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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 getti 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 Jethá. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book. Ryan and Jethá'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. With intelligence, humor, and wonder, Ryan and Jethá show how our promiscuous past haunts our struggles over monogamy, sexual orientation, and family dynamics. They explore why long-term fidelity can be so difficult for so many; why sexual passion tends to fade even as love deepens; why many middle-aged men risk everything for transient affairs with younger women; why homosexuality persists in the face of standard evolutionary logic; and what the human body reveals about the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. In the tradition of the best historical and scientific writing, Sex at Dawn unapologetically upends unwarranted assumptions and unfounded conclusions while offering a revolutionary understanding of why we live and love as we do.


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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 getti 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 Jethá. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book. Ryan and Jethá'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. With intelligence, humor, and wonder, Ryan and Jethá show how our promiscuous past haunts our struggles over monogamy, sexual orientation, and family dynamics. They explore why long-term fidelity can be so difficult for so many; why sexual passion tends to fade even as love deepens; why many middle-aged men risk everything for transient affairs with younger women; why homosexuality persists in the face of standard evolutionary logic; and what the human body reveals about the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. In the tradition of the best historical and scientific writing, Sex at Dawn unapologetically upends unwarranted assumptions and unfounded conclusions while offering a revolutionary understanding of why we live and love as we do.

30 review for Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

  1. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Ryan

    Well, I wrote the damned thing. Can I give myself five stars? Everybody thinks their baby is beautiful, right?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    A popular science book for people who hate science, Sex at Dawn manages to combine weak arguments with a prose style of such overbearing condescension that I had to grit my teeth to get through it. Everything is couched in terms of facile jokiness or, even worse, of coy euphemism, so that we have the ghastly prospect of a supposedly serious book about sexuality that can talk about a ‘human female's naughty bits’. The basic argument is that evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists and palaeonto A popular science book for people who hate science, Sex at Dawn manages to combine weak arguments with a prose style of such overbearing condescension that I had to grit my teeth to get through it. Everything is couched in terms of facile jokiness or, even worse, of coy euphemism, so that we have the ghastly prospect of a supposedly serious book about sexuality that can talk about a ‘human female's naughty bits’. The basic argument is that evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists and palaeontologists are conspiring to propagate the ‘lie’ that human beings have evolved to be broadly monogamous. The few studies that ‘dare’ to question this narrative are hailed as revolutionary, while the rest of the scientific community is written off as ‘the clipboard-carrying crowd’, who ‘rigidly insist’ on the status quo. Unfortunately this blanket dismissal of an entire discipline succeeds only in fatally damaging the authors' own credibility. The debate over prehistoric sexuality is one that I have followed amateurishly, but with some interest, so I was quite looking forward to seeing what kind of evidence was going to be brought forward. By about page 40 I had realised with a sinking feeling that there wasn't going to be any. Instead, their approach is simply to restate their opponents' arguments in the most ludicrously simplistic terms they can, and hope that will stand for a rebuttal. For instance, there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that prehistoric females were in the habit of ‘bartering’ sex, consciously or otherwise, for access to protection and resources supplied by males. This is a complicated and sophisticated argument, which Ryan and Jethá summarise like so: Darwin says your mother's a whore. Simple as that. After reading that I gave up any hope of finding a serious argument in here. Of the book's other stylistic tics, I will just highlight a few of the more irritating. There is a tendency to ask rhetorical questions as a substitute for actually making an argument: Could it be possible that…? Dare we ask whether…? ‘How many families are fractured by this common, tragic, undetected sequence of events?’ I don't know – do you?? If not, stop asking stupid questions and show me some evidence. (It reminds me of a tabloid headline like ARE IMMIGRANTS CAUSING CANCER?, where the rest of the article amounts to a long admission that the answer is ‘no’.) A few other representative quotations: ‘Sexual monogamy itself may be shrinking men's balls’; ‘Homo sapiens: the great ape with the great penis!’; ‘ancestral females were shameless trollops’; ‘Who's your daddies?’; ‘We've no space for a comprehensive response to this’; ‘Yabba-dabba-doo’. Malthus is introduced, laughably, as ‘Wikipedia's eightieth Most Influential Person in History’. If you're worried about missing the subtle message hidden in all this facile nudge-nudge-wink-winking, have no fear, because they will simply put entire sentences that they consider important in italics. Reading these passages feels like being talked down to by someone who doesn't even properly understand their own arguments. They also repeatedly make the infuriating implication that anyone who disagrees with them is doing so because they're morally offended or out of political expediency. What makes it all so sad is that a book offering some new ideas on hot topics like male parental investment or female sexual receptivity would actually be very welcome. This is not that book. What it really is is a plea for a return to an imagined ‘ancient [sexual] egalitarianism’ where humans – especially men – had repercussion-free sex with multiple partners. I would be more than happy to read a book promoting the benefits of polyamory, but please, don't dress it up as science. Sex at Dawn was condemned by most of the academic community, but it was widely promoted by people like Dan Savage and Peter Sagal, and ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. It doesn't deserve the attention, and I wish I'd done a bit more research on it before I bought a copy. Instead, my advice is to consider the response that a pseudonymous primatologist was moved to write, Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn. Because my impression of this one is that it's a disastrous blend of wilful misrepresentations with very poor writing. (Feb 2014) A much better book about the role of polygamy in human evolution (and one that sees it in much more ambiguous terms) is David P Barash's Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy. Barash's comments on Sex at Dawn, by the way, are as follows: ‘a truly egregious misrepresentation of biological and anthropological fact…grotesquely flawed…shouldn't be tossed aside lightly, [but] thrown away with great force.’ Heh. (Feb 2016)

