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.
I will admit, this audio book has me looking at the world (male and female interactions) a bit differently. It offers up a perspective that isn't really taught in school and backs it up with comparisons to our ancestors and monkeys. This isn't all that much of a stretch as this is how a lot of this type of science works, but it comes with a huge caveat that anybody who has spent any time with stats will tell you. Correlation does not mean causation.
That aside it's a fascination perspective, makes a lot of sense and will probably change the way you view relationships (hopefully in a positive way). The narration is a bit dry and that does hurt the overall enjoyment of this work.
There are subtle political leanings that are untimely crammed into the story.
It's full of strawmen fallacies, and you can tell the book was written to feed into popular culture and to exonerate unfaithful spouses by telling them "it's ok, it's in your nature".
They didn't mispronounce any words. They should have just stuck to one narrator.
History enthusiast with military and legal background.
Spoiler alert (not really), the point of this book is that monogamy and life long pair bonding are not "natural" and are a product of the advent of agriculture and property rights. The book included arguments based on history, sociology, psychology, biology, and chemistry. Any work that deals with weighty topics requires a little contemplation, which allows you to test the author's points, and make your own decision. In the print version, you would be able to take that time for reflection. That said, who has time to read everything you want to in print.
I like anything that challenges cultural norms. this book definately did that, and backed up much of its claims with solid arguments.
You really are best listening to this book in chunks so you can think about it.
Spending way too much time listening to books (versus reading) since 2011
Pretty high up there
Haven't read/listened to many nonfiction
No but it did keep me very engaged
One of the few nonfiction books I was able to listen to and keep very engaged
The book makes a strong point about why humans cheat, but it would be great if it included more information on why they started getting married in the first place (other than just mentioning agriculture and the management of land).
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.
The book was so well received that Sex at Dusk was written. I followed all their arguments. However, I'm not certain I am ready to divorce sex and love. Yes, it's been done, but my own experience is quite painful when that happens. Would like to know more about the cultures which practice much freer forms of sexuality. I was engrossed in this book and couldn't wait to get back to it. Definitely worth a listen.
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