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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

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4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  8,865 ratings  ·  1,150 reviews
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 getti...more
ebook, 432 pages
Published June 29th 2010 by HarperCollins e-books (first published June 17th 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Chris
Hey! Hey, baby, baby, waitwaitwaitwait. Wait. Wait! Baby, don't... don't freak out

Okay, okay, I know what this looks like, but I can explain! Quiet, Chad, let me handle this. I can explain! I'm just - please, stop crying and listen - I'm just fulfilling my evolutionary heritage and helping to cement social bonds with... um... the pizza boy, but that'snotthepoint!! That's
not the point! Look, before you do anything, y'know, drastic, you just need to read this book....

Humans are really good at fi...more
Warwick
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 palaeonto...more
Christopher Ryan
Jan 03, 2011 Christopher Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Well, I wrote the damned thing. Can I give myself five stars? Everybody thinks their baby is beautiful, right?
Ryan
UPDATE #2: "Not since the Holy Bible has any book so misunderstood the process that created human beings." – Robert Wright.

Though the above quote was said half-jokingly, it sums things up quite nicely (if you can forgive the hyperbole). These were some of the last words in a videoconference between Robert Wright and Christopher Ryan. Click here to watch this conversation via bloggingheads. I just finished watching it, and it was well worth the time. As I mentioned in my initial review below, I n...more
Taka
Fantastic--

This is one of those paradigm-shifting books that pretty much changes your belief system. Having read Robin Baker's Sperm Wars and absorbing its grim interpretation of human sexuality, this book, Sex at Dawn came as a pleasant and generally kick-ass surprise.

With abundance of humor and compelling narrative, the authors posit that human beings, like their primate cousins, originally engaged in multiple mating for most of their existence on earth before the advent of agriculture. And "m...more
Valerie
Sep 05, 2010 Valerie rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Valerie by: Dan Savage
A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was an anthropology major at UCSC. Although I wanted to specialize in physical anthropology, I did quite a bit of classwork in cultural. One of the things that always fascinated me was fictitious kin. The idea of creating a network of ties to promote sharing among small groups. Church congregations and the scooby gang of Joss Whedon's Buffy are examples of this. I found the author's description of several of these types of kinship networks based on common...more
Steve
I loved this book, but to be honest I have nowhere near the education to be able to evaluate the validity of the arguments presented in the book. I have seen grumblings here and there about the book, mostly from religious people who this book will understandably offend.

One of the main messages of the book is that monogamy is not natural to either men or women.

The authors are two researchers and psychologists, both married.

Despite being academics and approaching a variety of very weighty subjects...more
Liz
This book makes one depressed about the human race from agriculture on. However, it kind of awesomely doesn't make me feel like a slut, proving (through science!) how our anatomy developed and how we, as humans, were made to have sex with many different people. Sometimes all at once. With chocolate sauce. Kidding about the chocolate sauce.

Really, the book goes over our closest relatives, and then discusses common beliefs about the human race, and proves or disproves some of those beliefs. It's p...more
Sarah
Overrated, mostly unfunny but overly glib, using the same bad logic he accuses the monogamy pushers of, this book which is basically shilling for open relationships vis-a-vis evolutionary psychology is intellectually dishonest AND irritating, which is quite a feat. I can't believe Dan Savage pushed this crap. There are better arguments for new takes on monogamy, open relationships, and polyamory out there - we don't need to cloak them in bad, gender-essentialist "science".
sologdin
A popularizer's polemic against evolutionary psychology vis-a-vis the doctrine and institution of monogamy. The book is well-humored, and the prose reads well.

The broad strokes of the argument are difficult to dispute, and I wouldn't want to dispute them. Monogamy earned this ass-kicking--and it is an ass-kicking, a true shellacking, considering the data marshalled in support, as well as the motion-for-summary-judgment style of pointing out a lack of support for the opponent's essential allegat...more
Lightreads
My girlfriend and I had one of those gradual comings-together where you're going along fine, life is good, and then you look up one day and . . . wait . . . hang on . . . you're dating that person you thought you were just sleeping with. (For the record, some of us *cough* figured this out much sooner than others of us.) When it happens like that, it's hard to figure out what "counts," if you care about that sort of thing -- anniversaries, firsts, all those markers of 'real relationshipness.' Lu...more
Hadrian
Apologies if this is a bit more slipshod than usual. I think a lot of us are still feeling out of it on January 1st.