  3. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Hey! Hey, baby, baby, waitwaitwaitwait. Wait. Wait! Baby, don't... don't freak out Okay, okay, I know what this looks like, but I can explain! Quiet, Chad, let me handle this. I can explain! I'm just - please, stop crying and listen - I'm just fulfilling my evolutionary heritage and helping to cement social bonds with... um... the pizza boy, but that'snotthepoint!! That's not the point! Look, before you do anything, y'know, drastic, you just need to read this book.... Humans are really good at fi Hey! Hey, baby, baby, waitwaitwaitwait. Wait. Wait! Baby, don't... don't freak out Okay, okay, I know what this looks like, but I can explain! Quiet, Chad, let me handle this. I can explain! I'm just - please, stop crying and listen - I'm just fulfilling my evolutionary heritage and helping to cement social bonds with... um... the pizza boy, but that'snotthepoint!! That's not the point! Look, before you do anything, y'know, drastic, you just need to read this book.... Humans are really good at figuring things out. As far as we go, we have a real knack for taking things apart and figuring out how they work. Though determined curiosity and perseverance, we know what's happening at the center of the sun, we know how the continents slide across the surface of the earth, how plants turn sunlight into potatoes. We can smash atoms and cure disease and peer back to the moment of creation itself. There is almost nothing that humans cannot comprehend if we put our minds to it. Except ourselves. Don't get me wrong - we have made great strides in philosophy and psychology, and come very far in understanding human origins and our spread across the planet. But there is a fundamental problem that we have when we study ourselves, and that is that we cannot do so objectively. Try as we might, it is impossible to completely put aside our own biases, judgments and backgrounds when we study how humans behave and try to understand why they do what they do. They are still there, if you look for them, and nowhere are they more evident than in the search for the origins of foundations of human sexuality. The standard model, as it's often called, goes something like this: ancient men and women established a pattern of monogamy based on mutual self-interest. The man would keep to one mate in order to be absolutely sure that he was dedicating his efforts towards raising his own kids and not someone else's. If a man had multiple partners, he wouldn't be able to provide for them all, and his genetic investment would die out. So, in terms of efficiency, it is much better for the man to keep himself to one woman, focusing all his attention on the children he knows he has fathered and making sure they live to have children of their own. As far as women are concerned, they require the resources that the men bring. When pregnant, a woman's physical capacities are reduced and she is in a vulnerable state, so by staying monogamous, she is essentially purchasing security and resources that would otherwise be unavailable to her in a world that brought quick and merciless death to the weak. If she slept around, the man wouldn't be sure that the child she bore was his, and would therefore have less interest in taking care of the both of them. Thus, monogamy is the best bet to assure the survival of herself and her child. This is the story that's been told for a long time, and it's considered by most to be the truth. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, however, disagree. Not only do they think the standard model is wrong, but they think it is nothing more than a relic of our own modern biases and hang-ups. The process, they say, can be referred to as "Flintstonization." As you know, the characters in "The Flintstones" were more or less just like us. They went to work, they had houses and appliances and domestic disputes. They had the same issues and amusements as we did, because we overlaid our own society onto a prehistoric setting. Now in cartoons, that's good entertainment, and in the right hands it can be used as powerful satire and commentary. In science, though, it's just no good. Starting with Darwin, people have imagined prehistoric humans to have the same sexual values that we have: a demure, reluctant female who is very choosy in deciding which male she will mate with. A bond forms, and they are faithful to each other until the end of their days. Later researchers, looking at our ape cousins, have plenty of observational research to support the idea that very early humans were monogamous. They look at chimps and gorillas and baboons and confirm what they had always suspected - that our natural sexual state is one of monogamy. The logical conclusion, then, is that our modern attitude towards sexuality, with the rising rates of divorce and teen sexuality, represents a deviation from the way things "should" be, and must therefore be fixed. A loveless marriage, a man's roving eye, a woman who cuckolds her husband, serial monogamists, all of these, according to the standard model, result from our attempts to go against our nature. Or is it the other way around? Ryan and Jetha have put together a very compelling argument that the standard model of pre-agricultural human sexuality is not only wrong, but dangerously so. By looking at modern foraging tribes and the way they live, as well as doing a comparative analysis of humans against our nearest ape cousins, they have come to this conclusion: our "natural" sexual state is one of promiscuity. Back in the day, communities were small and tightly bonded, and sex was one of the things that held those bonds tight. Rather than one man and one woman struggling to protect their own genetic line, their entire community made sure that children were cared for and raised well. Everyone was everyone else's responsibility, and in a world of plenty there was no reason to try and enforce any kind of sexual exclusivity. It was only with the rise of agriculture that it became important to know what was yours, as opposed to someone else's, and that quickly extended from fields and livestock to wives and children. Now that people were keeping their own food and making sure to divide their lands from their neighbor's lands, sharing went out of style. With so much work put into growing crops, that's where the standard model of economic monogamy settled in, and it's been with us ever since. The advent of agriculture changed everything, and not everything for the better. In addition, the very biology of humans, from the way sperm behaves to the shape of the penis, to the anatomy of the clitoris to the noises women make in the throes of orgasm - all of these point to an evolutionary history of sexual promiscuity. The evidence of our bodies tell us that being locked into a lifetime monogamous pair-bond is not what we evolved to do. Ryan and Jetha know that their view of the fundamental nature of human sexuality will not be popular, mainly because it completely undermines our vision of who we are. So much law, tradition, education, entertainment and just plain common sense relies on humans being naturally monogamous. It's something that seems so obvious to us that we cannot imagine a society built any other way. Unfortunately, if Ryan and Jetha are right, society is the problem. We have established a cultural norm that goes completely against our biological and evolutionary nature, and which makes people miserable on a daily basis. I bought this book mainly to stop Dan Savage from nagging me about it. If you listen to Savage's podcast - and you should - you will soon realize that monogamy is something that a lot of people aren't good at. We look at other people with lust in our hearts, we cheat, we stay in relationships where we're sexually miserable just because that's what we "should" do. For most people, our sexual urges are to be fought against, with everything from self-restraint to social shame to law itself. It seems like staying monogamous is one of the hardest things for many people to do. This, of course, raises the question: if it were natural, would it really be so hard? It is a fascinating read, which covers a lot of ground and makes some very compelling arguments. It's also quite funny in places, which was quite welcome. In discussing the standard model the authors note that this is, fundamentally, prostitution, wherein the woman uses sex for material resources. This sexual barter system has been assumed to be true for years, leading the authors to write, "Darwin says your mother's a whore. Simple as that." They also put in some special notes for adventurous grad students in the field of sexual research (especially genital to genital rubbing, something popular in bonobo apes, but which is rarely studied in humans) and re-titling the extremely popular song "When A Man Loves a Woman" as "When a Man Becomes Pathologically Obsessed and Sacrifices All Self-Respect and Dignity by Making a Complete Ass of Himself (and Losing the Woman Anyway Because Really, Who Wants a Boyfriend Who Sleeps Out in the Rain Because Someone Told Him To?)" I don't really know what can be made of the serious information proposed in this book. No matter how it may seem, the authors are not proposing a dissolution of marriage or compulsory orgies or anything like that, nor is this book a "Get Out of Cheating Free" card. We've spent thousands of years putting these restraints on human sexuality, and they're not going to come off anytime soon. The best we can do right now is to be aware of where our ideas about relationships come from, and stop to think about the difference between what is true and what we wish were true. This understanding might help to save relationships that would otherwise work. People cheat not because they're scum or whores, but because they're human. Being monogamous is really hard not because we're weak or flawed, but because it's not what our bodies want for us. The search for a better understanding of human nature should lead us to being better humans, and nothing should be left out. Not even our most sacred beliefs. Not even sex. ------------------------------------------------ "Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving or jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: It depends." - Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, Sex at Dawn ------------------------------------------------ Okay? Okay, baby? So you see, I wasn't really cheating - okay, I was, but you can see why, right? I was just acting in accordance with my fundamental humanity, following the biological impulses as determined by millions of years of evolution when we... Hey, where are you going? Where are you? Oh, hell, he's going for the shotgun. Run, Chad, leave your pants, you don't have time, run!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was an anthropology major at UCSC. Although I wanted to specialize in physical anthropology, I did quite a bit of classwork in cultural. One of the things that always fascinated me was fictitious kin. The idea of creating a network of ties to promote sharing among small groups. Church congregations and the scooby gang of Joss Whedon's Buffy are examples of this. I found the author's description of several of these types of kinship networks based on common A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was an anthropology major at UCSC. Although I wanted to specialize in physical anthropology, I did quite a bit of classwork in cultural. One of the things that always fascinated me was fictitious kin. The idea of creating a network of ties to promote sharing among small groups. Church congregations and the scooby gang of Joss Whedon's Buffy are examples of this. I found the author's description of several of these types of kinship networks based on common sexual partners very interesting, as well as some of the research comparing primate anatomy and sexual response. However, I had a very hard time getting past the smug, condescending tone of the book. I felt the author's "we know better than everyone who came before us." missed the point of iterative science. It also turned off any reader who might actually be reading from an academic perspective. I also felt that they presented some styles of fictitious kin that work well for small groups (less than 150) as the best for everyone. I think their work would have been stronger if they had gone for more of a tone, "of there are many different styles, and we should be more open minded".

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brendan Shea

    I rarely stop reading books before I'm done (and I've read a lot of pretty bad books as a result!), but I think I will with this one. The book has two serious problems: first, it misrepresents (or maybe misunderstands?) the standard model of human sexuality from ev. biology. Perhaps because they are so focused on the most extreme form of ev. psych, they repeatedly oversimplify things, and then accuse various authors (e.g., Darwin) of defending such oversimplified theories because of sexism. Seco I rarely stop reading books before I'm done (and I've read a lot of pretty bad books as a result!), but I think I will with this one. The book has two serious problems: first, it misrepresents (or maybe misunderstands?) the standard model of human sexuality from ev. biology. Perhaps because they are so focused on the most extreme form of ev. psych, they repeatedly oversimplify things, and then accuse various authors (e.g., Darwin) of defending such oversimplified theories because of sexism. Second, their positive theory (e.g., that humans were polygamous until about 10,000 years ago; and basically lived long, happy, war-free, sex-filled lives until the agriculture revolution) is radically undersupported by the evidence. You wouldn't know this from reading the book, though, because they repeatedly cherry-pick evidence, and consistently ignore what most practicing scientists would say are the *reasons* they believe this model (hint: it's not because Steven Pinker did a study of dating strategies in college-age students, or whatever). In short: this is pop-science at its worse--it deliberately distorts science for ideological ends; it ignores evidence for rival theories; it presents biased and uncharitable pictures of other *scientists*; and the conclusion it defends seems to be mostly wish-fulfillment. (I think this is by far the meanest book review I've ever written, if that means anything...)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Taka

    Fantastic-- This is one of those paradigm-shifting books that pretty much changes your belief system. Having read Robin Baker's Sperm Wars and absorbing its grim interpretation of human sexuality, this book, Sex at Dawn came as a pleasant and generally kick-ass surprise. With abundance of humor and compelling narrative, the authors posit that human beings, like their primate cousins, originally engaged in multiple mating for most of their existence on earth before the advent of agriculture. And "m Fantastic-- This is one of those paradigm-shifting books that pretty much changes your belief system. Having read Robin Baker's Sperm Wars and absorbing its grim interpretation of human sexuality, this book, Sex at Dawn came as a pleasant and generally kick-ass surprise. With abundance of humor and compelling narrative, the authors posit that human beings, like their primate cousins, originally engaged in multiple mating for most of their existence on earth before the advent of agriculture. And "multiple mating" means both males and females having multiple sexual partners at any given time, and it doesn't mean "polygamy" where alpha males get all the girls (such as in the case of gorillas) From the premise that hunter-gatherers shared everything, including food and mates, the authors draw surprising conclusions that pretty much blew my mind. First, they make the question of "are humans inherently selfish?" moot by suggesting that of course human beings can be selfish, but it largely depends on the context, sort of like asking, "Is water gas, liquid, or solid?" They take on Hobbes's grim view that life without government is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" point by point and basically proves him dead wrong. If anything, the life of prehistory humans, the authors claim, was the opposite: social, rich, healthy, cooperative, and long. They had plenty to eat, plenty of time to play and take naps, plenty of opportunities to have sex; they generally lived long, healthy, happy lives. One serious--and to some, unsettling--implication of the multiple mating premise is that we weren't made for monogamy. Witness the soaring divorce rates in the Western countries and all the wrecked relationships everywhere you look. Fidelity, defined as being sexually faithful to one partner for one's entire life, is--so the authors say--unnatural. The hardest question that arises from this interpretation of human sexuality is what to make of marriages? The authors' answers are anything but specific: find alternative, untraditional arrangements (e.g. two couples sharing mates and living together), or just stop taking sex so seriously. But the alternatives are more discouraging: not getting married at all and live a solitary life, or get married with an unreasonable expectation of sexual fidelity, have kids, and leave them when you get involved with another man/woman, thus fucking up their lives forever. Not very appealing. This book makes you think about one of the most important aspects of your life, and it's worth it. A must read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lucas

