- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 5, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780061707810
- ISBN-13: 978-0061707810
- ASIN: 0061707813
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 905 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships Paperback – July 5, 2011
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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
In this controversial, thought-provoking, and brilliant book, renegade thinkers Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá debunk almost everything we “know” about sex, weaving together convergent, frequently overlooked evidence from anthropology, archaeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality to show how far from human nature monogamy really is. In Sex at Dawn, 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.
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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).
Esther Perel has touched upon the gender differences while noting that statistically men and women are as likely to cheat. The authors reference her in some aspects but as with the rest of the book, it seems to cherry pick rather than be more thorough in presenting their findings.
While the authors added a note to address why they provided an anecdote of Phil only, it seemed lazy to do so by not looking for some anecdotes or analysis of women's sex drives and motivations, even if complicated, and breaking down such complexities to also note whether women are as biologically wired to be non-monogamous as well.
To those thinking of reading it: Do it. The book is dense. It is full of citations, quotes from studies, and anthropological research, though quite fun once you get into the rhythm and style of it. What's truly awesome is what the research and data reveal about human sexuality. There's more to us than the stories told in Disney movies, religious texts, and fairy tales (and far more importantly to me, it successfully challenges the standard model of sexual human behavior held up by most scientists). I'd read a chapter a night, or several on a flight, and then spend the next day sporadically realizing why something in a past relationship happened, or why I have always felt a certain way about myself or the wonderful women in my life. The book has made me grateful, more mature, and more comfortable in my own skin and emotions.