Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha
One Line Summary
The origins of human sexuality uncovered
We have many rules in society about how relationships and sex should look between men and women. Almost no one questions these rules.
But what if they are wrong?
In Sex At Dawn, Ryan and Jetha set out to uncover the truth about human sexuality by looking into our species past.
What was sex like in prehistoric times? What is sex like in our closest evolutionary cousins? All these questions and more are answered.
Prepare to have your assumptions question. Ryan and Jetha’s work flies in the face of much evolutionary theory and many “common sense” culture norms.
Why it’s Awesome
I want to start the discussion of this book by looking at some of the standard narratives you might have heard regarding sexuality if you live in a modern, western culture.
The Marriage Narrative
This is one likely everyone is familiar with. It goes something like this: when you grow up, you’re supposed to get married and stayed married. Till death due us part.
This one is so pervasive in western culture that most people don’t even think about it. Like a fish asking “what is water?”, we are so engulfed in this narrative that it’s just assumed.
Personally, what I always heard growing up was “when you get married…”. It was never questioned that I might do something different.
The Monogamy Narrative
This is another narrative that everyone is swimming in without realizing.
Monogamy is the only choice for most couples, especially since monogamy is what leads to marriage. Anyone offering an alternative perspective, like polygamy or free love, is immediately dismissed as either a hippie, degenerate, mormon, or just plain crazy.
The Coy Female
Have you ever noticed that there is often an assumption that women “put up” with sex while men are the ones who “get lucky”?
This is the coy female. The idea that somehow women enjoy sex less than men and need to be thoroughly convinced into it.
There are many mainstream narratives Sex At Dawn attacks, but they often boil down to one of these three.
So what’s the evidence say?
According to Ryan and Jetha, these narratives hold no weight when examined through the lens of prehistoric sex. In fact, the evidence appears to suggest the exact opposite.
Prehistoric humans are hyper-sexual.
From aboriginal cultures that practice polyamory to our genetic cousins the Bonobos, sex looks like nothing like what most people assume in modern society.
One of my favorite stories from the book was about a guy who visited one of these aboriginal cultures. Not only did the leader of the tribe offer him a bed for the night, he was shocked to find out that the bed included the leader’s wife.
Pretty different from how we think about marriage. But apparently this was completely normal in that culture, and even rude for the traveler to turn away.
What does this mean? It means that our cultural norms about sex and monogamy are just that: cultural norms.
Here’s another story:
In one tribe, the men would come back after a long day of hunting. They would make sure that each man brought back a piece of the spoils.
Then, after displaying the day’s hunting prizes to the tribe, the women would select a man to have sex with. You can be sure it was not always the same one. So much for the “coy female”.
Again, what’s the point? We make this shit up. The rules about relationships are written by us.
How about the fact that in many aboriginal cultures, it’s not considered important who the father or mother was of a child? Every child is raised collectively by the tribe, and especially by the elders.
I could go on and on with these examples. In many ways that’s what Sex At Dawn is: a large number of counter-pieces of evidence to our standard narratives.
Why Does It Suck
A lot of speculating and conjecturing based on second-hand knowledge. While I do like books like these, it also matters that you try to see the reality about human behavior for yourself. How does it actually feel to be monogamous?
The Wrap Up
I’m not trying to persuade anyone that monogamy is “bad” or that you shouldn’t do it or that it can’t work.
What I am against is blindly following a script that was handed down to you by people who may not even understand why they’re promoting it themselves, or have their own alternative agenda. And then having that script fuck you over because you realize that following makes you miserable.
How many people are monogamous simply because they think that’s what they “have” to do? And how many of those people hate it?
That’s why I like Sex At Dawn. It makes you realize that you have options.
If you’re going to be monogamous, great. But do it knowing that there are other choices that are equally valid. Do it because it supports your happiness.