    I feel completely cheated... This review is directed more towards people who have already read Sex at Dawn, and to the authors. But hopefully this will be of use to new readers as well. I'll start by saying that when I first read Sex at Dawn I was blown away. This book completely changed my view of monogamy, sex, and relationships. It sparked this new openness and acceptance in me, and I will say had a very positive impact on my relationship. I thought here was the book that everyone NEEDS to read I feel completely cheated... This review is directed more towards people who have already read Sex at Dawn, and to the authors. But hopefully this will be of use to new readers as well. I'll start by saying that when I first read Sex at Dawn I was blown away. This book completely changed my view of monogamy, sex, and relationships. It sparked this new openness and acceptance in me, and I will say had a very positive impact on my relationship. I thought here was the book that everyone NEEDS to read. I recommended it to everyone, talked about it with everyone, even called it my new bible (not that I put any stock in the old bible – being an Atheist, but you get my meaning). Then I came across a book called Sex at DUSK, by Lynn Saxon, a sort of counter-argument to Sex at Dawn. So, being a 'seeker of truth', I figured I owed it to myself to read this book as well. I really expected (i.e. wanted) Sex at Dusk to be a bad book in that it made a poor case, being full of religious and/or political bias, and couldn't really negate Sex at Dawn. But what I found instead was a very objective, concise argument that pretty much laid waste to everything presented in Sex at Dawn. Lynn Saxon drew on the exact same research that Sex at Dawn used as evidence. However she showed a much more complete view of the research, she removed the apparent cherry-picking and candy-coating that Ryan and Jetha used, and showed that almost every bit of 'evidence' they used has been taken out of context, and presented in a way that is completely misleading. I am no expert in this field so I took the authors of Sex at Dawn for their word. I believed that the evidence they showed was honest and complete. Unfortunately it would seem that it isn't. I am truly disappointed by their dishonesty. The other possibility is that the author of Sex at Dusk is being dishonest, but being that she is only showing more of the same research I would find it hard to make that argument, and I think anyone who reads it will also have a hard time making that argument. I highly recommend that any and all fans of Sex at Dawn read Sex at Dusk, and please if you come to a different conclusion than I did by all means comment here and explain. I honestly feel like I was cheated or scammed by Ryan and Jetha. I sincerely hope that they read this review and read Sex at Dusk to address the issues it brings up.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I loved this book, but to be honest I have nowhere near the education to be able to evaluate the validity of the arguments presented in the book. I have seen grumblings here and there about the book, mostly from religious people who this book will understandably offend. One of the main messages of the book is that monogamy is not natural to either men or women. The authors are two researchers and psychologists, both married. Despite being academics and approaching a variety of very weighty subjects I loved this book, but to be honest I have nowhere near the education to be able to evaluate the validity of the arguments presented in the book. I have seen grumblings here and there about the book, mostly from religious people who this book will understandably offend. One of the main messages of the book is that monogamy is not natural to either men or women. The authors are two researchers and psychologists, both married. Despite being academics and approaching a variety of very weighty subjects the tone of the book is conversational, even jocular. No doubt this provided fuel to critics who wanted to pan the book because of the message. I found the tone endearing. It reminded me of that brilliant, but cool professor from college whose lectures were both fun and educational at the same time. The authors do not advocate any change in lifestyle for anyone, only to be open minded about what they believe to be the biological drives people have. There are too many fascinating arguments about too many related subjects in the book to do the book justice in this space. More than the exploration into humanity's natural lack of monogamy and the biological roots of a number of common sexual fantasies, I enjoyed the deconstruction of the view of prehistoric life being harsh. According to the author there is much evidence for the argument that prehistoric life was not brutish, short and malnourished. Quite the opposite. If you have strong religious values this book will certainly offend you. I am atheist and even some of the ideas in the book about the way men and women relate to each other deeply disturbed me. If you can put your values aside, this book is powerful and entertaining food for thought.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Overrated, mostly unfunny but overly glib, using the same bad logic he accuses the monogamy pushers of, this book which is basically shilling for open relationships vis-a-vis evolutionary psychology is intellectually dishonest AND irritating, which is quite a feat. I can't believe Dan Savage pushed this crap. There are better arguments for new takes on monogamy, open relationships, and polyamory out there - we don't need to cloak them in bad, gender-essentialist "science". Overrated, mostly unfunny but overly glib, using the same bad logic he accuses the monogamy pushers of, this book which is basically shilling for open relationships vis-a-vis evolutionary psychology is intellectually dishonest AND irritating, which is quite a feat. I can't believe Dan Savage pushed this crap. There are better arguments for new takes on monogamy, open relationships, and polyamory out there - we don't need to cloak them in bad, gender-essentialist "science".

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, Christopher Ryan Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, is a 2010 book about the evolution of monogamy in humans and human mating systems by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. In opposition to what the authors see as the "standard narrative" of human sexual evolution, they contend that having multiple sexual partners was common and accepted in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. The authors contend that mobile, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, Christopher Ryan Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, is a 2010 book about the evolution of monogamy in humans and human mating systems by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá. In opposition to what the authors see as the "standard narrative" of human sexual evolution, they contend that having multiple sexual partners was common and accepted in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. The authors contend that mobile, self-contained groups of hunter gatherers were the norm for humans before agriculture led to high population density. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و هشتم ماه آوریل سال 2015 میلادی عنوان: سرشت جنسی انسان، فراز و نشیب روابط جنسی از ماقبل تاریخ تا امروز؛ نویسندگان: کریستوفر ریان، ساسیلدا جفا؛ مترجمان: مهبد مهدیان، آرمیتا کلالی، خشایار مینوی؛ ناشر: اینترنتی، 1393، نسخه کامل(4جلد)؛ در 465 ص؛ موضوع: سرشت جنسی انسان از نویسندگان امریکایی - سده 21 م عنوان: چهار بدفهمی در باب سرشت انسان؛ نویسنده: کریستوفر رایان (ریان)؛ مترجم: آرش حسینیان؛ مینا خبوشانی؛ مهدی حسینی؛ مشهد، نشر تلنگر؛ در 146 ص؛ فهرست: فصل اول: یوکاتان را از یاد نبرید. فصل دوم: آن‌چه که داروین در مورد تمایلات جنسی نمی‌دانست؛ فصل سوم: نگاهی دقیق‌تر به روایت مرسوم از تکامل جنسی انسان؛ فصل چهارم: میمون بزرگ در آینه؛ فصل پنجم: چه کسی چه چیزی را در بهشت از دست داد؛ فصل ششم: کدام‌ها پدر تو هستند؛ فصل هفتم: عزیز دردانه مامان؛ فصل هشتم: ابهام در مورد ازدواج، جفت‌گیری و تک همسری؛ فصل نهم: قطعیت پدری؛ فصل دهم: حسادت جنسی، یک راهنما برای طمع داشتن به همسر همسایه؛ فصل یازدهم: ثروت طبیعت؛ فصل دوازدهم: مم خودخواه؛ فصل سیزدهم: جنگی بی‌پایان بر سر وجود جنگ در دوران قبل؛ فصل چهاردهم: عمر کوتاه؛ فهرست پانزدهم: مردی کمی بزرگ؛ فصل شانزدهم: درست‌ترین معیار سنجش یک مرد؛ فصل هفدهم: گاهی یک آلت مذکر، صرفا یک آلت مذکر است؛ فصل هجدهم: اُ (حرف لاتین او) در پیش تاریخ؛؛ فصل نوزدهم: وقتی زنان از نظر جنسی برانگیخته می‌شوند ا. شربیانی

  11. 5 out of 5

    Myke Cole

    Look, the writers of this intensely popular book don't need my help, and certainly won't be bothered by my disapproval, so I offer my opinion here mostly in the interest of hearing myself talk. This is a really well written book that does a great job of confronting titillating issues head on, with honesty and humor and giving us an unflinching look at our sexual history - by which I really mean our primatological history - a look at how we boinked in our pre-agricultural past. From a primatology Look, the writers of this intensely popular book don't need my help, and certainly won't be bothered by my disapproval, so I offer my opinion here mostly in the interest of hearing myself talk. This is a really well written book that does a great job of confronting titillating issues head on, with honesty and humor and giving us an unflinching look at our sexual history - by which I really mean our primatological history - a look at how we boinked in our pre-agricultural past. From a primatology standpoint, the arguments feel ironclad. The authors' examination of female copulatory vocalization, the physical mechanics of our sexual dimorphism, thrusting action in intercourse, relative genital sizes and many other factors all point toward a pre-agricultural ancestry where humans were unconcerned about paternity, where everybody pretty much fucked everybody and kids were raised communally. No argument with any of that, and reading about the scientific evidence to support this is fascinating and really enjoyable, especially given the authors' brisk and really engaging style. HOWEVER. The book is clearly making a STRONG argument for polyamory, that monogamy is unnatural and a cause of endless misery, and that the future of human endeavor and satisfaction depends on a frank reckoning with how nature designed us to fuck. Noted. And . . . I guess it's not wrong? But the argument collapses under the weight of the fact that NOTHING humans do in modern society is remotely in keeping with our natural origins. We deliberately make choices in a society that trade some kind of misery/suffering in for what we perceive to be a greater reward. I served in a military (wouldn't ever change that), I live in a climate controlled apartment (wouldn't change that), I drink milk post-weaning and tropical fruits out of season (wouldn't change that). You know what's the most counter-natural thing I could ever imagine? The disciplined research and labor necessary to WRITE A BOOK. Our Bonobo relatives don't do that, and our pre-agricultural progenitors didn't do that either. The authors proselytize for polyamory, but then fail to make any arguments or offer any suggestions for how, as a society, we get there. they also attack monogamy wholesale without examining why smart people who acknowledge and agree with their arguments (I'm a dedicated Dan Savage disciple) would be *willing* to be monogamous in spite of those challenges. In short, the book feels like Bill Mahr's film Religulous, which makes some great arguments, but attempts to strengthen them by omitting all consideration of opposing viewpoints. The result is a book that's 75% fascinating science, and 25% irritating social proselytizing, an argument full of so many holes that I can't be the only reader to have rolled by eyes so hard I nearly detached a retina. Still, worth your time. I'm a lot smarter on our primate past now than I was before I read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Fabian

