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

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

by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha


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Sex at Dawn challenges conventional wisdom about sex in a big way. By examining the prehistoric origins of human sexual behavior the authors are able to expose the fallacies and weaknesses of standard theories proposed by most experts. This is a provocative, entertaining, and pioneering book. I learned a lot from it and recommend it highly.” — Andrew Weil, M.D.

 “Sex at Dawn irrefutably shows that what is obvious—that human beings, both male and female, are lustful—is true, and has always been so…. The more dubious its evidentiary basis and lack of connection with current reality, the more ardently the scientific inevitability of monogamy is maintained—even as it falls away around us.” — Stanton Peele, Ph.D.

A controversial, idea-driven book that challenges everything you (think you) know about sex, monogamy, marriage, and family. In the words of Steve Taylor (The Fall, Waking From Sleep), Sex at Dawn is “a wonderfully provocative and well-written book which completely re-evaluates human sexual behavior and gets to the root of many of our social and psychological ills.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061707810
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/05/2011
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 31,495
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)

About the Author

Christopher Ryan, PhD, is a research psychologist. He lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Cacilda Jethá, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist. She lives in Barcelona, Spain.

Table of Contents

Preface: A Primate Meets His Match (A note from one of the authors) xi

Introduction: Another Well-intentioned Inquisition 1

A Few Million Years in a Few Pages 10

Part I On The Origin Of The Specious 17

1 Remember the Yucatán! 19

You Are What You Eat 20

2 What Darwin Didn't Know About Sex 25

The Flintstonization of Prehistory 31

What Is Evolutionary Psychology and Why Should You Care? 36

Lewis Henry Morgan 42

3 A Closer Look at the Standard Narrative of Human Sexual Evolution 46

How Darwin Insults Your Mother (The Dismal Science of Sexual Economics) 48

The Famously Flaccid Female Libido 51

Male Parental Investment (MPI) 52

"Mixed Strategies" in the War Between the Sexes 55

Extended Sexual Receptivity and Concealed Ovulation 58

4 The Ape in the Mirror 61

Primates and Human Nature 64

Doubting the Chimpanzee Model 67

In Search of Primate Continuity 69

Part II Lust in paradise (solitary?) 79

5 Who Lost What in Paradise? 81

On Getting Funky and Rockin Round the Clock 83

6 Who's Your Daddies? 90

The Joy of S.E.Ex. 93

The Promise of Promiscuity 98

Bonobo Beginnings 101

7 Mommies Dearest 105

Nuclear Meltdown 109

8 Making a Mess of Marriage, Mating, and Monogamy 113

Marriage: The "Fundamental Condition" of the Human Species? 115

On Matrimonial Whoredom 119

9 Paternity Certainty: The Crumbling Cornerstone of the Standard Narrative 124

Love, Lust, and Liberty at Lugu Lake 126

On the Inevitability of Patriarchy 131

The March of the Monogamous 134

10 Jealousy: A Beginner's Guide to Coveting Thy Neighbor's Spouse 138

Zero-Sum Sex 141

How to Tell When a Man Loves a Woman 146

Part III The Way We Weren't 151

11 "The Wealth of Nature" (Poor?) 153

Poor, Pitiful Me 158

The Despair of Millionaires 161

Finding Contentment "at the Bottom of the Scale of Human Beings" 163

12 The Selfish Meme (Nasty?) 166

Homo Economicus 166

The Tragedy of the Commons 169

Dreams of Perpetual Progress 172

Ancient Poverty or Assumed Affluence? 173

On Paleolithic Politics 176

13 The Never-Ending Battle over Prehistoric War (Brutish?) 182

Professor Pinker, Red in Tooth and Claw 183

The Mysterious Disappearance of Margaret Power 187

The Spoils of War 190

The Napoleonic Invasion (The Yanomami Controversy) 194

The Desperate Search for Hippie Hypocrisy and Bonobo Brutality 197

14 The Longevity Lie (Short?) 200

When Does Life Begin ? When Does It End? 202

Is 80 the New 30? 204

Stressed to Death 208

Who You Calling a Starry-Eyed Romantic, Pal? 210

Part IV Bodies In Motion 213

15 Little Big Man 215

All's Fair in Love and Sperm War 219

16 The Truest Measure of a Man 225

Hard Core in the Stone Age 231

17 Sometimes a Penis Is Just a Penis 233

18 The Prehistory of O 244

"What Horrid Extravagancies ofMinde!" 246

Beware the Devil's Teat 252

The Force Required to Suppress It 253

19 When Girls Go Wild 255

Female Cofulatory Vocalization 255

Sin Tetas, No Hay Paraíso 259

Come Again? 262

Part V Men are from Africa, Women are From Africa 269

20 On Mona Lisa's Mind 271

21 The Pervert's Lament 280

Just Say What? 285

Kelloggs Guide to Child Abuse 288

The Curse of Calvin Coolidge 293

The Perils of Monotomy (Monogamy+ Monotony) 293

22 Confronting the Sky Together 306

Everybody Out of the Closet 311

The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon 311

Author's Note 313

Acknowledgments 315

Notes 317

References and Suggested Further Reading 351

Index 383

What People are Saying About This

Eric Michael Johnson

“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.”

Steve Taylor

“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.”

Stanton Peele

“Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha have written the essential corrective to the evolutionary psychology literature...”

Stanley Krippner

“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.”

Frans de Waal

“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.”

Dan Savage

“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.”

Andrew Weil

“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.”

Tony Perrottet

“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.”