An irreverent lampooning of the old puritanical misconceptions of outdated evolutionary psychology. You may have heard some of these. Women want power and money! Men always want to sleep around! The nuclear family is the only way to sustain wife! Women have to be treated either as blushing delicate virgins or sluts! Women only want 'alpha males', and men and women ONLY want - no.

E...more
Sarah
When Sex at Dawn first came out it received a bunch of ecstatic reviews, but I had my doubts. It sounded like more made-up, tenuously supported evolutionary psychology BS that just happened to be more to my (and the reviewers') liking than the standard evo-psych sexuality stories. My expectations were low.

Turns out 85% of the book is focused explicitly on debunking and mocking evo-psych theories. "Asking whether our species is naturally peaceful or warlike, generous or possessive, free-loving or...more
Kate
Should I read it? Yes, yes, yes! You shouldn't even bother with this review! Just go read the book!

What's the short and skinny of it?
From the first few chapters, readers are introduced to the questions Sex at Dawn seeks to answer: "Why do we have the urges and anatomies we do, and what do these things say of our evolution? Are the cultural narratives we're taught about sexuality and marriage based on science? Do we work against nature because of culture? How did we develop the ideas we have abou...more
Nancy Rector
Phenomenal mind opening book about the true origins of our societies typical view of sex and monogamy. Also delves into the topics of war and jealousy and if those are indeed innate traits of humans. The facts show they are not. As with many beliefs that are just mindlessly accepted by so many people this points out that many things are not what they seem. And that we as a people need to have the courage and strength to think for ourselves and to continually question and learn for ourselves.

The...more
Kumar McMillan
This is a fascinating and well researched view into how humans became the highly sexual creatures we are today. It flips the outdated and poorly proven Hobbes theory--that we were brutish, impoverished, war torn prehistoric animals--on its head. Instead, it offers compelling evidence and astute observations that for 90% of our 2.5 million years on Earth, humans basically had enjoyable sex with each other all day (multiple partners) and ate nutritious food from the earth without war and without m...more
James
Now, I agree with the fundamental point they were making here - humans evolved to use sex socially and with many partners, not for monogamy - but their use of science was...shoddy, and high school level writing at best. They at times (oh hell, all the time) dipped back into stereotype to support their claims and to justify their choices of topic. I frequently found myself reading sections of this aloud to my roommates so we could rip it apart together - and that was pretty fun. They're depressin...more
Brendan
I rarely stop reading books before I'm done (and I've read a lot of pretty bad books as a result!), but I think I will with this one. The book has two serious problems: first, it misrepresents (or maybe misunderstands?) the standard model of human sexuality from ev. biology. Perhaps because they are so focused on the most extreme form of ev. psych, they repeatedly oversimplify things, and then accuse various authors (e.g., Darwin) of defending such oversimplified theories because of sexism. Seco...more
Erica
I heard Ryan interviewed on the podcast "Sex Nerd Sandra", was intrigued by his novel ideas, and decided to pick up the book. The overarching argument is that men and women were not historically monogamous the way society and many scientists claim. They back up this with physical and behavioral evidence from our close cousins, the chimp and bonobo, and from the information we have about prehistoric human societies and existing hunter-gatherers.

The authors are also somewhat avowed neo-Rousseauns...more
g
Interesting read and lots to think about.

What I loved:
-Less patriarchal approach to science/sexuality/evolution.
-Chapters on bonobos--so important.
-Chapters on sexuality as a bonding tool.

What I didn't love:
-While the argument that culture can poison scientific fact is a valid and awesome one, to rest your entire book on it is problematic. Who's to say that these hypothesis aren't subject to the same corruption? Of course, that's never addressed. I would be interested to hear whether these autho...more
Lucas
I feel completely cheated...

This review is directed more towards people who have already read Sex at Dawn, and to the authors. But hopefully this will be of use to new readers as well.

