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 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.
A well written book is a gem.
I expected more than a rehash of the old misguided assumptions about sex. What little was new, insightful or relevant was buried under tedious retellings of the common misunderstandings on the subject. It ends up being a long walk for slight meal.
Just a goodolelady,reading and listening to books now as reading is getting harder.
the reader was very good with intonations. Made listening to the the book enjoyable.
Well, I was interested in it because I wanted to see what they had to say about early man and their group dynamics, regarding day to day life and human bonds.
A bit of enthusiasm i would not have had.
Laughs. Not sure I could film it. Monkey's and humans in time past.
No, I am not very eloquent with words. It was a worthwhile listen though.
The reviewer who said it was good but not great got it right. I would like to add to that review. I was looking to get a history of sex and how it was treated through the history of man. The book does a decent job in the beginning of detailing how sexual relations would have played out. However in the second half it goes off the topic of sex and on to a romantic view of the noble savage. There has been much written dispelling the noble savage. This deviation from sex in human society to talk of the noble savage is a detraction for me. I am two thirds of the way through so it may get back on track but for the last two hours it's been a noble savage story.
This evolutionary theory explain lots of issues related to modern day sexuality.
narrator's performance is outstanding.
definitely yes, but practically you can't do it one go as the book is very comprehensive and runs for several hours.
This is a well researched book, that while focuses on sexual human behavior, touches many other human traits during evolution, such as war and agression, cooperation and the overal impact that our culture might have in the research of our own selves. For an example I liked, they discuss how the victorian values and traditions biased the way Darwin reported his findings, and how his writings were censored to remove ideas offending the common beliefs of that time. The authors clearly name many controversial themes that are deeply ingrained in our cultural behavior and challenge their pertinence to what being human really means.
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