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Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn Paperback – July 14, 2012

3.5 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Sex - just what is it all about? Don't other species just get on with it? What are the conflicts and jealousy, pain and disappointments, really all about? The 2010 book SEX AT DAWN tells us that this modern misery is due to our belief in a false evolutionary story about human pair-bonding and nuclear family units. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá claim that their evidence shows that before 10,000 years ago sexual constraints did not exist, paternity was not an issue, and men and women engaged in fairly free and casual bonobo-like sexual activity. Our ancestors, they argue, not only shared food, they shared sex. Are they right? Using predominantly the same sources, SEX AT DUSK takes another look at that evidence, fills in many gaps, makes many corrections, and reveals something far less candy-coated. Bringing together evolutionary biology, primatology, anthropology, and human sexuality, SEX AT DUSK shows that, rather than revealing important facts about our sexual evolution, Sex at Dawn shrouds it in a fog of misinformation and faulty logic that can only lead us further into the dark.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (July 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1477697284
  • ISBN-13: 978-1477697283
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I really wanted to love this book. Sex at Dawn, the work this one is based on, struck me as being overly one-sided, going too far to paint our species as promiscuous (perhaps strategically so). I had hoped that this would be the one that struck a balance between the "standard narrative" and Ryan's polyamory.

However, most of Dusk is simply a reiteration of the standard narrative and even at times a dogmatic upholding of tradition, even going so far as to imply that monogamy is how societies advance. Perhaps so, but this is obviously not the fair, balanced take on the subject of human evolution that I had hoped for.

It took me a week to read Dawn and two months to read Dusk because Saxon's writing style is a little tough to read. I would need to re-read whole paragraphs a number of times to get at the heart of the matter, and often the arguments were non-linear, disconnected, or poorly and falsely interpreted. A number of her arguments actually bolster Ryan's case and an even greater number prove nothing in either direction, though much of the discussion is quite relevant and effective to her goals. At the very least, all of the subject matter is interesting -- it's sex, after all!

My big problem is with the straw man she evokes, saying Dawn promotes everyone sleeping with everyone or old men sleeping with young women in incestuous groups (p. 308). It's an unfair portrayal of Ryan's social-bonding hypothesis and utter disregard for the social and emotional architecture that men and women own. She immerses her rebuttal in biology, rather than sociality, where Ryan's thesis lives, thus missing the point entirely.
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I support Sex at Dawn's agenda, but I can't support the deceptive methods it goes about arguing for it. Sex at Dusk doesn't give the authors of Sex at Dawn enough benefit of the doubt. Saxon sometimes assumes that Ryan and Jetha are making arguments that they're not actually making. This leads her to sometimes criticize them on areas she actually agrees with them. Dawn is a much more entertaining read, but Dusk is far more rigorous in its arguments - after all, it's arguments are based on the arguments made by all evolutionary biologists.

Dawn strikes me as a pop science book for a scientific theory that hasn't been scientifically argued yet. Dawn argues against a straw man version of the "standard narrative", without ever explaining why the "standard narrative" is standard. Dawn scoffs at ideas about "mixed strategies", without explaining what that means. Evolutionary biology is not a simple subject, and Dawn glosses over a lot of the complexities that get in the way of its arguments.

Sex at Dusk does a much better job of keeping its political motivations from interfering with making a scientific argument - though there are still some clear political motivations. Dawn comes from the perspective of sex-positive feminism, and is promoting polyamory (an agenda I agree with). Dusk comes from the feminist view that men and women are different, but that women should still be respected as women.

Dusk really lays bare how Dawn takes quotes out of context, and misrepresents the views of various academics. By the end, I don't think I can really trust anything Ryan or Jetha say. Some of the misrepresentations were so blatant they blew me away.
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Like many people, I found out about Sex at Dusk through Sex at Dawn. I am always interested when a groundbreaking work receives an impassioned response, such as author Lynn Saxon’s feeling it necessary to write a whole book to rebut a pop-science text. She was so offended by Ryan and Jetha’s study, Sex At Dawn, that she had to refute it page by page, which is itself an amazing thing. I felt I should read her work too, to have an understanding of the other point of view on the topic.

Unfortunately, Saxon’s work is tedious and repetitive. The worst part of it is that I cannot even tell you what her primary thesis is, other than “Ryan and Jetha are wrong.” No, actually, even that’s not it, because much of Saxon’s documentation supports the material in Sex At Dawn. She give myriad examples of the absence of monogamy in human and animal groups around the world.

Saxon claims that Sex At Dawn is “bad science” and she feels compelled to disabuse us all of the perceived fallacies therein. Where Ryan and Jetha suggest that human behavior is generally more sexual, like the bonobo, rather than violent like the chimpanzee, Saxon takes offense; she argues instead that humans are more like chimps, or more like gorillas, or occasionally more like baboons, but not possibly like bonobos. Ryan and Jetha’s thesis that monogamy may not be the only legitimate (let alone historically ideal) relationship form, Saxon denies it on the grounds that only a monogamous pair-bond of the sort ubiquitously adhered to in every hunter-gatherer society in all of human history could have built the peaceful, harmonious western civilization in which we live.
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