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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of…
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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (2010)

by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha

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Showing 1-5 of 20 (next | show all)
A popular science book for people who hate science, Sex at Dawn manages to combine weak arguments with a prose style of such overbearing condescension that I had to grit my teeth to get through it. Everything is couched in terms of facile jokiness or, even worse, of coy euphemism, so that we have the ghastly prospect of a supposedly serious book about sexuality that can talk about a ‘human female's naughty bits’.

The basic argument is that evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists and palaeontologists are conspiring to propagate the ‘lie’ that human beings have evolved to be broadly monogamous. The few studies that ‘dare’ to question this narrative are hailed as revolutionary, while the rest of the scientific community is written off as ‘the clipboard-carrying crowd’, who ‘rigidly insist’ on the status quo. Unfortunately this blanket dismissal of an entire discipline succeeds only in fatally damaging the authors' own credibility.

The debate over prehistoric sexuality is one that I have followed amateurishly, but with some interest, so I was quite looking forward to seeing what kind of evidence was going to be brought forward. By about page 40 I had realised with a sinking feeling that there wasn't going to be any. Instead, their approach is simply to restate their opponents' arguments in the most ludicrously simplistic terms they can, and hope that will stand for a rebuttal.

For instance, there is a mountain of evidence suggesting that prehistoric females were in the habit of ‘bartering’ sex, consciously or otherwise, for access to protection and resources supplied by males. This is a complicated and sophisticated argument, which Ryan and Jethá summarise like so:

Darwin says your mother's a whore. Simple as that.

After reading that I gave up any hope of finding a serious argument in here.

Of the book's other stylistic tics, I will just highlight a few of the more irritating. There is a tendency to ask rhetorical questions as a substitute for actually making an argument: Could it be possible that…? Dare we ask whether…? ‘How many families are fractured by this common, tragic, undetected sequence of events?’ I don't know – do you?? If not, stop asking stupid questions and show me some evidence. (It reminds me of a tabloid headline like ARE IMMIGRANTS CAUSING CANCER?, where the rest of the article amounts to a long admission that the answer is ‘no’.)

A few other representative quotations: ‘Sexual monogamy itself may be shrinking men's balls’; ‘Homo sapiens: the great ape with the great penis!’; ‘ancestral females were shameless trollops’; ‘Who's your daddies?’; ‘We've no space for a comprehensive response to this’; ‘Yabba-dabba-doo’. Malthus is introduced, laughably, as ‘Wikipedia's eightieth Most Influential Person in History’.

If you're worried about missing the subtle message hidden in all this facile nudge-nudge-wink-winking, have no fear, because they will simply put entire sentences that they consider important in italics. Reading these passages feels like being talked down to by someone who doesn't even properly understand their own arguments. They also repeatedly make the infuriating implication that anyone who disagrees with them is doing so because they're morally offended or out of political expediency.

What makes it all so sad is that a book offering some new ideas on hot topics like male parental investment or female sexual receptivity would actually be very welcome. This is not that book. What it really is is a plea for a return to an imagined ‘ancient [sexual] egalitarianism’ where humans – especially men – had repercussion-free sex with multiple partners. I would be more than happy to read a book promoting the benefits of polyamory, but please, don't dress it up as science.

Sex at Dawn was condemned by most of the academic community, but it was widely promoted by people like Dan Savage and Peter Sagal, and ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. It doesn't deserve the attention, and I wish I'd done a bit more research on it before I bought a copy. Instead, my advice is to consider the response that a pseudonymous primatologist was moved to write, [book:Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn|15892127]. Because my impression of this one is that it's a disastrous blend of wilful misrepresentations with very poor writing. ( )
3 vote Widsith | Apr 27, 2014 |
In my humble opinion if you are of a liberal mind this book is mostly common sense and offered little. There were some interesting points, especially near the end of the book. Worth a read. ( )
  AvitaCosno | Apr 19, 2014 |
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.
  MarkBeronte | Mar 4, 2014 |
A well-reasoned and thoroughly cited argument for a model of prehistoric hunter-gatherers as a sexually promiscuous people. What it isn't (and seems like it wants to be) is a justification for the dissolution of traditional marriages and the institution of universal polyamory.

The book is a bit repetitive, but it also jumps around from topic to topic a lot. Many of these topics are unnecessary asides. The tone also seesaws from dry academia to sarcastic criticism of contrary opinions. Additionally, I often found myself thinking, "That is a logically valid statement if the claims which precede it are true, but it contradicts things I've seen in real life."

Definitely a thought and conversation provoking book, but I think it would've benefited from an editor toning down the hyperbole and qualifying the author's absolute claims. ( )
  wishanem | Oct 16, 2013 |
http://lampbane.livejournal.com/658177.html

"This... isn't very good. It's not a bad book by any means, and I find it a pleasant and easy enough read, but...it's just so boring sometimes. It falls into the same trap that a lot of academic writing falls into, where the author feels the need to repeat, reiterate, reinstate the same thing over and over again. They talk about Thomas Hobbes a lot, pulling out quotes that discredit his writing. And for me it's like, "yeah, you're right, this guy really was wrong, there's all this evidence to refute what he said, which was written in 1651 anyway so it makes perfect sense that we know more now." But then they keep bringing him up again...and again...and again. They love beating that dead horse. I'm about 10 chapters in and it feels like we're going in circles. There's also the fact that so far, I have seen very little original research on their part, which makes this the equivalent of a 400 page academic term paper. It's quotes after quotes after quotes. Sometimes there's a diagram. They're not very good diagrams." ( )
1 vote lampbane | Oct 2, 2013 |
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Christopher Ryanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jetha, Cacildamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Forget what you've heard about human beings having descended from the apes.
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Darwin says your mother's a whore. Simple as that.
Sexual monogamy itself may be shrinking men's balls.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061707805, Hardcover)

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.
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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:29 -0400)

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"A controversial, idea-driven book that challenges everything you know about sex, marriage, family, and society"--Provided by publisher.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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