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Sex at Dawn 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 119 reviews.
BBW_ More than 1 year ago
This book is fantastic!!! Sure to catch on... A fascinating eye-opener that addresses questions about human sexuality that we've nearly all come across -- it may finally answer things you've always wondered about! It takes a close look at the origins of our prehistoric past to examine the sharing, egalitarian nature of the communal groups we evolved in, and how far we've come so far from that now in our modern, often conflicted constructs. The evidence is carefully researched, and the stories are captivating - taking you across history and across the globe as well, recounting fascinating anecdotes on sexual practices from cultures all over the world and examining the many surprising alternative approaches there have been to the same core issues. And it's all explained in language that's sharply intelligent -- and still fun, clear, and easy to follow. This brilliant debut -- by a husband/wife team, no less! -- sheds light on how understanding the way human sexuality evolved is critical to answering questions about our lives today. Why is long-term sexual monogamy so difficult for many couples? Why do middle-aged men risk so much for meaningless flings? What do our own bodies tell us about our sexual evolution? This book takes you on a journey that covers topics from the Origins of War to the peaceful, sexy nature of our close Bonobo cousins. If you've never picked up a text on evolutionary psychology, this is the perfect book to explain some fascinating concepts. If you're curious to travel a road that whisks you across the world to learn about exotic cultures and across time to explore our promiscuous past - you might enjoy this immensely. You could just come away knowing more about human nature - and about yourself as well!
SugarLane8178 More than 1 year ago
This book was fascinating. His theory seems very plausible and he presents it in a very entertaining way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was compulsively interesting, well documented and genuinely fun to read. You'll feel alot better about yourself and unsettled about the supposed benefits of civilization after reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book changed my life. Well, not really. It more just confirmed what's painfully obvious to anyone who's paying attention and not caught up in one of a million contemporary hang-ups: people were not meant to be monogamous. Not men, not women, not gays, not bisexuals, not straight people, not Westerners, not Asians, not Africans.... No one. The fact that they had to write a book about this, contradicting America's moral authorities with the only thing that makes them burn (science), is a testament as to how so many people can accept a ridiculous idea without examining it. It's not a technical book. I'm not an anthropologist but I understood the argument. While some of the humor is a bit American Pie, the argument is proved. The most scathing criticism I found of this book is that anthropologists don't really say that humans are by nature monogamous, which doesn't do anything to disprove the main point. The perspective isn't "Be a slut" but more "Do whatever you want, but realize what humans were doing for 95% of the species existence is probably not how you're trying to live your life." The tone itself is a useful antidote to sexual moralizing.
voluptuary_manque More than 1 year ago
Great fun to read and very stimulating. Despite the denunciations of the patriarchialists and those insistent on the biological imperative of monogamy, the authors provide a vast number of exceptions and reanimate the concept of primal omnigamy. Would that Western Civilization would catch on!
dr827 More than 1 year ago
Just one of the greatest books I have ever read. This should be mandatory reading for anybody who wants to be in a relationship. Just so fantastic. I could not recommend this book more.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read for people in alternative lifestyles and those that don't understand them.
Megan Fates More than 1 year ago
What a provocative book for our book club!!!   Real insights into beliefs, attitude and the role of religion and tribal mores. A definite keeper for one's personal library and an intelligent way to explore ideas with others.
Bacio More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I normally don't read non-fiction but I loved the sarcastic tone sprinkled throughout this novel. I am open minded, so to read a different perspective on this topic was refreshing. Their ideas are not forced onto the reader, they are merely presented with facts to back them up. Finished this in about a week. And honestly I would have finished it sooner but I actually took a day or two in between reads to think about what I have just read.
Gnosisseeker More than 1 year ago
