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Monday, March 5, 2012

Review: Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Title: Sex at Dawn
Author: Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: June 29, 2010
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You're interested in science (specifically evolution), psychology, and human sexuality.
What's the Story?:

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

Ryan and Jethá'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 Jethá 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."

My Two Cents:

I read this book in one night. It's a great book. This book has a bit of science (specifically having to do with evolution) and a little bit of psychology. As much as we like to think that we're smart and intelligent and capable of making our decisions. As this book points out, so many of the things we do and feel are due to nature and thousands and millions of years of our ancestors learning how to get it right. Not those really intelligent thoughts that we're sure that we totally and utterly thought of ourselves. It's almost mind blowing to think of things that way.

And sex being one of our most base behaviors is most definitely not immune to our animal behavior. While I don't agree with everything that the authors had to say (monogamy does work for some couples and they don't address same sex relationships really but obviously those happen out in the world so there has to be some reasoning). I learned a lot from this book.

I know a lot of people don't like to read non-fiction because they feel that the books are often dry and feel like reading textbooks. This is most definitely not the case with this book. It's engaging and written in a sometimes amusing but always informative way that even those who have an aversion to non-fiction will probably still get something out of this book.



  1. I've really gotten into non-fiction over the past couple years, and this one sounds great. But I, too, feel frustrated whenever I read about monogamy not being natural or not working because I absolutely think it does... don't some mammals actually mate for life??

    1. The interesting thing is that I know that there are animals that do mate for life (swans are a good example) but the book only points out animals that are commonly said to mate for life but don't really (penguins were a specific example in the book - they change mates each year). This book is definitely not without its biases but as long as you walk into the book knowing that, it's still a really good read!

    2. very few animals mate for life but the animals that are most like us (social primates) do not mate for life.

      Of course sexual monogamy works for some but not for all. And how many would choose it if it was not the dominant narrative that we are taught from day one?

  2. I'm glad to hear this is a non-dry work of nonfiction. It sounds really interesting and I'm trying to find a few nonfiction books to read this year...definitely adding to the list!

    1. Yes! I'm always on the lookout for good non-fiction books. I feel like I need more variety between fiction and non-fiction in my life!

  3. Seems kind of odd that they didn't address same-sex relationships, but it still sounds pretty interesting.

    1. Yeah, I would have liked to see that. There's same sex couples in the animal kingdom as well!


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