    Looking backward to understand our confusing wacky present & everlooming future. This sincere recommendation has been brought into our focus to make the decision: what is happiness in terms of sex? This book is the alpha & omega of Human Sexual Behavior in Prehistory. If you read Darwin & respect him (we all do & should), this will debunk many of his own preconceptions of sex & gender and genetics. The standard narrative: boy wants it, girl doesn't, but they stay together and raise kids. But no: Looking backward to understand our confusing wacky present & everlooming future. This sincere recommendation has been brought into our focus to make the decision: what is happiness in terms of sex? This book is the alpha & omega of Human Sexual Behavior in Prehistory. If you read Darwin & respect him (we all do & should), this will debunk many of his own preconceptions of sex & gender and genetics. The standard narrative: boy wants it, girl doesn't, but they stay together and raise kids. But no: sex, &, more specifically, non-monogomy is what's at stake. Question forthwith your relationship, your human basic rights, and why its so hard to stay faithful today and always. Conventions fall like dominoes: these writers did their research (its heavy, too... monkey-heavy), and you, MODERN READER should take heed. It is accessible, funny, rich. Relevant to YOU. But... what of the standard narrative for gay people? I suggest an extension or companion piece of nonficition mastery that involves LGBTQ individuals. I wanted more answers about this. Here, though, a few of my favorite quotes: "The conflict between what we're told we feel and what we really feel may be the richest source of confusion, dissatisfaction, and unnecessary suffering in our time." (4) "The gut can be an unreliable guide" (20) "Marriage amounts to a no-win struggle of mutually assured disappointment." (38) "[What] weakens so much sexual research: reliance on a subject population more convenient than representative." (143) "Like practically everything else, jealousy reflects social modification and can clearly be reduced to little more than a minor irritant if consensus deems it so." (145)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    My friend found this book intriguing. Couldn’t put it down, he says. I could’ve probably put it down, but I promised him I would read it and read it I did. In Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan lays down a slew of what he believes to be persuasive arguments for our prehistoric ancestors being sexually promiscuous. Considering that we are most closely related to the bonobo (a ‘pygmy chimp’) in the evolutionary sense, he draws parallels between the bonobo’s behavior and anatomical particularities to th My friend found this book intriguing. Couldn’t put it down, he says. I could’ve probably put it down, but I promised him I would read it and read it I did. In Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan lays down a slew of what he believes to be persuasive arguments for our prehistoric ancestors being sexually promiscuous. Considering that we are most closely related to the bonobo (a ‘pygmy chimp’) in the evolutionary sense, he draws parallels between the bonobo’s behavior and anatomical particularities to those of humans in order to suggest that our two species are sociosexually similar, as well. (Not to give anything away, but apparently bonobos are insatiable whores!) The point of Ryan’s point, I guess, is to point out that we humans—as a general rule—commit to monogamous relationships because doing so is socially accepted and expected, but that we may in fact be damaging ourselves and our loved ones by acting in discordance with our innate, biologically-programmed sexual needs. There wasn’t anything I inherently disliked about this book—though the casual language likely meant to foster a ‘connection’ with lay readers leaves something to be desired—I wasn’t interested enough in the subject matter to be swayed by Ryan’s arguments. Even if our prehistoric ancestors were polygamous, what does it matter? Somewhere along the line it became more worthwhile for humans to live in committed, monogamous relationships (whether for social, economic, or perhaps other reasons entirely), and as with any choice made by anyone anywhere ever, it will always be at the expense of something. Perhaps this does leave us more sexually frustrated at times than our ancestors were, but I’d like to believe that the return on this investment provides us a reward that is greater than the sum of our frustrations. At least I fucking hope so.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    This book makes one depressed about the human race from agriculture on. However, it kind of awesomely doesn't make me feel like a slut, proving (through science!) how our anatomy developed and how we, as humans, were made to have sex with many different people. Sometimes all at once. With chocolate sauce. Kidding about the chocolate sauce. Really, the book goes over our closest relatives, and then discusses common beliefs about the human race, and proves or disproves some of those beliefs. It's p This book makes one depressed about the human race from agriculture on. However, it kind of awesomely doesn't make me feel like a slut, proving (through science!) how our anatomy developed and how we, as humans, were made to have sex with many different people. Sometimes all at once. With chocolate sauce. Kidding about the chocolate sauce. Really, the book goes over our closest relatives, and then discusses common beliefs about the human race, and proves or disproves some of those beliefs. It's pretty fun. A good read, and since it's science, you don't even have to feel bad about getting turned on. Teresa, I recognize you are probably the only person that reads these, and I trust if you pick this book you will be able to keep your passion leased.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A tragic disappointment of a book, Sex at Dawn attempts to sell pseudoscience as the real deal, and it fails. The first 100 pages intrigued me because of how Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha blended evolutionary psychology, history, and mythology to discuss human sexual relationships. But then they began to make illogical conclusions based on circumstantial and underdeveloped evidence. They critique Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, and other reputable scientists, and they try to mold their straw A tragic disappointment of a book, Sex at Dawn attempts to sell pseudoscience as the real deal, and it fails. The first 100 pages intrigued me because of how Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha blended evolutionary psychology, history, and mythology to discuss human sexual relationships. But then they began to make illogical conclusions based on circumstantial and underdeveloped evidence. They critique Richard Dawkins, Matt Ridley, and other reputable scientists, and they try to mold their straw man arguments into a thesis about the impracticality of monogamy. While I agree with their supposed overarching belief that we need to examine the current state of our sexual relationships, Ryan and Jetha present their supporting information in a muddled, unscientific, and invalid way. The writing style of this book also felt immature. In an attempt to market their arguments to a general audience, Ryan and Jetha dumb their ideas down to the point where their thoughts come across as condescending dribble. A few of many examples: they conflate testosterone with happiness, they write about the needs of men and forgo discussing women and their complexity, they espouse caloric reduction as the only way to a good life, and they ignore the multifaceted cultural and societal factors that relate to mating. I would write more about their heteronormative perspective and the off-putting generalizations they form from fetishistic pornography, but you can also read Warwick's and Ryan's reviews for a fuller analysis of this book's lack of thorough reasoning. Overall, I would not recommend this book based on its subtitle: it does not explain how we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships. If you have an interest in evolutionary psychology and want to wade through several pages of pretentious fluff to get to a few intelligent insights, then maybe check Sex at Dawn out. I will say that I warned you, though.

  16. 5 out of 5

    g

    Interesting read and lots to think about. What I loved: -Less patriarchal approach to science/sexuality/evolution. -Chapters on bonobos--so important. -Chapters on sexuality as a bonding tool. What I didn't love: -While the argument that culture can poison scientific fact is a valid and awesome one, to rest your entire book on it is problematic. Who's to say that these hypothesis aren't subject to the same corruption? Of course, that's never addressed. I would be interested to hear whether these autho Interesting read and lots to think about. What I loved: -Less patriarchal approach to science/sexuality/evolution. -Chapters on bonobos--so important. -Chapters on sexuality as a bonding tool. What I didn't love: -While the argument that culture can poison scientific fact is a valid and awesome one, to rest your entire book on it is problematic. Who's to say that these hypothesis aren't subject to the same corruption? Of course, that's never addressed. I would be interested to hear whether these authors consider themselves poly and how that influences their ideas. -To write a book like this, you have to believe your hypotheses fully. I think a lot of them were on point, but I found that many of them were WAY too narrow. Human sexuality is SO complex. To boil all our behaviors down the way they have is reductionist and really, just as silly as some of the other scientists/philosopher's the criticize. -Almost exclusive focus on heterosexuality. Overall a solid read with some good food for thought. But I think it all deserves to be viewed through a skeptical lens.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lightreads

    My girlfriend and I had one of those gradual comings-together where you're going along fine, life is good, and then you look up one day and . . . wait . . . hang on . . . you're dating that person you thought you were just sleeping with. (For the record, some of us *cough* figured this out much sooner than others of us.) When it happens like that, it's hard to figure out what "counts," if you care about that sort of thing -- anniversaries, firsts, all those markers of 'real relationshipness.' Lu My girlfriend and I had one of those gradual comings-together where you're going along fine, life is good, and then you look up one day and . . . wait . . . hang on . . . you're dating that person you thought you were just sleeping with. (For the record, some of us *cough* figured this out much sooner than others of us.) When it happens like that, it's hard to figure out what "counts," if you care about that sort of thing -- anniversaries, firsts, all those markers of 'real relationshipness.' Luckily, neither of us cares what counts. Just, sometime over the past five years, we got to The Thing -- The Real Thing -- and that's cool. Except the part where it isn't cool is that there are a lot of other people who care about what counts. They care a lot. To a lot of people, we can't have The Real Thing, and not because we're both women. No, see, it doesn't matter how much our lives have glommed over the past five years, or how we collectively meet her cancer diagnosis and me conceiving a child to carry as my sister's surrogate. None of that counts because we occasionally sleep with other people, together and separately. Because if you do that, well, that's not a relationship at all. Which has never made sense to me on a logical level, or an instinctive one. Monogamy might be nice for some people (some of my best friends are monogamists, dontcha know), though more often it looks to me like it makes everyone ashamed and unhappy. But for me . . . no. I mean, I've been in monogamous relationships for years at a time, once before I knew what I wanted, and once after I had started to suspect but couldn't experiment to find out, because if your partner is not down with it like mine wasn't, then obviously you respect that. And I just . . . it's not that I was unhappy. Or not just that I was unhappy. I did not feel like myself. I felt like the person I was being in the relationship was untrue on some fundamental level of existential being. That sort of thing wears you down from the inside over time. And I strongly suspect it's a bit like being a closeted gay person trapped in a heterosexual relationship. Anyway. So this book (woo! I got there!). This book is all about how our cultural investment in monogamy doesn't make sense. Or at least how the narratives we're told about it are bullshit. You know this story: men don't want to be in relationships, but they need fidelity from women to be sure the children are really theirs (because otherwise why spend any resources raising them?), and so women trap men into relationships with their sneaky hidden ovulation, but what they're really doing is trading access to their vaginas for resource stability. It's the pigs and prostitutes model. The one that gets used to defend patriarchy, gender inequality, you name it, because it's biology, don't you know. This book is about how it's crap, and how it doesn't make sense given what we know about pre-historic sexuality, about multiple partner procreation now and in the past, and our evolution. It's also a pretty snotty bitchslap to evolutionary psychology which, well, yes. I totally dug it, because it made sense out of a lot of stuff that has never made sense to me. (And the last quarter in particular has some great stuff about different arousal patterns that just -- yes, thank you.) I just really really wish it was less pop and more science, because honestly the thing this book convinced me of the most is that the vast majority of anthropological work has all the scientific rigor of a wet noodle. And I wish this book supplied more of that rigor, since it demonstrated very clearly that the material is there. Also that it was a bit more careful not to continuously fall into the same stereotyped patterns of thinking about gendered behavior that it is chiding its readers for, but, you know, lack of rigor.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Althea Ann

