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The Evolution of Human Sexuality [Paperback]

by Donald Symons
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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The Evolution of Human Sexuality + The Moral Animal: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology
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Editorial Reviews


"A classic. I have used it again and again in both senior level classes and graduate seminars."-- Professor Pierre L. Van Den Berghe, University of Washington

About the Author

Donald Symons is at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (February 5, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195029070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195029079
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #416,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Research over the last three decades in the field which has become known as evolutionary psychology has focussed disproportionately on mating behaviour. Geoffrey Miller (1998) has even argued that it is the theory of sexual selection rather than that of natural selection which guides most research in the field. This results not from the prurience of researchers. Rather, given that reproductive success is the ultimate currency of natural selection, reproductive behaviour is perhaps the form of behaviour most directly subject to selective pressures (see Miller 2000).

Almost all of this research ultimately traces its ancestry to 'The Evolution of Human Sexuality' by Donald Symons. Indeed, much of it was explicitly designed to test claims and predictions made by Symons.

For example, in his discussion of the age at which women are perceived as most attractive by men, Symons argues that, if human evolutionary history were characterised by fleeting one-off sexual encounters, this would be the age of greatest fertility. However, if men evaluate women for the purposes of more lasting unions, then men should be maximally attracted to women of the highest 'reproductive value' - in other words, those at the beginning of their reproductive careers such that a male is able to monopolise their entire reproductive output (p189). Evidence subsequently collected from sources such as 'lonely heats advertisements' and surveys (e.g. Kenrick and Keefe 1992) confirmed Symons' intuitive impression that it was women of maximal reproductive value who were perceived as most attractive.

Support has even emerged for some of Symons' more speculative hunches.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Battle Of The Sexes Is No Longer A Mystery! November 6, 1999
By A Customer
The great mystery to me when I was growing up was- Why were women and men so different in the way they handled sex? Why the huge differences in their sexual instincts?
In the book "The Evolution of Human Sexuality" these differences are explained in these terms:
If evolution existed, then successful sexual strategies had to be different for men and women.
Women openly acknowledge that they are attracted to men of wealth and power, with age a very distant secondary consideration if power and wealth are not to be had. This makes sense in terms of the fact that resources would have been available to raise her kids.
Another example: A man who wed a middle aged wealthy woman would have been a genetic dead end because the fertility of human females declines very rapidly after the age of 30-35. Youth, beauty (the appearance of health), and some assurance of fidelity (in wife material) was critical if his resources were to be committed to a woman. With one night stands, men can be far, far less picky.
The two sexes could not have evolved the same reproductive strategies. Success for one sex would have meant genetic oblivion for the other!
The offspring that survive would tend to have the same instincts of those humans who reproduced successfully. The patterns outlined in this great book can also be seen all thoughout the animal kingdom as well as in all peoples in all times.
You will understand what is going on with women and men after reading this book- it will not be that easy to discuss this with members of the opposit sex, however. This is a book for people who want to understand reality- not political correctness!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Standard Setting August 21, 2001
By A Customer
It's hard to believe this book is over twenty years old, so little has it dated. One of the very best of its genre. Current writers of thick easy paperbacks on the subject of human evolution have not matched this book for scholarship, relevance, or modest wit. Sprinkled with nicely chosen literary references that not only satisfy literary readers, but serve as an important and neglected source of data on human sexuality. Professional readers will have professional disputes and quibbles, but the average woman or man interested in their most basic interests will find this surprisingly readable academic book a revelation.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, a seminal work! June 3, 2005
The understanding of human sexuality may be one of the most important issues in understanding ourselves as humans. In my professional life as a biologist, interested in evolution and the brain, this book has been an icon. Initially Symons received loads of criticism for appealing to sociological observations from the historical record. But, the fact is that his historical observations have stood the test of time. I highly recommend it.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overall good analysis but presentation lacks clarity. December 18, 2005
The author's goal is to research the problem of human sexuality as viewed through the prism of (darwinian) evolution. In the big picture of evolution and human nature, free will and ultimate causes are important issues and they are treated properly.

Sexual emancipation, female orgasm, copulation as a female service, sexual atractiveness, forcible rape are just a few of the well discussed subjects throughout the book. The author succeeds in bringing light in these area by systematic, scientific analysis of the data available and of the theories built upon that data.

The book is however rather poorly written, with a lot of empty filling, with some sloppy parts, and often times with the obvious brought up to the level of scientific truth. Nevertheless, significant effort is put into formulating the "obvious truth" in a scientifically coherent manner. The very good quotes from other authors and the graph (and its interpretation) presented in the sexual variety chapter are rather enligthing and a refreshing original contribution in a text dry in many places.

I will conclude with a beautiful quote from the Marquis de Vauvenargues as given in the book:

"Emotion has taught mankind to reason".
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Work in the Study of Human Sexuality
This book is a bit dated, but Symons is an excellent researcher and author. This is a very useful resource.
Published 2 months ago by William S. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars A good starting pointing
Not as up update now since publication was some years ago but an excellent framework of biology and concepts to develop further understanding.
Published 3 months ago by raisinhead
Donald Symons (born 1942) is an anthropologist who is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbara. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Steven H. Propp
4.0 out of 5 stars Very thorough scholarly and worthwhile read....
This book on the evolution of human sexuality is a classic. It packs a lot of material into a small place and the explanations hang together well. Read more
Published on February 18, 2007 by Patrick D. Goonan
5.0 out of 5 stars The end of the political correctness as we know it
This book has more than 20 years, and, despite the fact that it provide a simple answer, beautiful and falsable in scientific terms, for the differences in the male and female... Read more
Published on July 27, 2004 by A. G. Corona
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll Profet By This Book
Let's not kid ourselves: we'd all like to know more about sex. Well, look no further. Dressed up as a so-called "academic" book about human sexuality, this is an... Read more
Published on June 15, 2001
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