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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality Hardcover – June 29, 2010
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“Sex At Dawn is the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948.” (Dan Savage)
“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)
“Sex At Dawn challenges conventional wisdom about sex in a big way... This is a provocative, entertaining, and pioneering book. I learned a lot from it and recommend it highly.” (Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Healthy Aging)
“Sex At Dawn is a provocative and engaging synthesis... that has the added benefit of being a joy to read.... A book sure to generate discussion, and one likely to produce more than a few difficult conversations with family marriage counselors.” (Eric Michael Johnson, Seed Magazine)
“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.” (Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy)
“A wonderfully provocative and well-written book which completely re-evaluates human sexual behaviour and gets to the root of many of our social and psychological ills.” (Steve Taylor, author of The Fall and Waking From Sleep)
“One of the most original books I’ve read in years, Sex at Dawn manages to be both enormously erudite and wildly entertaining—even, frequently, hilarious. . . . A must-read for anyone interested in where our sexual impulses come from.” (Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon's Privates)
“This paradigm-shifting book is a thoroughly original discussion of the origins and nature of human sexuality... These authors have a gift for making complex material reader-friendly, filling each chapter with humor and passion as well as dozens of revolutionary insights.” (Stanley Krippner, Ph.D.)
“Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha have written the essential corrective to the evolutionary psychology literature...” (Stanton Peele, Ph.D.)
From the Back Cover
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.
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Top customer reviews
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It's not hard to understand why "Sex at Dawn" has been embraced by sexologists while primatologists and anthropologists have been noticeably cooler in their reception.The book is like a bomb thrown not only against the very notion of monogamy but also against the standard narrative in anthropology that pair-bonding is universal in human societies because women trade sexual access for food and protection. The authors make little effort to conceal their impatience and irritation with this 'standard narrative' and, indeed, much of "Sex at Dawn" reads as though it were written by an exasperated zealot (or over-ambitious grad student) who can't fathom why everyone else remains so in the dark. At the very least, it's not boring.
But the book should probably be taken with more than a few grains of salt. First of all, "Sex at Dawn" rehashes an already well-worn Enlightenment-era belief in the uninhibited 'noble savage,' uncorrupted by the restraints of civilization. Rousseau was, of course, a proponent of this and Diderot's "Supplement to the Voyages of Bougainville" pretty much encapsulates Ryan and Jetha, albeit with more wit. As others have pointed out, there are instances of monogamous indigenous peoples too that the authors don't really consider. Also, they don't really respond to one of their central theses: if the adoption of agriculture was such a disaster (sexually and in terms of quality of life) for human beings, why did they persist with it? If agricultural village settlements forced human beings into a monogamous corset, why then did they persist with it for 6,000 years before the advent of the first civilizations?
Finally, Ryan and Jetha stake much of their argument on asserting that 99% of human being's DNA overlap with that of bonobos, the most sexually promiscuous primates. Yet, we share the same percentage (99%) with chimps who are more territorial, aggressive, and somewhat less promiscuous than bonobos. Essentially, by privileging bonobos Ryan and Jetha over-correct previous writers's (like Jared Diamond) tendency to focus on our chimp heritage: we really need a book that tries to relate both our chimp and bonobo genetic backgrounds together.
Still, for a book so steeped in academic research, it's a blast to read, except when the authors start to consider the implications of their own argument. Having spent 300 pages explaining how monogamy is so unnatural and sexual exclusivity is probably the main cause of marital failure (in their view), they then shy away from any prescriptive advice. They don't quite want to push marriage over a cliff and advocate polyamory (for males, anyway; they're even more reticent interestingly enough on the implications of their argument for female behavior) but the logic of the book tends in that direction. But, as Freud argued, we are stuck with civilization and its neuroses whether we like them or not. Thus, they can't quite advocate free love (not as long as we have private property, anyway) but they insist that marriage is a botch too. For all its strident confidence in our biologically-driven amorality, "Sex at Dawn" ends by waffling all over the place.
I did love reading it, however, even when I recognized that the authors were pushing their case too far. At the very least, it gets you thinking about why so many marriages and pairings fail, why cheating is so rampant, and whether there is indeed an evolutionary legacy that is inimical to our social arrangements (rather than just instances of individual moral failure).
Okay, point taken. So, what's the right way?
Great book. Fun to read. Read it!
Most recent customer reviews
I like the philosophy but dont like people claiming science and spouting...Read more