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. SEX AT DAWN: Preface OK, I get the point of this. The preface is trying to make the point that humans are primates, and subject to primate urges. However, this is a DUMB story. Seriously, author? A monkey stealing peanuts you'd meant to give to a different monkey makes you feel 'betrayed in a way you'd never been before'? And inspires 'loathing' for monkeys? Plus, over-the-top anthropomorphization, and your telling me about putting on a 'primate display' for the monkey makes me think you may be a SEX AT DAWN: Preface OK, I get the point of this. The preface is trying to make the point that humans are primates, and subject to primate urges. However, this is a DUMB story. Seriously, author? A monkey stealing peanuts you'd meant to give to a different monkey makes you feel 'betrayed in a way you'd never been before'? And inspires 'loathing' for monkeys? Plus, over-the-top anthropomorphization, and your telling me about putting on a 'primate display' for the monkey makes me think you may be a little unbalanced. Maybe not the best way to open the book. SEX AT DAWN: INTRODUCTION This covers a lot of stuff very quickly, as it's a quick overview of the topic of the book. There is little evidence for the claims here, but I'll trust that will come later. *We're apes - fine, ok. *Our society has sex issues - fine, ok. *The Spanish word 'esposas' means 'wife' and 'handcuffs'... hmm... this word looks more like 'spouse' than 'wife,' looked it up, yep, I'm right, it can also mean husband. Point taken, though. *People like porn - yep, true, but does that really mean sexual dysfunction? *Priests molest kids - yep, true, but is this because of 'denying normal human sexuality' or because predators seek out positions where they have trusted access to kids? *The self help industry is pathetic and non-helpful - agreed. *On to the summary of what we'll find in this book - a theory that from existing evidence, we can conclude that pre-agricultural societies were gender-equal and generally promiscuous. I have serious doubts that it is possible to draw such conclusions. It is POSSIBLE, but I do not think it can be proven. We shall see. *Outline of the typical 'narrative of human sexual evolution.' Yep, heard it before, agree that it's problematic. *Graph of how agricultural societies lead to war. This graph spells the word "hierarchical" miserably wrong. PROOFREADERS are important! *More about how agriculture leads to the idea of property, which leads to women losing status, etc. Stuff admittedly cribbed from Jared Diamond. Again, nice theory, not proven, though. *Good point about: really WHY should men care about paternity? SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, a. Starts out with the old chestnut about an explorer asking the native "what's that?" and ending up thinking that "I don't understand" is a noun. I've most often heard this about "kangaroo" but the word in question here is "Yucatan." If you go to the 'notes' the author admits that this story is anecdotal - but he uses it anyway. It would have been more effective (not to mention more respectable) to talk ABOUT this story and why it flourishes in different versions... Cecil Adams explains in detail. (I LOVE Cecil Adams): (start w/ 4th paragraph) http://www.straightdope.com/columns/r... SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, b. A page or two to convince us that food preferences are cultural, and people in one country may eat things that people in another think are gross. This seems very obvious, and a waste of breath - except that a friend & I were recently discussing a post where someone was using others' food habits to demonstrate racism; and then of course there's the whole "Did Obama eat a dog" thing, so maybe this actually IS a valuable point to make to a large segment of the population. I'm still stuck in my own culture - I'll pass on the grasshoppers! The references in this bit led me to this out-of-date but interesting blog: http://bugsfordinner.blogspot.com/ SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 1, c. "An essential first step in discerning the 'cultural' from the 'human' is what mythologist Joseph Campbell called 'detribalization.' We have to recognize the various tribes we belong to and begin extricating ourselves from the unexamined assumptions each of them mistakes for 'the truth.'" Nice quote. I agree. I know Campbell is frequently considered outdated, and in his search for universals, he was often far TOO reductionist about human mythology. He also grabbed things that were convenient to his narratives and ignored what didn't fit... but I still like him, overall. Interesting stuff. Goes on to say that the commonly-accepted tropes about sexual jealously, etc, are not necessarily natural, but cultural - that evolutionary psychologists are wrong. I feel like that's probably the main focus of this book - the theories of Evo. Psych. are NOT NECESSARILY true. I think that is correct - the evo. psych crowd CANNOT determine that human beings have always been monogamous/jealous/etc. But I still don't think this book can determine the opposite, either. Still, I suppose it's necessary and valuable to point out that one can look at the same set of data, can draw different conclusions or create a different narrative. SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 2a Darwin was influenced in his thought by the prudery of Victorian times, and the religious bias of those who came before him, not to mention his own sexual inexperience. The writing of Darwin were, additionally, censored by his prudish sister. Therefore our first concepts of human evolution were subject to an anti-sex bias. SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 2, b. "the deepest function of myth... to lend narrative order to apparently disconnected bits of information, the way constellations group impossibly distant stars into ... patterns that are simultaneously imaginary and real." Ok, that is lovely. I've probably never mentioned it here, but I am a huge fan of mythology and mythopoeic fiction; and how they connect to culture and history. The book goes on to say, "mythology is the loom on which we weave... daily experience into a coherent story. This... becomes tricky when we mythologize about ... ancestors separated from us by 20 or 30,000 years... (there's a) widespread tendency to project contemporary cultural proclivities into the distant past." YES. Historical fiction writers talk about this A LOT, although usually not on such a grand time frame. But I'm really glad this book is admitting this problem. We'll see where they go from here... SEX AT DAWN, Chap. 2, c. Stuff about Lewis Morgan, a contemporary of Darwin and an anthropologist. Never read much about this guy, but what a fascinating character! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_H.... SEX AT DAWN: Chapter 3 Here the author's go into more detail on the assumption of current evolutionary theory that they believe are erroneous, including: #1 - women aren't actually very horny #2 - men are motivated to only care for their own children. Their arguments for this second one are pretty convincing - as they point out, the arguments inherent in this are very questionable: especially: early humans understood that sex led to children, and were certain which children were biologically his. (It's known that even recently, some 'primitive' cultures did not understand this). There's a lot more here but it also points out that evolutionary theory concentrates ONLY on sexual relations as a method of producing children, as if this were the only function of human sexuality - which, as any psychologist can tell you, it certainly isn't. The chapter also points out that no, not all human cultures have centered around 'marriage and the nuclear family,'and that in early societies, which centered around shared resources, the whole sex-as-barter concept does not apply. (The idea that women allow a man sexual access in exchange for his material resources.) The author clearly find this reduction of all human sexuality down to - essentially - acts of prostitution - offensive. SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 4. Finally, the bonobos make an appearance! Starts off with a quote from Stephen Jay Gould about how it's peculiar that we insist on comparing 'nasty' animal and human traits, but not making the same comparison for 'noble' traits. It then talks about how there's a history of comparing human behavior to chimp behavior. Interestingly, it mentions how some of the characterization of chimps as violent and aggressive is also inaccurate (much was based on captive chimps; and their behavior, it is pointed out, differs from behavior in the wild as much as the behavior of jailed humans and free humans.) However, the authors are somehow not as critical of the research done on bonobos, and ignore the fact that (much like chimps) bonobos have also been observed acting in aggressive and violent ways. I don't think this invalidates the author's theory that we can compare ourselves to bonobos, as humans also, obviously, DO act aggressively and violently, but I do feel like the authors are oversimplifying to make a point here, and the point suffers for it. However, there are some very valid points here about the insistence on seeing animal cultures as a reflection of human. For example, the concept of "rank" and "hierarchy" in animal societies - it's noted that status can come from affection or seniority, rather than a 'rank' system. Also, that primatologists have insisted on describing different groups of apes as 'enemy' groups, when in fact when the groups meet, socializing and sex occur - not what one would expect if they are 'enemies.' Interesting note about how both humans and bonobos, UNLIKE other apes, have a genetic mutation related to oxytocin, and by inference, emotional bonding. And, a reiteration of the books main point: "Modern man's seemingly instinctual impulse to control women's sexuality is not an intrinsic feature of human nature. It is a response to specific historical socioeconomic conditions - conditions very different from those in which our species evolved." Sex At Dawn: Chap. 5 Starts off with an interpretation of the Adam and Eve story as an allegory about humans moving from a foraging to an agricultural lifestyle. The authors express befuddlement as to why anyone would move from such an Edenic lifestyle to one of toil. It seems rather willfully naive. Foraging may be Edenic, temporarily, in times and places of plenty, but not all places are full of food. The foraging lifestyle requires frequent, nomadic travel. Not so good for those who aren't hale and fit. For me, it's very easy to see why people wanted to be able to settle and make a home, to try to wrest some predictability from an unpredictable world. However, the authors clearly state they they regard the move to agriculture as a 'fall from grace.' I see it as a trade-off, yes... but one that most people have seen as worth it. Next: very interesting (and true) idea about how humans have domesticated themselves, as much as any crop or farm animal: 'our cultures domesticate us for obscure purposes, nurturing and encouraging certain aspects of our behavior... seeking to eliminate those that might be disruptive." Next: the author claim that, in the animal kingdom, humans are both uniquely social and uniquely sexual. While I see their point, I do think they exaggerate both. And no, 'exile' has not usually been considered the 'worst' punishment one can decree - hello, torture and death? Check out a list of historical punishments sometime. Last: the authors promise to make the case that prehistorical human life was 'far from solitary.' OK, I never thought it was. However, I do think that the degree of privacy/community/social interaction that an individual expects is not an innate thing, but one of those 'culturally pruned' aspects of society mentioned at the beginning of this very chapter. SEX AT DAWN: Chap. 6 This chapter explores in more depth the fallacy of the assumption that sexual exclusivity is required because women need the protection and provision of a man, who will only cleave to a woman if he is sure that her children are his. The authors bring up the examples of many, many tribes who have traditionally believed that ALL men a women has sex with contribute to the paternity of a child (and even that, the more men a woman has sex with, the stronger and healthier a child will be). They point out that in cases where a child is considered to have more than one father, the child benefits, because that child has multiple people looking out for his or her well-being. (After all, in small tribal groups, the likelihood is that to some degree, the children ARE actually related to all of the adults in the group.) In a small tribal group, where monogamy is not the rule, and having multiple lovers is not considered to be a cause for jealousy, but rather, something to be expected, having multiple bonds of affection helps draw the group closer together. If women are free to have sex when and with whom they choose, this eliminates conflict & competition between males for female companionship. The authors point out that the egalitarianism of small groups, where resources (and, often, sexuality) are shared, is not somehow more 'noble,' but, rather, is the most efficient way for a small group to survive. Again, showing that monogamy is not always the cultural norm, the authors mention that the Matis tribe of South America (they're pretty much nearly wiped out now, which the book doesn't mention) actually have a word that translates to "being stingy with one's genitals" - a cultural transgression. (Kinda the opposite of calling someone a "slut!") The authors also mention that if we look at sexuality not solely as a means of reproduction, but as a mechanism for consolidating enduring bonds of affection and caring between multiple individuals in a group, homosexuality no longer appears like a functionless aberration, but rather as just another way to demonstrate mutual bonds. However, the authors then try to make a jump to compare the sexual egalitarianism of tribes to examples such as rock bands or soccer teams that happily share the sexual favors of groupies. I'm not at all sure that this analogy works. This is probably coming up later in the book, but it seems clear to me at this point that this egalitarian model of sharing (both sex and resources) with multiple members of a group, through multiple, enduring bonds of affection works very well IF you are in a tribe - a fairly small group who all share close bonds. It wouldn't work so well in a larger group (say a town or city) where not all your neighbors are people you know intimately, whose well-being and survival is chained inextricably to yours. A change from it being acceptable and expected to have sex with multiple people in your tribe probably occurred when people started having a larger social group, and the "social unit" switched from "tribe" to "family." Huh, This would also explain the weirdness of traditions such as that in Afghanistan where a woman is expected to marry only within her family (usually an uncle or first cousin), and marrying a non-related man is considered to be wrong and threatening (a non-family member is not trusted). It's like the tradition has only half-switched over... SEX AT DAWN - Chapter 7. While the last chapter was all about how other cultures have often had a more non-specific view of paternity, this chapter moves on to how mothering has often been less specific as well, with examples about how, in small tribes, maternal duties are shared amongst all the women. It also points out how, in cultures that have insisted on seeing the nuclear family as the only acceptable family unit, horrible dysfunctions often occur. They bring up a horrible statistic that I had to check: it's true. In 1915, out of ten 'foundling hospitals' visited, in NINE of them, EVERY child died before the age of two. Makes it sound like Little Orphan Annie had it good! Meanwhile, the unwed mothers of these infants would hire out as wet-nurses to other women's children. Hardly the ideal vision of the nuclear family, I agree. This chapter segues right along into CHAPTER 8 The main point here is that it's been claimed that "marriage" exists in every society around the world because, well, we've taken a look at whatever arrangements exist in whatever culture, and we call that "marriage," ignoring how their arrangements may actually differ quite a lot from what we think of as "marriage" - there's no definition of the word. The authors agree that yes, people around the world do 'pair-bond.' But whether a bond is supposed to be permanent, temporary, or brief, whether that bond overlaps with other long-term sexual relationships, whether sexual activity is allowed or expected outside the bond: not at all, all the time, only during festivals, only with strangers, only with tribe members...? this varies, and varies quite a lot. Most of the chapter is composed of details about the "marriages" found in other cultures, and it's quite interesting. CHAPTER 9 The first half of the chapter is all about Matriarchies. It talks about different cultures that have encouraged female sexual permissiveness, and talks a lot about the Masuo; whom I’ve read about before. In traditional Masuo culture, the family is the essential unit of society – but the family who lives in a shared house are brothers and sisters, and the children of the women. Men go to women’s homes for sex and romance, but never live with their lovers. Men’s fatherly duties are to their sisters’ children. The authors that assert that in a matriarchal society, men have it better than in a patriarchal one, because women don’t have a tendency to form the mirror image of a patriarchy and oppress men – matriarchies tend to be more relaxed and easygoing. Sounds nice, but the evidence presented is a bit scant for that assertion. The second half of the chapter is about animal species which are erroneously considered to behave monogamously. Penguins are brought up (they engage in serial monogamy, sticking with one partner annually to raise chicks), as well as swans (they mention that at least 20% of chicks born to supposedly monogamous birds are not the offspring of that pair). I’m not at all sure why these two segments are jammed together into one chapter, but there you are. CHAPTER 10 The topic is jealousy. “In a traditional Canela marriage ceremony… the brother of each partner’s mother comes forward. He admonishes the bride and her new husband to stay together until the last child is grown, specifically reminding them not to be jealous of each other’s lovers.” I like it! Here, the authors argue that jealousy is largely a socially-constructed emotion, pointing out that degrees of sexual jealousy differ from society to society, not to mention exactly what behavior elicits jealousy. They make a very valid point that the results of many studies that we hear bandied about a lot, (saying that men are concerned with sexual infidelity and women are concerned with emotional infidelity) are fundamentally flawed, because their respondents were all Western college students – hardly a wide representation of the many ages and cultures of humanity. Good point. It then moves on (again, and awkward transition) to talking about how Western pop culture views of ideal love are flawed, bringing up as examples the notorious stalker-song “Every Breath you Take “ (The Police), and “When a Man Loves A Woman,” which they amusingly propose should be retitled “When A Man becomes Pathologically Obsessed and Sacrifices All Self Respect and Dignity by Making a Complete Ass of Himself (and Losing the Woman Anyway, Because, Really, Who Wants A Boyfriend Who Sleeps Out In The Rain Because Someone Told Him To?)” They then go on to point out Richard Dawkins’ idea that there’s no reason that sexual love should necessarily be exclusive, since we don’t expect any other sort of love or affection to be exclusive. All good.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This book is idiotic. And I don't say this because they are advocating open marriages. I knew that going in and I was interested in the idea (I decided to read it after reading a NYTs article about open marriages so I was intrigued). No, it's idiotic because they are cherry picking historical data, they don't deal with any serious alternative theories, and then they present their case as though you're stupid if you don't believe it. There were some really interesting insights in here about human This book is idiotic. And I don't say this because they are advocating open marriages. I knew that going in and I was interested in the idea (I decided to read it after reading a NYTs article about open marriages so I was intrigued). No, it's idiotic because they are cherry picking historical data, they don't deal with any serious alternative theories, and then they present their case as though you're stupid if you don't believe it. There were some really interesting insights in here about human sexuality, but I expected it to be about "the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality" as in an accurate history. It was more a shallow walk through and then an argument.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jenbebookish

