. That fell far short of the promise of the subtitle. I really don't care about his advice. I'm really more interested in tracing the prognosis for the conflict between human nature and social mores. Ryan seems absolutely oblivious to the interactions between the sublimation of human nature and the accomplishment of social goals. That would truly be an interesting book. I guess I will have to wait for someone besides Ryan to get around to it.
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