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Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships [Kindle Edition]

Christopher Ryan , Cacilda Jetha
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (471 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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 Jethå. While debunking almost everything we "know" about sex, they offer a bold alternative explanation in this provocative and brilliant book.

Ryan and Jethå'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 Jethå 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.



Editorial Reviews

Review

“You clearly have an exciting book on your hands, whether people agree with it or not: these are issues that will need debating over and over before we will arrive at a resolution.”

Review

"Funny, witty, and light ... Sex at Dawn is a scandal in the best sense, one that will have you reading the best parts aloud and reassessing your ideas about humanity's basic urges well after the book is done."--Newsweek

Product Details

  • File Size: 1467 KB
  • Print Length: 420 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0061707805
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007679QTG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,692 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
600 of 653 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sexy Beasts July 4, 2010
Format:Hardcover
This review originally appeared in Seed Magazine: [...]

When we think of the first swinger parties most of us imagine 1970s counter-culture, we don't picture Top Gun fighter pilots in World War II. Yet, according to researchers Joan and Dwight Dixon, it was on military bases that "partner swapping" first originated in the United States. As the group with the highest casualty rate during the war, these elite pilots and their wives "shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual" and had an unspoken agreement to care for one another if a woman's husband didn't make it back home. Like the sexy apes known as bonobos, this kind of open sexuality served a social function that provided a way to relieve stress and form long-lasting bonds.

For the husband and wife team Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá in their new book Sex At Dawn, this example is one of many that suggests the human species did not evolve in monogamous, nuclear families but rather in small, intimate groups where "most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time." We are the descendants of these multimale-multifemale mating groups and, even though we've constructed a radically different society from our hunter-gatherer forebears, the behavioral and psychological traits our species evolved in the distant past still manifest themselves today. Ryan, a psychologist, and Jethá, a psychiatrist, argue that understanding human sexual evolution this way helps to explain our species' unique creativity inside (as well as outside) the marriage bed. It may also shed light on why fidelity has been such a persistent problem for both men and women throughout recorded history.
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586 of 652 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Amusing but flawed. March 26, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an amusing and light read, salted with sarcastic quips and, of course, covering a salacious topic. It endeavors to refute the "common wisdom" of just about every field (history, biology, anthropology, etc.) on the subject of human mating systems, and while it appears to succeed here and there, it is largely done by attacking an exaggerated straw man, or by refuting overstatements made in popular science books or in newspaper articles. The lion's share of sources includes the likes of Matt Ridley, Desmond Morris, E. O. Wilson, and Richard Dawkins -- authors who (1) are rarely actively pursuing primary scientific research in what they write about, and (2) are writing for the general public, with, naturally, a tendency to exaggerate and generalize -- so these popular texts are easy targets. At times, Ryan and Jethá demonstrate an imperfect understanding of evolution (e.g. no evolutionary biologist needs to ask the rhetorical question at the end of the middle paragraph on p. 53); at other times they allow inconsistencies to slip by unaddressed. For example, if the true state of hunter-gatherer humans is to share everything, show no jealousy, and for women not to barter with sex, how is it that the bride and groom at a Canela marriage must be instructed not to be jealous (p. 138), or that a Canela bride-to-be participates in orgies in exchange for meat (p. 120)? Overall, it's an entertaining, quick read, but not without flaws in some of its claims and conclusions.

The biggest shortcoming of this book is its epistemological framework: it seeks to uncover our true "human nature," but "human nature" itself is a flawed concept, and early sociobiologists were long-ago admonished for using this term. Biologists know that phenotype (i.e.
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95 of 112 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Much that is True, but Remember: Is does not Imply Ought September 21, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Sex at Dawn is a popular exposition of the simple and compelling thesis that a casual sexuality was the norm for our hunter-gatherer forbears, and that faithful pair-bonding in the form of monogamous marriage is alien to our sexual natures as human beings. The authors hold that the shift to the norm of faithful pair bonding arose only upon the advent of settled agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Moreover, they argue, "promiscuous impulses remain our biological baseline, our reference point" (p. 46), and society would be better off if we acknowledged the ubiquity of these impulses and offered them social approbation.

