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 truely addresses how cultural bias has drastically effected the the scientific feilds of history, pyscology and evolutionary Biology and anthropology. I cant believe how obvious this information should be and how overlooked it is. The narration is amazing, with plenty of enthusiasm and energy also, cleverly organized, it really absorbs the attention and is easy to sit through.
I will listen to this again! For me at least this was an eye opening experience, and so many things were so new, that I most likely only got 60% of the info. Plus it was written so well I'm looking forward to the experience.
I really enjoyed having my perspective expanded and challenged a bit by this well-written book, and the primary narrator was excellent for the book.
Very well-written argument for the authors' POV about the evolution of human sexuality. Authors claim we took a left turn with the advent of agriculture. Binobo or chimp--that it the question. It is well-researched and references several of my other favorite researchers, including Steven Pinker. It got a second "listen," and that is unusual for this audiophile.
Very well written and researched, the authors question the accepted notion that monogamy is somehow natural for humans. Applys insigts from anthropology, archeology and biology to make the point that our ancestors were most likely non-monogamous. They go a bit off track when they try to attribute our monogamous culture to the market however. The problem is not the concept of personal property, but trying to apply that concept to relationships.
This book was a really enjoyable delve into human sexuality. I got this book not knowing what to expect and was more that pleasantly surprised. The narrator (Johnson) was very enjoyable to listen to and read it as if the author would, if that makes sense.
The book not only gives the author's theories into why we are who we are but also gives endless scientific research to back their claims.
I gave up after 90 minutes. The authors paint theories with which they disagree in cartoonish strokes and then assert their conclusions without any supporting data or argument. Perhaps it gets better but would anyone with anything to say really spend the first hour and a half wasting the listener's time? And the occasional turn of phrase the authors think is clever is anything but. Just a really, really bad book. Try the Selfish Gene, the Blank Slate, the Red Queen (by Matt Ridley), or anything by E. O. Wilson.
I am surprised by the overly positive reviews for this book. The basic idea presented is interesting alright (but not that new), and it probably rings with the feeling of being trapped in current societies sexual rules and restrictions. But the book is very repetitive and focuses too much on picking a fight with established theories of human sexuality instead of presenting arguments for the "new" theory. I guess this would have been good as a 2 hour lecture, there is not enough substance for a 10 hour book. I stopped half way through, to turn to a better use of my time.
I really enjoyed this book; the authors have a dry and sarcastic wit that I liked, and the information is really well presented. All that being said, I disagree with some of the 'facts', but the book is a great look at a fascinating subject.
The narrators are wonderful, as well. Clear diction without being stuffy; and Allyson Johnson has a knack for delivery of the better lines.
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.
"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!
"here's some solid scientific evidence against mono"
This book is eye opening. Besides exposing some flaws in the arguments set or in evolutionary psychology or also shows why open relationships are better suited to our nature. It also validates many of the insights i had since i started relating freely
"Life changing book."
This book is simply amazing and eye opening.
A must read for everyone.
Be prepared though.. because your deepest beliefs may be challenged.
"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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