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 know it's early in 2014 but I'm predicting I won't read a better book this year. Finally a scientific and well researched hypothesis on human sexual behaviour that actually reflects the reality we observe and experience. Thought provoking concepts with the potential to radically change our relational paradigms.
I like that the authors didn't pull any punches and took a very comical approach to deliver very taboo and controversial content that may have been heard with a different method of delivery. Our modern day social constructs have programmed us humans to exhibit behavior that is not congruent with our natural tendencies. "Sex at Dawn" exposes this programming as well as our nature.
I don't think there are other books that are this comprehensive on the history of sexuality. I would suggest that people read books on the PICKUP ARTIST MOVEMENT and Psychology books at large to better understand some of the content herein.
I'm usually not a fan of most audio book voices. I think the narrator was the right choice in this case because he was one of the writers and he clearly understood a great intonation to make it flow well. I thought the speed was pretty slow though, I listened to at 3x the speed and most all of it was intelligible although a few times I had to rewind.
I digested the book over a few sittings. I would suggest the same for a reader since the content might be pretty out there for a lot of folks.
I did not exactly agree with the way a lot of the content was portrayed. The authors did a good job of exposing the listener to new concepts of sexuality that they may not have heard. The next step is really drilling down into the different time periods of sexual progression in human evolution and helping people determine what relationship structure is most natural for them as individuals so that they can start planning sustainable relationships. I don't think this book is the bible on sexual evolution but is a great start and might be the best thing we've got to date. In our present day I can see this book alleviating a lot of concern of its readers who may wonder why they have urges that contradict their social programming. I can see this book being looked back upon as a major milestone in the shift of understanding in human sexuality.
This book gives a nice alternative and objective view to human sexuality and why cultural and religious barriers are destroying friendships and families.
The civilizations that did not have our current cultural restrictions forced on them and those that are doing their best to preserve something truly human rather than something made for mass consumption.
Where it was told that the marriage structure we know is, in reality, but an illusion made by people who wants nothing more that power, humanity be damned.
How other culture kept themselves in control by sharing everything, including responsibility , obligations and each other. Something many in modern societies shamely lacks.
Must read for everyone who wants to understand their sexuality and maybe find clues to help with their current relationships. It may also help current families by giving possibilities to help each other without sacrificing the family while at the same time remain true to your nature and also to your partner. Should also be a must read at sex education classes.
This book is the scientific approach to why we are who we are sexually.
There are actually some good arguments made in this book for Poly and open relationships.
There are some good arguments against the religious constriction of sexual behavior and coupling, so if you are exceptionally hardcore religious, you may find fault with this book. It tells us historically why we think and act as we do -- anthropologically and scientifically. which means it won't pander to conservative religious leanings. (Something i'm happy about).
An eye opening look at why divorce rates are so high due to the makeup of the human condition. A very scientific look at how the human species has evolved and how our sex lives have evolved along the way.
This book is a true marvel. It changed quite dramatically the way I see the world and it did so with a compelling writing based on good scientific research. Essentially, most of us have been duped into believing monogamy is "natural". This book provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. Five stars!
This book will correct so many of the misconceptions you have not just about sex and sexuality but even about egalitarian hunter gatherer societies.
The book looks at the standard narrative regarding sex and especially monogamy and pulls apart the ideas, finds their roots and shows how many of them are incorrect and what the actual truth is.
Finding out that monogamy really came about with the rise of private property which came with agriculture.
I did want to listen to the book in one sitting, however I had to listen to it over a few goes as there is just so much information and I have had to re-adjust my idea of history and sexuality and hunter-gatherer societies.
I want a world where we properly value human wellbeing and the environment. This book helps me understand how this can be possible.
Insightful, intriguing and thought-provoking.
No I have not...
No I wanted to listen to it on my 2 hour commute daily.
This book contains fascinating information regarding human sexuality and what it means today. It takes a hard look at where we as a species comes from and how modern human beings are forced to adapt to a different notion of sexuality today.
This is probably one of the best books I've ever read in regards to human behavior and sexuality. The authors do a very good job of keeping the topic interesting (how could this not be an interesting topic?) and the flow of the book moving right along.
In the book, they answer the age-old questions about "Is Monogamy a Myth?" Why we have the thoughts we have and why we become excited and stimulated by certain characteristics in other people. The role that social conditioning has in either restricting us, or allowing us freedoms and liberties in how we feel about sex.
Some of the highlights of the book point out that up until about 10 or 20,000 years ago, humans were grouped together in nomadic tribes and all of the social interactions they shared (hunting and gathering, eating and sleeping, and yes, group sex) were all part of the social bonding that was necessary in particular for survival. With the advent of agriculture and property ownership (that included women and children) the social concept of monogamy came into play. Question remains, are humans naturally monogamous?
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says that "men and women are like firemen and fire. Men are like firemen and can be ready for sex in two minutes. Women are like fire, whereas the conditions have to be just right for it to occur. (Smile)
This is an excellent book that I would highly recommend to everyone! Now I understand better... "Why men are the way we are and why women are the why they are." (Smile)
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