If you have ever thought of why people act the way they do when it comes to relationships and human social interaction then this would be the book to read. It is very well written with a lot of resources that you can look at yourself to see where the authors find their information. It is not written in a dry form like some other books written on this topic, but written like a person looking for answers. This book will open your mind at why we look at sex as we do and why over time we get bored with a long term partner and could warder off looking for something new (this goes for both sexes). It takes a look at why monogamy is failing with people separating without working on underlining issues or not looking at options at keeping their relationship intact. This is look from both a physical as well as psychology view. There is so many different topics in this book a review cannot cover them all. It is a book better read with the reader drawing their own conclusions on what the author's message is and what he wants the reader to know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very readable, with a wry wit and a no nonsense approach to human and ape sexuality. This book is very well researched, and spends a fair bit of time on debunking the conventional wisdom. I suspect that it might be a bit scary to take on the established views on such a hot button topic, but the author manages to insert enough humor to help defuse the tension.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I can’t give this book an endorsement. I was very let down, expecting more than the author’s undergraduate grudge-match against the ‘standard narrative.’ This reads more like a middle-school Don Quixote on some self-ordained quest than it does as a serious read. If you’re looking for a better book on a similar subject, then I would recommend ‘The Ethical Slut,’ which will offer a more pragmatic and philosophical guide to living. I’m not convince there’s any more at stake than the author’s ego.
kjreed on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
OUTSTANDING. Turns the idea of monogamy on its head. The authors systematically tackle every mistaken idea about monogamy being "part of our DNA" and prove otherwise. They also make very interesting arguments about agriculture being a terrible mistake for human civilization. This is a revolutionary book that's my new #1 favourite academic book.
aketzle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think absolutely everyone should read this book. It is fantastic and I will definitely be re-reading it! I can't recommend it highly enough. Do yourself a favor and check this one out!!
dragonimp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book breaks down the myth of human monogamy and builds a very compelling case for our species having evolved with multi-male/multi-female mating. Written with clarity and humor, this book is easy to read and very entertaining and contains a lot of solid information.
buffalogr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Imagine humankind is not naturally monogamus! And, she proves it with graphic examples...
schatzi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, if nothing else, I can certainly say that this book was an entertaining read. And most of the evidence presented does make sense when you think about it. However, towards the end of the book, the argument felt as if it was breaking apart. And the anecdote about his friend who cheated on his wife just felt out of place. It was like the book spent most of its time building up to this giant revelation...and then it fell short. In the end, all the reader gets is "I know this guy who cheated on his wife and it ended in divorce and misery for all involved." And that left me feeling like perhaps this was just some giant treatise on how men are born to not be monogamous and women should just deal with it. Until that point, the book felt quite egalitarian, but the ending was not. There's even an afterword addressing that point in the paperback version, so I'm guessing that I'm not the only reader who left feeling this way.
len2day on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has gotten buzz because it argues that monogamy is new fangled invention. The authors argue that when the human race was foraging and hunting, that we behaved like bonobos, where both males & females are sexual active with a wide range of partners.While they do argue that conventional wisdom of placing monogamy on the humans of that era really does not fit, their main point is that we have in general, really underestimated their quality of life. They point to studies that have shown that skeleton sizes actually shrinking in the initial part of the agricultural era. And that diets actually may have been quite constrained once people gave up their foraging, nomadic ways.I have no expertise in anthropology or evolutionary psychology, but I found this to be engaging, interesting book.
duanewilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sex at Dawn debunks the notion that humans are naturally monogamous. Along the way they demonstrate that Hobbes's view that prehistoric human life was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" is false in every particular. They also refute the idea that humans are inherently selfish. They claim that scarcity and conflict arose with the development of agriculture, and propose that "human prehistory was in fact a time of relative peace and prosperity." They show that the view that humans are naturally promiscuous better fits with the facts about human/primate sexuality than the prevailing myth of the monogamous nuclear family.