Ryan and Jethá justify their position mostly by deploying anecdotal and unsystematic anthropological evidence, and the authors have no anthropological credentials. Their style of argumentation is highly informed and informative for novices (I am not an anthropologist, but I have read widely in the professional anthropological literature), but it is completely unsystematic, and hence untrustworthy. I call it "Google research" because the data appears to flow from Googling one or two terms, such as "sex anthropology" and "human sex primate sex" and then cherry-picking the millions of citations.

Despite their lack of systematic research, the authors' conclusions from the anthropological literature are usually not far from the truth. The notion that we can infer from our genetic predispositions how we should behave, however, is simply illogical. Humans form strong pair bonds and humans, like members of almost every other species that forms strong pair bonds (including, for instance, almost all nesting birds) often cheat on their partners. But this fact does not imply that this behavior should be morally sanctioned or social encouraged.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting...good premise
For anyone interested in the evidence that science has offered for alternatives to the rigid cultural norm called monogamy...hopefully this conversation will be continued...
Published 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very interesting takes on relationships...definitely a book men and women should read.
Published 1 day ago by Deserie Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex for Meat is a reality
A worthy successor to "The Naked Ape 1970 Desmond Morris" and "The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee 1997 Jared Diamond"
Published 3 days ago by George M. Horsley Dmd
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Good research & well documented. Left me wanting a better closure on American culture.
Published 3 days ago by Dallyce R. Sand
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
Great book!
Published 7 days ago by ER
5.0 out of 5 stars Most Important Book I Have Ever Read !
This book ties together many ideas I have had in my 54 years on this planet. It is amazing, amusing and frustrating. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Monkey Business
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Amazing!
Published 19 days ago by James Thill
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Look at Sex and Sexuality
This book was an astounding look at sex in our primate relatives, different practices in different societies, and current beliefs, including masturbation, monogamy, polyandry and... Read more
Published 19 days ago by Individualist
5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Good book - Gives a different perspective
Published 19 days ago by Stephen lockhart Bus Exp
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Intriguing - but I would not advise reading too much into it.
Published 22 days ago by B. Koral
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More About the Author

Christopher Ryan, Ph.D.
Christopher received a BA in English and American literature from Hobart College in 1984 and an MA and Ph.D. in research psychology at Saybrook University twenty years later. He spent the intervening decades traveling around the world, living in unexpected places working at very odd jobs (e.g., gutting salmon in Alaska, teaching English to prostitutes in Bangkok and self-defense to land-reform activists in Mexico, managing commercial real-estate in New York's Diamond District, helping Spanish physicians publish their research). Somewhere along the way, he decided to pursue doctoral studies in psychology. Drawing upon his multi-cultural experience, Christopher's research focused on trying to distinguish the universally human from the cultural. His doctoral dissertation analyzes the prehistoric roots of human sexuality, and was guided by the world-renowned psychologist, Stanley Krippner.

Based in Barcelona since the mid 1990s, Christopher has lectured at the University of Barcelona Medical School and worked as a consultant at various local hospitals. He's given presentations around the world (in both English and Spanish), and published peer commentaries, scientific and popular articles as well as book chapters. His work can be found in publications such as Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press), SAGA: Best New Writing on Mythology (White Cloud Press), and a text book used in medical schools and teaching hospitals throughout Spain and Latin America.

Check out Christopher's blog at http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/sex-dawn

---------------------

Cacilda Jethá, M.D.
Cacilda Jethá has an Indian face, a European education, and an African soul. She was born in Mozambique to a family that had immigrated two generations earlier from Goa, India. As a child, she fled civil war to Portugal, where she received most of her education and medical training before returning to Mozambique in the late 1980s. A young physician determined to help heal her country, Cacilda spent seven years as the only physician serving some 50,000 people in a vast rural district in the north of the country. While there, Cacilda also conducted research (funded by the World Health Organization) on the sexual behavior of rural Mozambicans in order to help design more effective AIDS prevention efforts.

After almost a decade in Mozambique, Cacilda returned to Portugal, where she completed her medical residency training in both psychiatry (at the prestigious Hospital de Julio de Matos in Lisbon) and occupational medicine.

She and Christopher Ryan currently reside together in Barcelona, Spain, where she is a practicing psychiatrist at Hospital San Joan de Déu and in private practice. She speaks Portuguese, French, Spanish, Catalán, English, and some rusty Swahili.

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