    Honestly, this is such a great book. In my personal opinion, this is a book everybody should read. It's a really great eye opener in regards to human nature that counteracts the general tendency of people in America to idealize relationships and monogamy in what can be seen as a relatively unnatural way. I do realize that as human beings we are not only potentially logical beings with the ability to reason but also very emotional ones as well and that what we happen to know factually or scientif Honestly, this is such a great book. In my personal opinion, this is a book everybody should read. It's a really great eye opener in regards to human nature that counteracts the general tendency of people in America to idealize relationships and monogamy in what can be seen as a relatively unnatural way. I do realize that as human beings we are not only potentially logical beings with the ability to reason but also very emotional ones as well and that what we happen to know factually or scientifically doesn't necessarily mean that it can always be applied in place of our instinctual-from-the-gut-feelings, but I just think this is an amazing supply of information for anyone who's interested in the concepts behind monogamy and human sexuality. I actually happen to think that there's info here that could possibly bring some tormented people some peace. "Why does he check out every ass that walks by, is he not happy with me? Is he looking for somebody better? My spouse cheated on me but claims it didn't mean anything, but obviously it means something to me, how can I even begin to understand his actions?" And so on and so on. Obviously with each individual there are individual traits and each relationship has it's unique dynamic, but this book offers a little insight into human sexuality and human nature and for the science minded...(and even for the non-science minded actually) there are facts here that might supply one with some biological and evolutionary explanations for emotional issues. Of course, we are human beings. Ultimately, the thing that defines us is our ability to reason, to apply information to a problem and or issue and behave accordingly, rationally, rather than instinctually. We are not animals, we can control ourselves, we make choices, etc etc. So because of that-monogamy is not impossible. It's simply, unnatural. And that is sort of the basis of this book. A look at relationships, monogamy, and sex from the purely scientific. It's an eye opener, it was great, it was interesting, and I reference it constantly so do I recommend it? Yesssss. But only to people who are interested in sex of course;)

