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!)
If you love to have your firmly held believes shaken/challenged, this is probably your kind of book. I can smell out people that have done their research and these authors fit the bill. They first explain the standard narrative with good arguments, that make you say:"Yeah, that must be right" and then they debunk them. They must have had many discussions about this with other people, before writing the book, because they know all the standard objections that pop up in your head and have a good response. I'm not totally on board with everything, but they definitely have a good point.
I continue to be amazed about the cultural nonsense that is pumped in our brains, seemingly always resulting in a more violent society, while simultaneously giving you the idea it's getting more peaceful thanks to these same moral prophets (prepare to get Steven Pinker and Thomas Hobbs debunked). For thousands of years our presidents,priests and politicians have tried to eradicate private property, prostitution and promiscuity. All it resulted in was which hunts, massive wars, concentration camps and bloodshed and it always seems to come back.
The only philosophical problem I saw was the idea that early foragers
- did not have private property
- did have compulsory sharing
- were egalitarian
The word sharing implies property (would you like to have some of MY apples). There is no such thing as public property, because the public does not have hands to control property. There are people who claim control of property in the name of the public, but that is the same scam as those claiming control of property in name of god.
If they had compulsory sharing, there was someone coercing and someone being coerced, this is contradictory with egalitarian. They continue by saying this probably extended to sexual relations as well. But if you have compulsory sharing of partners, there is rape going on, which they would deny, I think.
What they meant is that there was a strong urge to share a lot and remember who reciprocated, to increase chances of survival.
Other than that, a great brain tickler that explains a lot of relation ship trouble going on in the world today and in a wider sense a lot of conflict and wars.
During my life many times I have felt that I was from another planet, or age. Nevertheless, the findings presented in this book truly show the core of our human biology and spirit. We are basically the same species we were a quarter million years ago. While most of our religions are only a few thousands years old. So, we can say that in the latest 5% of our existence in this planet many religions have tried to artificially "reshape" our nature. Even worse, those "teachings" are hard-coded in so many current legislations. How wrong we have been to ourselves!!
This is perhaps one of the best books about sex, with actual empirical and scientific evidence, while philosophical and non fact based research are ignored when possible. Book points out number of fallacies in modern evolutionary psychology theories.
I do recommend to read it to everyone who is older than 14.
With as juicy a topic as sex, you would think that more science books would be attempting to get to the bottom of the origins of our unique sexual behaviors. Some of the ideas that are assumed true by folks like Robert Wright or Steven Pinker are given a more thorough examination here. One example is the idea that men's and women's sexual motives are evolved to be opposed to one another. Another theory is presented, and backed up well enough with research to at least make you reconsider. One argument that I found to be very strong was that men are not evolved to need to be positive about paternity and that sexual jealousy is not innately wired into Them. It sounds crazy at first, but the evidence is very strong. The book busts one myth after another, and shows rather convincingly in many chapters that a move toward monogamous partnerships hasn't been 100% good for us. Then it makes a strong case that monogamy is a relatively new norm. Despite the fact that we are so adamant that cheating is the worst thing ever, it's done with head spinning frequency. While not every argument made in the book will turn out to be perfect, the case the authors make is strong enough to demand more attention. And if nothing else, it's a sexy topic, so you get your money's worth on that alone.
I really enjoyed it. It was well worth listening. I liked learning about the Bonobo apes and how they are very similar to us; especially in comparison to other apes. I really enjoyed the author's voice. The author elaborates clearly regarding the sexual practices and customs of various tribes of people. I learned a lot about anthropology, culture and history from this audiobook.
May be the first truly important book on the subject of sex this century. Ground breaking. Read this book.
This book gives a nice alternative and objective view to human sexuality and why cultural and religious barriers are destroying friendships and families.
The civilizations that did not have our current cultural restrictions forced on them and those that are doing their best to preserve something truly human rather than something made for mass consumption.
Where it was told that the marriage structure we know is, in reality, but an illusion made by people who wants nothing more that power, humanity be damned.
How other culture kept themselves in control by sharing everything, including responsibility , obligations and each other. Something many in modern societies shamely lacks.
Must read for everyone who wants to understand their sexuality and maybe find clues to help with their current relationships. It may also help current families by giving possibilities to help each other without sacrificing the family while at the same time remain true to your nature and also to your partner. Should also be a must read at sex education classes.
This book is a true marvel. It changed quite dramatically the way I see the world and it did so with a compelling writing based on good scientific research. Essentially, most of us have been duped into believing monogamy is "natural". This book provides plenty of evidence to the contrary. Five stars!
This book will correct so many of the misconceptions you have not just about sex and sexuality but even about egalitarian hunter gatherer societies.
The book looks at the standard narrative regarding sex and especially monogamy and pulls apart the ideas, finds their roots and shows how many of them are incorrect and what the actual truth is.
Finding out that monogamy really came about with the rise of private property which came with agriculture.
I did want to listen to the book in one sitting, however I had to listen to it over a few goes as there is just so much information and I have had to re-adjust my idea of history and sexuality and hunter-gatherer societies.
I want a world where we properly value human wellbeing and the environment. This book helps me understand how this can be possible.
Insightful, intriguing and thought-provoking.
No I have not...
No I wanted to listen to it on my 2 hour commute daily.
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