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!)
This book raises some great issues against some popular evolutionary psychology theories on sex and sexuality. It brings forth information and arguments against that don't get much exposure. Unfortunately, it is so horribly edited that the arguments are frequently impossible to follow. There is a great deal of marginally relevant information that simply muddies the point. This book probably could have been reduced by half and it would have been a much more influential read.
I was listening to this book at the same time I was listening to Richard Wright's "The Moral Animal". Both are entertaining. Both distort evolutionary theory to make their arguments. And in the end, neither are produce conclusions that are relevant.
sex is important
The examination of female sexuality and the genetic roots of promiscuity. Tracing back to the primates, monogamy isn't necessarily human nature.
Whether you're married or hoping to do so, this books gives much insight into monogamy and its place in our society. If you're in a sexless marriage, it's inspirational in that it doesn't equate love for sex. There are something wonderful quotes at the beginning of each chapter. If you're looking to wed and are discouraged, it gives a realistic account of marriage, not the romanticized ideal fed to us in books and media.
If I was only allowed to read 10 books for the rest of my life, this would be one of them. At some point, scientific observations outweigh cultural bias and the truth comes rushing forward. Authors Ryan and Jetha say what most free-thinking people with some intellect have suspected for years. Our early ancestors were relatives most of us would probably have really enjoyed hanging out with.
We praise the virtues of whole-grain goodness, never suspecting that the agricultural revolution that made grains edible was in reality the poison apple in the (so-called) Garden of Eden. After logically reflecting upon the revelations in this book, it appears to me our early ancestors enjoyed a better quality of life than most of us do today. Agriculture, the very first major technology breakthrough, irreversibly changed the lives of early man... resulting in the chaotic mess we are experiencing today.
We have been pretending, or rather wishing, that we were something other than we are. We have been repressing our natural organic truth in favor of the fantasy of "civilized" beings who are not a part of, but above and "apart-from", the natural order that created us. Split personalities to put it mildly.
I encourage everyone to enjoy this book. The realities of your true nature should be known by you. You will be less hard on yourself and more compassionate to others when you know the truth.
When the Universe began, matter evolved first. There was no life. When life appeared, a new form of evolution began, the development of forms of life made possible by the different forms of matter created in the prior evolution. Now, material and biological evolution are being outpaced by a new type of evolution: psycho-social, cultural evolution. We humans are bioligically evolving too slowly for it to have any kind of importance in our lives. But the structures of our civilization are evolving at a dizzying pace, forcing us to come to terms with who we are, where we come from, and where we need to be heading. It's time to clear away the archaic, temporary ways of thought that we built out of ignorance and immediate necessity. We are arriving at a place where we can reinvent ourselves and return to the "Garden" we left 10,000 years ago. The science offered in this book is one of the fundamental enlightenments we can use to begin the development of this crucial reinvention.
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.
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
"Thought provoking and controversial"
An excellent, alternative explanation for the sexual condition we find ourselves in. It made me realise just how taboo and unmentionable the subject still is.
insightful, inspiring, honest
when the author blew Steven Pinkers latest book out of the water with his incredible arguments.
beautiful balanced female voice, although it was a male who wrote the book. fascinating effect
GET THIS BOOK!
"Good ideas presented in a suboptimal way"
First of all, I surely learnt a lot from the book as most readers would do. It presents a lot of varied material supporting the theory of human natural promiscuity. In particular, the evidence presented in the last few chapters was very convincing.
what I didn't like, however, was the tone of the writing and the narration The book was full of scientific facts, but the style of delivery is far too casual and borderline disrespectful to the "standard narrative" or most other scientific theories. Comments like "Really?" (delivered in a characteristic tone) undermined the substantially of the evidence the authors were presenting it was very unnecessary Challenging the status quo is a hard task and is probably best tackled with less emotion and more common sense.
overall, however, I'm glad I've finished the book (even though I paused midway as the middle third of the book seemed to be repeating itself over and over).The book has definitely left me with some new thoughts and knowledge and I will be coming back to some examples from the story to better understand life, sexual and romantic relationships.
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