  21. 4 out of 5

    James

    Now, I agree with the fundamental point they were making here - humans evolved to use sex socially and with many partners, not for monogamy - but their use of science was...shoddy, and high school level writing at best. They at times (oh hell, all the time) dipped back into stereotype to support their claims and to justify their choices of topic. I frequently found myself reading sections of this aloud to my roommates so we could rip it apart together - and that was pretty fun. They're depressin Now, I agree with the fundamental point they were making here - humans evolved to use sex socially and with many partners, not for monogamy - but their use of science was...shoddy, and high school level writing at best. They at times (oh hell, all the time) dipped back into stereotype to support their claims and to justify their choices of topic. I frequently found myself reading sections of this aloud to my roommates so we could rip it apart together - and that was pretty fun. They're depressingly normative, extraordinarily insensitive (a suggestion: either explain what was actually going on that was not rape or admit that women can rape - do not use scare quotes around the word rape, in any situation, ever), rely on Othering extensively, and are completely sophomoric in presentation (I have only once cringed through so many penis jokes in what is meant to be an adult look at a controversial topic. It being meant for people outside the scientific field is really no excuse). I would like to urge someone with more than a passing understanding of science, sociology, and sexuality to redo this book. Of course, all evolutionary psychology is to be taken with a giant pillar of salt, since it hardly matters what is 'natural' to us at this point and 'naturalness' is no compelling argument for or against anything in the first place. Humans should be able to create the families that make them happy whether or not it is natural, and this includes people who legitimately enjoy and choose monogamy consciously as well as people who make a family with many partners with the same consideration and intent. Also, it might bear mentioning that in the entirety of the book 'man' and 'woman' are treated as largely homogenous categories with no real room for humanity or individuality. That's the trouble with evo-psych - the details get lost in the attempt to make a coherent big picture and are impossible to account for in the master narrative. There are no intersex people, for instance, or gender variant types, nor, indeed, bisexual men. In reading this be prepared for a heady dose of misandry and misogyny. You will get both in abundance. You will also find a conspicuous lack of critical thought about the practices which support their theory of natural non-monogamy, whether or not they seem to be any more sensitive to consent than our own culture's norms regarding interpersonal sexuality.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    When Sex at Dawn first came out it received a bunch of ecstatic reviews, but I had my doubts. It sounded like more made-up, tenuously supported evolutionary psychology BS that just happened to be more to my (and the reviewers') liking than the standard evo-psych sexuality stories. My expectations were low. Turns out 85% of the book is focused explicitly on debunking and mocking evo-psych theories. "Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving or When Sex at Dawn first came out it received a bunch of ecstatic reviews, but I had my doubts. It sounded like more made-up, tenuously supported evolutionary psychology BS that just happened to be more to my (and the reviewers') liking than the standard evo-psych sexuality stories. My expectations were low. Turns out 85% of the book is focused explicitly on debunking and mocking evo-psych theories. "Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving or jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid, or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: It depends." "'Archaeology,' writes Bogucki, 'is very much constrained by what the modern imagination allows in the range of human behavior.' So is evolutionary theory. Perhaps so many still conclude that sexual monogamy is characteristic of our species' evolutionary past, despite the clear messages inscribed in every man's body and appetites, because this is what they expect and hope to find there." Hear hear! But then the authors go on to make the same types of errors themselves by selectively presenting and interpreting evidence to make THEIR case. Yes, I like their conclusions better, and thus find them more convincing. Some of the arguments were compelling. Some had obvious holes. Some were ridiculous (e.g. suggesting that the existence of gang-bang porn is evidence of a multi-mating past). With just a slight shift in presentation, the authors could have said, "We've shown you the flaws in these arguments. Now we'll show you other arguments that can be made from the existing evidence. Science sure is tricky and observer-dependent, isn't it?" That I would've had respect for. This, not so much. Especially when I don't buy into any of the philosophical stances that make the answers really matter. Why should we care whether cavemen were promiscuous? Are behaviors that are "natural" always morally correct? (Like, say, infanticide?) I reject this line of reasoning, just as I find the issue of whether people "choose" to be gay as irrelevant to how people should be treated. I find sex research interesting, but not because it affects what I think of as "right" or "moral." I do however think this book is important for getting a different story out there. Its critical look at evo-psych theories made it much better than I'd expected and it reviews some interesting modern research.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Rector

    Phenomenal mind opening book about the true origins of our societies typical view of sex and monogamy. Also delves into the topics of war and jealousy and if those are indeed innate traits of humans. The facts show they are not. As with many beliefs that are just mindlessly accepted by so many people this points out that many things are not what they seem. And that we as a people need to have the courage and strength to think for ourselves and to continually question and learn for ourselves. The Phenomenal mind opening book about the true origins of our societies typical view of sex and monogamy. Also delves into the topics of war and jealousy and if those are indeed innate traits of humans. The facts show they are not. As with many beliefs that are just mindlessly accepted by so many people this points out that many things are not what they seem. And that we as a people need to have the courage and strength to think for ourselves and to continually question and learn for ourselves. The book also clearly shows that believing and living as we have been conditioned too by religion and other facets of a society rather than by looking for the truth does a massive amount of damage not only to society as a whole but to its individual members. One needs to only look around to see that this is true. So many view the world through the glasses of their conditioning. This is true of researchers and much of the research that has been used as the standard narrative through the years has been manipulated and twisted by the researchers.

  24. 4 out of 5

    sologdin

    A popularizer's polemic against evolutionary psychology vis-a-vis the doctrine and institution of monogamy. The book is well-humored, and the prose reads well. The broad strokes of the argument are difficult to dispute, and I wouldn't want to dispute them. Monogamy earned this ass-kicking--and it is an ass-kicking, a true shellacking, considering the data marshalled in support, as well as the motion-for-summary-judgment style of pointing out a lack of support for the opponent's essential allegat A popularizer's polemic against evolutionary psychology vis-a-vis the doctrine and institution of monogamy. The book is well-humored, and the prose reads well. The broad strokes of the argument are difficult to dispute, and I wouldn't want to dispute them. Monogamy earned this ass-kicking--and it is an ass-kicking, a true shellacking, considering the data marshalled in support, as well as the motion-for-summary-judgment style of pointing out a lack of support for the opponent's essential allegations. Those who support the proposition that monogamy is mandated by "human nature" are revealed to be conclusively philistine--the only determination for us to make is whether the philistinism is willful theatre or involuntary imposition. As Kuhn might describe them, they deploy a different paradigm on this question, and likely recognize these arguments and evidence only as nonesense and errors; the only remedy is that they die out as time goes on, taking their bad ideas with them. Many good historical anecdotes (the anti-masturbation campaign, say, or the sale by physicians of orgasm therapy to "hysterical" women). Lotsa good up-yours moments to the rightwing. And plenty of fists in the face of evopsych overreachers, who deserve every beating they get. It was especially pleasant to see Pinker exposed as intellectually dishonest. All that said, the second and third sections, refuting neo-hobbesianism in general, seems like an unnecessary excursus. Not ontologically unnecssary (quite the contrary), and interesting on its own merits--but unnecessary to the argument of this volume. At times the argument veers into gender essentialism; at other times there's a bit of ultra vires crypto-mccarthyism (marxism apparently did get something wrong about "human nature" after all, despite the critique otherwise presented of evopsych's sophomoric economics 101 assumptions); and at still others, toward the end, the tone shifts to relationship advice, which might've been necessary to sell the volume to certain audiences--but the desires of those audiences detract from the text. I could've also used more detailed and thorough review of the relevant scientific literature--this is my main complaint. The text is polemical, sure--but, as a layperson on this matter, I do require a bit of handholding. Yeah, I know, quit being lazy and read the literature yourself. I get it. But it'd be nice for a popularizing volume to fill that role, so that I can carry on without cluttering my brains with the technicalities of the sciences. The text therefore could've been twice the length, and i'd've loved it. Those complaints made, it's difficult not to see the insights in this volume arise from the marriages to which I have been associated. My own conception of jealousy, for instance, is that it is a property ideology applied to persons, particularly to the right of exclusive sexual access. It's a nasty thing, and remains residual as affect despite being abolished in intellect by critique. The text confirms this conception to the extent that jealousy and its antecedent property forms are not dominant throughout the long prehistory of human sexuality. If I were to give marxist sexual relationship advice, it'd be simple: your sexual relationships are not property relationships, you reactionary fuckers. Once that basic principle of progressive humanitarianism is understood, the necessity of tolerance for and encouragement of non-monogamous praxis by one's spouse becomes a proposition of universal rights and basic decency. Understanding it may be difficult, sure--and abolishing it in intellect still leaves the affective residue--one will disagree with oneself, knowing the wrongness of jealousy even while feeling it--but the sting goes away before long, unless you're a teenager or not very worldly, I suppose. Recommended for masturbators, disinfatuated married persons, evopsych epigones, and people who think that they own their spouses.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    From the very start, the authors set the stage of this standard (and wrong) view of human sexual evolution and sexuality and their radical alternative. Unfortunately, although they manage to refute some commonly held misconceptions, none of these startling revalations seem like they would be a surprise to anyone in the fields of primatology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, etc. They also do very little to present a positive argument although to be quite honest by the From the very start, the authors set the stage of this standard (and wrong) view of human sexual evolution and sexuality and their radical alternative. Unfortunately, although they manage to refute some commonly held misconceptions, none of these startling revalations seem like they would be a surprise to anyone in the fields of primatology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, etc. They also do very little to present a positive argument although to be quite honest by the last section of the book I couldn't tell whether their argument was that humans evolved with a variety of pair-bonding experiences with many of them likely to have been multiple-male/multiple-female or that men are genetically hardwired to cheat - compeletly ignoring any female sexual evolution or conditions. I was also disappointed by the cherry-picking of data from the literature and the attempt to spin the literature and case-studies often at the expense of the original publication's intent. The authors also seem to really like logical fallacies including the naturalistic fallacy (nature = good or better), Ad hominem attacks (which may have been intended as cute asides?), as well as a variety of others which made this a painful read. The cute quips and asides (Darwin takes a beating) fell very flat for me. I wish the authors had spent some time addressing how behaviors that evolved in small groups are relevant in today's society especially in reference to child rearing and public health issues like STIs and rape. Ultimately, I felt this book added nothing to the discussion of human evolution or sexuality except point out the authors' uncomfortableness with marriage as an institution and reveal some pretty nasty sexism in the last section of the book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chloe