jveezer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is an awesome read that kept me interested from start to finish. I¿m not usually much for anthropology or psychology. Sexuality, however, is an interesting subject in that we tend to think about it a lot. even when we aren¿t thinking about it, sexuality is thrust in our face by the media, politics, advertising, and in many other ways. That being said, this book could easily have been titled ¿War at Dawn¿ or ¿Poverty at Dawn¿ as the author touches on these subjects as well. He spends a lot of time on what he calls the ¿standard narrative¿ of human nature: monogamy, universal marriage, innate violence and proclivity for war, and the fact that we are better off now than before. Much of the research in these areas leads to data that could more readily lead to the opposite conclusions of those made by researchers biased to support the standard narrative.One thing I took from the book is that while the standard narrative makes millions of people feel guilty and shamed for not being able to achieve monogamy, for failed families and relationships, or even for just ¿lusting in one¿s heart¿, we should actually feel like we¿ve qualified for the World Cup if we are able be monogamous. And I¿m sure that you know the number soccer players that actually play in a World Cup is a small percentage of the soccer players out there. And we certainly shouldn¿t assume that our partner has the same view of marriage/monogamy as we do. It¿s a topic to be discussed so there is no misunderstanding, I suppose.The book points out that neither of our closest evolutionary relatives, the chimpazees or the bonobos, are monogamous. Both have multi-male, multi-female systems. In fact the only monogamous monkeys dwell in trees, like gibbons (the only monogamous ape), and are very far removed from us in an evolutionary sense. And with other animals that we are told ¿mate¿ for life, like swans, the word ¿mate¿ is used in a loose sense; ¿partnering¿ for life might be closer to the truth as it does not imply sexual fidelity.Regardless of your personal stance on the issue, this book does a good job of presenting the other side of the standard narrative. The authors don¿t suggest that we should ¿go wild¿ or make any recommendations on what to do with the data. Merely stating, ¿Only by arriving at a more nuanced understanding of the nature of human sexuality will we learn to make smarter decisions about our long-term commitments. But this understanding requires us to face some uncomfortable facts.¿
AndrewReadsBooks More than 1 year ago
Sex Before Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, is a befuddling book. It sets out to do three things - to challenge the belief that humans evolved as a monogamous species, to argue that agriculture and industrialization have forced us into monogamous patterns that cause relationship discord, and to suggest an alternative model of multipartner mating patterns for human beings. To do this, they propose an examination of the sexual behaviors of hunter gatherer tribal groups, great apes, and a review of archaeological evidence. While the authors do provide some strong arguments and evidence, other parts of their work don't stand up to scrutiny, and I would be very cautious about drawing strong conclusions. The core problem of the book is their logical errors. The authors doe a good job of making their first two arguments in the book - they suggest through primate and tribal group studies that humans are not necessarily monogamous, and that monogamous patterns wouldn't have been advantageous for early humans. They highlight that social adaptations and flexibility in humans would likely have led to more promiscuous patterns, not dissimilar from bonobos. The authors succeed in showing that the onset of agriculture, industry, and capitalism would create new types of insecurity that would make monogamous mating strategies more advantageous (though this seems to downplay the existence of property rights in pre-agricultural societies, which doesn't mesh well with the fossil record). But then, inexplicably, the authors downplay the flexibility of human sexual behavior, suggesting that our early adaptations to promiscuous patterns necessitate continued promiscuity. This is particularly frustrating because, early in the book, the authors use the flexibility of human sexual behavior to challenge the traditional narrative of genetic competition. It seems they want to have their cake and eat it too. The other problem with the book is in the writing. Readers will come to the end of a well written and researched section on a complex topic, and then the authors will pepper in incorrect or grossly missummarized "facts" from other fields (for example, the authors seem to be unaware of the entire academic field of family studies and rely purely on pop culture images of marriage counselors), and then pepper in crude jokes that are tonally jarring. These make it hard for a reader to feel like the authors are really credible - if they're making errors on easily verifiable claims about child abuse risk or divorce statistics, and then punctuating it with dick jokes, then why should we give credence to their nuanced claims about copulatory vocalizations? Again, I don't want to dismiss the book out of hand - I do think there are good points and information hidden within it. But I don't think there's enough here to support the author's case, and I don't think the authors have fully thought through their logic. When they do, a more rigorous and better edited book could make a real impact.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would definitely Recommend this book
Mellie37 More than 1 year ago
Lots of detailed information from many sources, pretty interesting, would recommend
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sure. Meet me at hot stuff res 2
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thanks. Kisses your cheek. Smiles. Thats exactly what i wanted to hear.