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Editorial 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

Earphones Award Winner (AudioFile Magazine)

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

Critic Reviews

"A surprisingly non-titillating book about sex among prehistoric people makes for a terrific audio adaptation...With their straightforward approach, the narrators show professionalism and authority in this anthropological discussion of sex." (AudioFile)
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!)

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A New, More Informed Perspective

I was raised by parents who struck an odd balance between the romantic and the pragmatic, the progressive and the traditional. Between the way they lived their truths of how love and romantic relationships should work in the real world, my fondness for sweeping drama, and my odd love of Mom's romance novels, I managed to fill my childhood dreams of love with expectations of easy-to-maintain monogamy with my soulmate.

Now, I'm grown. I am no less romantic, but significantly more pragmatic, than my childhood self. I no longer await my princess, or even have very firm expectations of what a love relationship could look like in my life - I just work hard to remain whole, healthy, engaged in my life, and open to whomever comes into my path.

I thought I had surrendered all the confining perceptions that would make a lasting relationship hard to find and harder to maintain. Sex At Dawn taught me how wrong I was.

With concrete evidence, analysis and interpretation that don't overreach, and thorough counter-arguments for what they call "the standard argument" that evolution built monogamy into human nature, the authors opened my eyes further. The book taught me to see the social constructs, some ancient, that place us in a double-bind of conflicting demands from our social selves and our biological selves.

What I want from a relationship hasn't changed: love, belongingness, partnership, mutual respect and support, and healthy communication with someone who values me uniquely. Sex At Dawn didn't change my wants - it offered me a whole new set of tools to consider using to achieve and maintain a relationship that fulfills those wants. I am grateful to the authors.

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Truth without compromise, without shame.

having felt a myriad of negative emotions for constantly drawn towards women regardless of my relationship status or success or quality of sex life, this book and other sources on the related topics have not only proven that I'm not alone, but that my negative emotions aimed at myself were simply the result of not being true to myself and allowing the dictator that is modern society tell me what is wrong or right rather than listening to my mind body and soul for what truly is wrong and right. i find it comically interesting how the more i learn in general, the more the "standard narrative" on any subject seems to reveal itself as nothing more than fearful selfish opinions of a persuasive minority. this book is intellectual, comedic and gracefully mature.

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Very interesting and provocative!

For anyone who has experienced infidelity, or those possessing the propensity to cheat, this is a fantastic exploration of the possibilities of causes for adultery. It's about time that we start to question our societal rules that do not seem to be working for everyone. Although void of any solid societal solutions, it is the beginning of a conversation that should take place in all relationships and transfer to our society. At the very least. It helps those involved in sexual straying either mentally or physically to gain some valuable insights. It is definitely not the cut and dry topic that religion, society, and laws put forth!

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great informative and counter intuitive book

Well researched and written, factual, humorous...a tour de force across anthropology, sexology, economics, sociology and history. A real gem and am eye opener

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Everyone should listen to this!!!!

Listening to this book helped me make sense of everything I was going through and feeling in my releationships!!!

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Very interesting!

Interesting insights into human sexuality. Makes one consider pondering their own self and relationship(s). This is a must read / listen!

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fantastic!

What an incredible insight into our past and our present, clearing up so much misinformation of ours and other species' relationships! Behold the future we should look to to offer our species a healthy freedom and our society options for more truthful and fluid social-sexual dynamics.

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Interesting but unnecessarily divisive.

Question everything right? Right. But you don't have to be smug while doing it. This books takes on an unnecessarily smug approach to the topic. The inquiry about sex, monogamy, and human relationships is absolutely needed, and this book deserves a listen, but with the same critical approach they take, it becomes a little childish.

As Walt Whitman said, "Battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won."

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Miss this and you miss OUT woman or man

An intriguing journey into what may make us tick, sexually that is.

And now I need 15 unique words to fill the space, so I can submit a review, why?

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Awesome perspective.

Very engaging and stimulating content. Question everything. A good practice and well laid out. I highly recommend it to anyone considering sex or judging anyone else's sexual life.