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Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships | [Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha]

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

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....
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Audible Editor Reviews

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

Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

“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!)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 12-30-11
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 12-30-11 Member Since 2015

    I will listen to NO boring book. Old Fav's,Card, King , Hobb. New Fav's, Hill, Scalzi, Sawyer, Interested in Lansdale, Crouch, Konrath

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Takes an Open Mind"

    I am a christian male who has been happily married for over 33 years. My wife still turns men's heads at 53. Throughout our marriage I have wondered why I have been attracted to other females, when I am so happy at home. Why do so many men married to super star women cheat on their wives (Brad Pitt, Tiger Woods, etc.)

    This puts out the argument that we were not meant to be monogamous. Monogamy is unhealthy.

    They also show evidence that moving from hunter gathers to an agricultural society is the cause of many of our ill's today. We were not kick out of The Garden of Eden, we were kicked into it.

    I am not a bible scholar, but think about this: God wanted us to trust him fully. Perhaps the tree of knowledge was the knowledge on how to grow apples. We started growing crops and not depending upon God. To be healthy we need to eat a variety of foods. Cultivation has lead us to stay in one place and eat the same foods. This leads to vitamin deficiency. A book offered by this club that I have not read yet is called Wheat Belly, which is supposed to be about how wheat makes us fat. Was Cain's sacrifice to God not appreciated because it was grain? Cain and the apple tree are not mentioned in the book, they are what I thought of because this book makes you think, but you have to be open minded.

    The book is very entertaining and reminded me several times of Jean Auel's series. She has taken grief sometimes because of her randy cave men. This shows that she may not have showed them as randy enough.

    The book is very one sided and it has not convinced me to cheat on my wife or join a commune, but it is a different way to think about our society past and present and I always enjoy writings that challenge the norm. If you can not be open minded about your religion our belief system then you will hate this book. If you like to challenge your beliefs then this is food for thought.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    dominic Lomita, CA, United States 12-28-11
    dominic Lomita, CA, United States 12-28-11 Member Since 2013
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    "Excellent comparison of post + pre pastoral life"
    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    Allyson Johnson is easy on the ear and seems to genuinely understand and agree with the content


    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KatyBrad 11-11-11
    KatyBrad 11-11-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Reconsider what you think you know about love..."

    I thought this book was fascinating and seems like it should be required reading for everyone that wants to have an adult relationship.

    1 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Chattanooga, TN. USA 11-03-11
    Michael Chattanooga, TN. USA 11-03-11 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Listen to this wonderful 'story' - it is yours!"

    Anybody at all interested in the Human Condition should listen to this erudite, interesting, entertaining and, at time humorous, look at the development of human sexuality. As an ardent reader, and listener, of and to popular science tracts I can honestly say that this is one of the most rewarding. The authors deal with the fundamental issue of modern sex, i.e. monogamy. They provide evidence that shows how difficult this particular way of life has been and is for us humans - despite having tried it for several thousand years. Providing a close look at our primate relatives throws a whole new perspective on where we are today. They discuss the beginning of agriculture and it's effect on the hunter/gatherer lifestyle which constituted the earliest being of our ancestors [evidence is provided]. It provides a different way of looking at the role of men and women, their relationships, and their problems in the modern world. Thought provoking in the extreme, this work will undoubtedly have an effect on the reader.
    The narration, by Honor Harrington [sorry Allyson Johnson!], is, not to put to fine a point on it, SUPERB. She has just the right sense of humor, irony, and emphasis to increase the enjoyment of what is already a very good work indeed.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rissa HOUSTON, TX, United States 11-01-11
    Rissa HOUSTON, TX, United States 11-01-11
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    "Meh."

    Interesting topic and discussions. The book as a whole felt scattered and not well put together. Some of the examples of research or findings were used in misleading ways.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    andrew Singapore, Singapore 05-02-11
    andrew Singapore, Singapore 05-02-11 Member Since 2008
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    "for open-minded free thinkers"

    fantastic stuff; if you liked the Black Swan, this is another of must-read books for free thinking people.
    Most of it you know, but never admit :-)

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katie Lincoln, NE, United States 02-07-11
    Katie Lincoln, NE, United States 02-07-11
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    "4 out of 5"

    Great book, but the reader was not right for this sort of book at all. I would have enjoyed it a lot more with a more suitable reader.

    2 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lukas Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States 12-20-13
    Lukas Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States 12-20-13

    Unitarian, Slytherin, Leo, ISTJ, Kinkster, Railfan, Independent Liberal, Feminist, Environmentalist, Pacifist, Idealist, Stage Manager.

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    "A little slow, but VERY worth it!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Sex at Dawn to be better than the print version?

    Overall yes. There's a few diagrams and tables that are difficult to follow for new listeners, but it was nice to listen to the material instead of having to keep up with it.


    What other book might you compare Sex at Dawn to and why?

    I was directed to this book by recommendation of Dan Savage, who has also talked about The Moral Animal and Opening Up, which is what I'm reading next.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    I most enjoyed the light tone and almost sarcastic points to the humor in the book.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    I didn't have an extreme reaction, but I feel like I understand sex a great deal more now than before I listened to this book.


    Any additional comments?

    This is a great book to start with if you're interested in learning about the sexual functions of relationships. Almost all of it covers heterosexual sex however.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ged2phd 12-17-13
    ged2phd 12-17-13 Member Since 2013

    ged2phd

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Best popular science book yet"

    Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships
    by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

    The top review on the book's description page gives it two stars because it is "too focused on academic infighting." This isn't the case at all. The book debunks lots of unexamined assumptions, both in academia and among the general public, but it does so in an informative, entertaining, and crucially necessary way. Most people "know" that humans are "naturally" monogamous and every society has always been based on monogamy. Except they aren't, and they haven't been. So if the authors spend some time proving that what we (both the scientific researchers and ordinary people) think we know isn't true, it's far from tedious or "inside baseball" that ordinary people don't care about. It's fascinating, and well argued. I've been semi-obsessed with human evolution for the past few years, and the authors have explained who we are and how we've become this way more in this one book than practically all the rest I've read put together. I wish they'd get busy and write a lot more books! :-)

    This book makes more sense of the mountains of evidence right in front of our eyes about human sexuality and why we feel and act the ways we do about it than anything I've encountered. And it's delivered in very accessible style, with wit, insight, and wisdom. The readers of the audio book do a terrific job as well. (Jonathan Davis reads the epigraphs etc, and Allyson Johnson handles the narration with great skill.) I can't recommend this book highly enough; it's the best I've read in years on this or any other subject.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shay Bella 11-24-13
    Shay Bella 11-24-13

    Favorite Genres: Urban/Preternatural Fantasy, Science Fiction, Knitting Favorite Story Components: character development, under-dog success stories

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Snicker Worthy"

    One thing that I would like is the reference list for the book. That's probably my one biggest complaint about non fiction on Audible is not getting the reference list.

    That aside, the book is well written and the arguments presented are well thought out and free from obvious flaws for the average listener.

    The first half of the book may be a bit slow and maybe a bit dry, but it lays out some foundation material for the second half of the book. When the authors got into the "material" evidence for their position, there were some snicker worthy euphemisms used. I shall never view a "beer fridge" quite the same, for instance.

    References to current media where arguments against the book's position are available were included in the text, with directions on where to find them before the authors provided rebuttals.

    I appreciated that the authors stopped short of trying to apply moral judgement to the modern Western civilization ideal of human sexuality, though they did help to provide a basis for a more ... realistic view of the difference between love and lust, and what that means for long term relationships.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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