    Books on sex are a dime a dozen these days. From tomes on how to create a more spiritual union or bring more spice to your marriage through the cunning use of super glue, paperclips, and a rubber band (the well-named MacGuyver technique) to how to give your lover earth-shattering orgasms through locating some mythical pressure point, this genre has risen to be one of the pillars of the self-help section of a bookstore. It's gotten so that this subgenre receives even less respect (and deservedly Books on sex are a dime a dozen these days. From tomes on how to create a more spiritual union or bring more spice to your marriage through the cunning use of super glue, paperclips, and a rubber band (the well-named MacGuyver technique) to how to give your lover earth-shattering orgasms through locating some mythical pressure point, this genre has risen to be one of the pillars of the self-help section of a bookstore. It's gotten so that this subgenre receives even less respect (and deservedly so) than the Harlequin romances that continue to be published at the rate of a gross ton each week. Yet when a writer as highly respected as sex columnist Dan Savage goes as far as to call this book "the most important piece of sexual research since the Kinsey Papers," I have to sit up and take notice. No mere work of bookshelf fluff designed to titillate (hehe) the masses, Sex At Dawn is instead one of the most well-researched works on the roots of human sexuality that I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It's no secret that most modern relationships are broken affairs- soulless/passionless marriages where neither spouse much cares for the other but stays out of some sense of obligation, or cheats rather than discussing and owning up to their feelings of flagging sexual interest (which can not help but end in bitter recriminations and acrimonious heartbreak). With porn of every flavor a mere web search away, swingers on Craigslist, casual bar hook-ups, marriage counselors popping up like mold spores, the chaste Victorian notion of "one love, happily ever after" has taken a severe beating in the past century. If humans had evolved to be monogamous pairs raising children, what authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha call the Standard Narrative, then wouldn't these systems work better? Wouldn't we naturally fall into them rather than having to create so many social pressures and laws to force us into conforming? Through meticulous research into our closest animal ancestors (that'd be the bonobo and not the chimp, for those with scorecards), anthropological studies of foraging/pre-agricultural communities, and physiological analysis, the authors make a rather convincing case that monogamy is not intrinsic to the human condition but rather a very recent adaptation that humans are still fitfully trying to conform to. While at times a bit dry and overly analytical, the book is still an incredibly interesting read. The section on human semen competition alone provided much fodder for discussion around the dinner table. Still, as ground-breaking as their research may be, the advice they give to couples is still the same- we need to communicate our wants, needs, and desires better and to understand that flagging sexual interest and the desire for new mates is an inherent part of our genetic make-up. This book shouldn't be taken as a clarion call for men to run out and be cads, but as a means of beginning to find better ways to define our sexuality and work toward a more satisfying future for all.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laura Kelley

    This book is not an attack on monogamy. It is a well-researched and well-written exploration of how modern sexuality has evolved. This is a must read for anyone in a relationship or would one day like to be in a relationship. The premise is simple. We have been socialized to believe that when you love someone monogomy should come naturally and easily. However, the facts bear out a different reality. I have seen statistics that indicate 80% of married men report cheating on their wives and 50% of This book is not an attack on monogamy. It is a well-researched and well-written exploration of how modern sexuality has evolved. This is a must read for anyone in a relationship or would one day like to be in a relationship. The premise is simple. We have been socialized to believe that when you love someone monogomy should come naturally and easily. However, the facts bear out a different reality. I have seen statistics that indicate 80% of married men report cheating on their wives and 50% of married women report cheating on their husbands. Moreover, it is absolutely clear that infidelity is a leading cause of divorce in the United States. If monogomy is so easy and natural, then why are we so bad at it? Well, this book explores the possibility that monogomy, for human beings, is not natural. Instead our pre-agricultural ancestors were most likely very much like bonobos (which, along with chimpanzees are our most closely related primates). If we accept the possibility that it is true that monogomy is not natural for us, then what is the "solution?" In all honesty, the book does not delve into that issue. Instead, it is a primer meant to demonstrate that monogomy it's not natural. It demonstrates that the very reason why it is difficult is because it is contrary to how we have evolved. Does this mean that monogomy is wrong? That it shouldn't be attempted? that it's futile? Absolutely not. We didn't evolve to wear clothes or shoes or wear deodorant or do desk jobs... Yet, we, human beings, do those very things. What I have taken away from this book is that monogomy is really hard. Perhaps cheating doesn't make someone a "bad person." Perhaps some definitional flexibility is warranted. Perhaps we can have a dialogue about this without shame or indignation. Perhaps by understanding our origins we can be better prepared for our future. This book is just the beginning of the conversation that we all need to have about modern relationships and modern sexuality.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kumar McMillan

    UPDATE: After writing this review (below) I looked deeper into the author's references; most of them are psuedoscience. I was very disappointed to learn that this book is not based on sound science. This is a fascinating and well researched (edit: so I thought!) view into how humans became the highly sexual creatures we are today. It flips the outdated and poorly proven Hobbes theory--that we were brutish, impoverished, war torn prehistoric animals--on its head. Instead, it offers compelling evid UPDATE: After writing this review (below) I looked deeper into the author's references; most of them are psuedoscience. I was very disappointed to learn that this book is not based on sound science. This is a fascinating and well researched (edit: so I thought!) view into how humans became the highly sexual creatures we are today. It flips the outdated and poorly proven Hobbes theory--that we were brutish, impoverished, war torn prehistoric animals--on its head. Instead, it offers compelling evidence and astute observations that for 90% of our 2.5 million years on Earth, humans basically had enjoyable sex with each other all day (multiple partners) and ate nutritious food from the earth without war and without many worries. The reason we enjoy sex so much today is that we've spent so much time enjoying it. In fact, the mechanics of male and female orgasms were likely shaped by these egalitarian, prehistoric foraging societies involving shared sex partners and even group sex. The book analyzes the peculiarities of our sex organs and compares us to other hominids (most notably chimps and bonobos) and isolated human societies to make a pretty convincing argument about this radical theory of prehistoric life. Monogamy is most likely a recent development in our existence and thus many of our instincts go against the principles of monogamy. How did monogamy prevail? The book sites the recent event of agriculture as the heaviest culprit since it introduced the concept of ownership; this concept took root and shaped many modern day societies. The authors ultimately call monogamy a failure anyway.

  29. 5 out of 5

    shakespeareandspice

    It was difficult to take this book as seriously because of the snarky little tone this book has—which honestly needn’t be there. I realize this is coming from someone who already thinks of science as fascinating and doesn’t need the lighter tone to keep things interesting but honestly, this book has too much attitude. It lacks a level of professionalism that, if I’m going to read an informative book about the science of sex, needs. Part of why I bring this is up is also because the only other boo It was difficult to take this book as seriously because of the snarky little tone this book has—which honestly needn’t be there. I realize this is coming from someone who already thinks of science as fascinating and doesn’t need the lighter tone to keep things interesting but honestly, this book has too much attitude. It lacks a level of professionalism that, if I’m going to read an informative book about the science of sex, needs. Part of why I bring this is up is also because the only other book about sex that I’ve read is Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. But the difference between the two is that while Bonk is funny, it is funny because Mary Roach is not a scholar in a scientific field and thus, her humor is a genuine commentary on the research she is doing. Authors of Sex at Dawn, however, just made me irritated when trying to joke about what is their daily work (or so I assume; I’m sure there aren’t discussion about sex at the dinner table every day). So all I kept thinking was, “why is this funny to you, sir?” In terms of content, I’ll nod along with a lot of what the other reviewers have had to say, which is that a lot of material in here is presented in a rather peculiar way. The authors do a decent job of presenting all the studies available, however, they fail to make any reasonable conclusions where I was looking for one, and make some rather bizarre assumptions where there wasn’t enough evidence to support a theory properly in the first place. The book also seems to advertise itself as a very “radical” look at human sexual behavior. This is a nice way to get me to read the book, but when it comes to the bigger, juicer topics such as polygamy or monogamy, the authors conveniently avoid taking a stance. Now I’m not saying that there needs to be a straight answer for everything, but it would be kind of nice to know what the author thinks is the more reasonable conclusion to make, or just to better understand what we should be looking more into—as in, what’s next? How do we build on this? All in all, this was entertaining. But it is most definitely pop-science. It offers some interesting cultures, behaviors, and discussions to look further into, but this is definitely not the place where we stop trying to study the human sexual nature.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I heard Ryan interviewed on the podcast "Sex Nerd Sandra", was intrigued by his novel ideas, and decided to pick up the book. The overarching argument is that men and women were not historically monogamous the way society and many scientists claim. They back up this with physical and behavioral evidence from our close cousins, the chimp and bonobo, and from the information we have about prehistoric human societies and existing hunter-gatherers. The authors are also somewhat avowed neo-Rousseauns I heard Ryan interviewed on the podcast "Sex Nerd Sandra", was intrigued by his novel ideas, and decided to pick up the book. The overarching argument is that men and women were not historically monogamous the way society and many scientists claim. They back up this with physical and behavioral evidence from our close cousins, the chimp and bonobo, and from the information we have about prehistoric human societies and existing hunter-gatherers. The authors are also somewhat avowed neo-Rousseauns in their belief that pre-agrarian societies were more peaceful, more cooperative and even healthier than those from the "civilizations" which followed at the advent of agriculture. It's an appealing idea, but intuitively overly-simplistic. In this world, sexual promiscuity was used primarily as a way to strengthen close-knit community bonds, the authors say. Reading this makes you question common assumptions about human sexuality. Where the argument peters out, I think, is in the last few chapters when the authors talk about implications for modern people. How does one translate a sexuality that developed in very small bands of hunter-gatherers to our present hyper-connected, transitory and hugely populated world? Ryan and Jethá point out the problems with repressing sexuality, but don't offer many workable solutions. I was also miffed when, after talking at length about how females are just as promiscuous as males in related apes and pre-ag societies, go on to talk about how to deal with men wanting sexual variety in today's world. Why the sudden gender specificity at this point in the book? In general, the book celebrates female sexuality (even suggesting that matriarchies like those of the Mosuo in China might be a better way to structure family life), but inconsistencies like this betray a model that still needs polishing.

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