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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

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Daniel Socorro, NM, United States 07-06-12
    Daniel Socorro, NM, United States 07-06-12
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    "I loved it! I've listened to it 3 times!"
    What did you like best about Sex at Dawn? What did you like least?

    All of it... especially the story of the culture of people in China that everyone wants to change.

    The introduction by the author... I am not sure how that fits into the subject of the book. It seemed a little disjunct. Perhaps if he had been reading the rest of the book, it would have been made clear.


    What did you like best about this story?

    See above.


    What about the narrators’s performance did you like?

    A woman with a very nice voice reading.


    Did Sex at Dawn inspire you to do anything?

    Yes... have more sex!:)


    Any additional comments?

    I plan to listen to it again on vacation next week.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sarah Tel Aviv, Israel 02-03-12
    Sarah Tel Aviv, Israel 02-03-12 Member Since 2012
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    "A snoozefest with a misleading title."

    I was looking forward to this book, but found it disappointing. It has very little to do with sex or sexuality and just drones on and on, painfully repetitively, about monkeys and monogamy (or lack thereof).

    Being someone with basic knowledge of evolution and alternative lifestyles, I didn't find the points made in the book (over and over and over again) to be particularly mind-blowing or controversial, but I guess it could seem that way to someone coming from a more conservative background.

    The narrator sounded mechanic to me, kind of like a female Stephen Hawking.

    If you're looking for a book on human sexuality, I would definitely not recommend this one. However, I gave it two stars instead of one because I felt that I learned some interesting facts about anthropology.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 12-30-11
    Jim "The Impatient" Springfield, MO, United States 12-30-11 Member Since 2010

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

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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.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dann Los Angeles, CA, United States 10-06-11
    Dann Los Angeles, CA, United States 10-06-11 Member Since 2009

    My preference for a good story is something totally unusual and not run of the mill stuff. Give me something I haven't heard before.

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    "Interesting piece"

    This is a good book but a bit long in getting to the subject. Some interesting tidbits but this book could have been much shorter and gotten the info across.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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    Isobel United States 06-19-11
    Isobel United States 06-19-11
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    "Would have liked it better in paperback"

    I've a background in the sciences and am working toward a master in sex education. Everyone around me has mentioned this book at some point so I felt like I had to read it and downloaded it for a long drive. They extend the "this is what the book is about, this is why it's relevant, this is the research that was done before it, this is what we're going to tell you to build upon the research." to an agonizing, tedious crawl of several chapters. I kept thinking, "You know, in a scientific paper this would be a page, page and a half. That's all this needed to be."

    Then again, perhaps it's something that a layman needs to understand the book. I've had professional training in it. "Ok, serves me right," I thought, "I'll skip a couple chapters in 2x speed so I can stop if something interesting happens."

    There were a few times when I stopped to listen, the information about what our close mammal relatives and our distant animal relatives do as far as sex was very interesting.

    Sometimes I'd be listening along thinking that it was interesting but as tedious as listening to a textbook read aloud when I'd realize that I hadn't heard anything about human evolution and development in regards to sexuality for several hours. I didn't sign up to read anthropology as it relates to humans in group living and "let's all talk about how the dawn of agriculture ruined everything". I'm interested in human sexuality! I'd fast forward some more, then some more, then again, then just stop listening and put the book away. I'm in the last 1/4 of section 2 and I just can't bring myself to listen again.

    Though I think that the narrator is great and I really enjoyed listening to her -her dry wit really brought up the material- but I think I'd like this as a paperback book where I could skip the boring parts and only read the relevant research.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bob Kenner, LA, United States 12-24-12
    Bob Kenner, LA, United States 12-24-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Don't Bother"

    I guess I should have expected this book to be a history of sex, which it was. Not very interesting though. I would not recommend it.

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
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    Jessica Arlington, MA, United States 12-24-12
    Jessica Arlington, MA, United States 12-24-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Eh? It's OK."
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    I'm not sure I'm going to finish. I like the concept, but while I'm doing stuff around the house, I hear the narrator speaking, but not necessarily absorbing the words she's saying.


    Would you recommend Sex at Dawn to your friends? Why or why not?

    Depends on how into the topic they are


    How could the performance have been better?

    The narrator has a rather monotone delivery that turns me off.


    Was Sex at Dawn worth the listening time?

    Again, not so sure. I'm only part way through part one and I'd rather catch up on some podcasts.


    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rebecca ROUND HILL, VA, United States 12-13-12
    Rebecca ROUND HILL, VA, United States 12-13-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Yawn..."
    Any additional comments?

    It sounded intriguing, but was more lit review than pop- evolutionary psychology book. Couldn't finish it; stopped listening halfway through when the book wandered into a discussion of economics...

    0 of 3 people found this review helpful
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