I'll start by saying that when I first read Sex at Dawn I was blown away. This book completely changed my view of monogamy, sex, and relationships. It sparked this new openness and acceptance in me, and I will say had a very positive impact on my relationship. I thought here was the book that everyone NEEDS to read...more
Chloe
Books on sex are a dime a dozen these days. From tomes on how to create a more spiritual union or bring more spice to your marriage through the cunning use of super glue, paperclips, and a rubber band (the well-named MacGuyver technique) to how to give your lover earth-shattering orgasms through locating some mythical pressure point, this genre has risen to be one of the pillars of the self-help section of a bookstore. It's gotten so that this subgenre receives even less respect (and deservedly...more
Katherine Riegel
Of course the premise of this book will be controversial, as it questions many religious systems and the values of many non-religious people as well. It asks us to re-think aspects of culture that we have all unquestioningly accepted--one of which is a huge basis of literary works, movies and more: the concept of the One True Love (and the related concepts of jealousy and fidelity). But even if you don't agree with all of the authors' assertions, this book has what is, for me, an optimistic view...more
Jess
From the very start, the authors set the stage of this standard (and wrong) view of human sexual evolution and sexuality and their radical alternative. Unfortunately, although they manage to refute some commonly held misconceptions, none of these startling revalations seem like they would be a surprise to anyone in the fields of primatology, anthropology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, etc. They also do very little to present a positive argument although to be quite honest by the...more
Rebecca
Agriculture, am I right?

I think this was a paradigm shifter for me. While the book ostensibly sets out to prove that we are not meant to be monogamous like gibbons (the only primates to live in nuclear family structures) but rather live in smallish groups like bonobos (and I think it presents its case very well), the real meat of the book for me was how far we've fallen from the original Eden as foragers.

The Fall, as such, was the turn to agriculture. God himself says it was a curse. Before the...more
Kristina
Sex at Dawn certainly had some compelling anecdotes and it successfully turns your dreams toward bonobo utopia, but the plot holes were gaping. It is all fine and well to talk up the benefits of small societies in prehistory, but the authors seem to be suggesting that we should undo our heavily ingrained global community for the sake of promiscuity.

Not to mention, what is a book about social sexual health that does not address homosexuality, STDs, misogyny, and birth control? In one chapter the...more
Laura Kelley
This book is not an attack on monogamy. It is a well-researched and well-written exploration of how modern sexuality has evolved. This is a must read for anyone in a relationship or would one day like to be in a relationship.

The premise is simple. We have been socialized to believe that when you love someone monogomy should come naturally and easily. However, the facts bear out a different reality. I have seen statistics that indicate 80% of married men report cheating on their wives and 50% of...more
Gavin
This is a topic that modern society has been wrestling with for ages. Well packaged in an easy to read book, Christopher Ryan presents a large amount of experimental, anatomical, and anthropological studies with a logical narrative of the evolution of human sexuality. He deals rather fairly with monogamy (remarking that the alternatives are not for everyone), even though it is clear that the bulk of the data is pointing toward a different human nature.

Although the topic is relevant to modern so...more
Samrat
Sex at Dawn is a paradigm-altering, supremely-readable and entertaining, but imperfect book.

The pluses: An excellent point-by-point takedown of the Hobbesian view of early man's life as "poor, nasty, brutish, and short"; good humor and narrative flow; and a factual confirmation of things I already believed.

Hmmm, that list should be longer. I really did like the book. It was very fun to read. I guess one could assume I approve of everything not mentioned below.

The minuses: Heavy reliance on secon...more
Michael
The book challenges many of the theories of evolutionary psychology (successfully, I think) and proposes a new model for prehistoric sexual behavior among humans. Written in a playful voice, the work nevertheless presents some good science with excellent notes and bibliography. We know that the invention of agriculture was more curse than blessing, leading as it has to population explosion, environmental degradation (including the possibility of catastrophic climate disruption), war, health prob...more
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“And yet, despite repeated assurances that women aren't particularly sexual creatures, in cultures around the world men have gone to extraordinary lengths to control female libido: female genital mutilation, head-to-toe chadors, medieval witch burnings, chastity belts, suffocating corsets, muttered insults about "insatiable" whores, pathologizing, paternalistic medical diagnoses of nymphomania or hysteria, the debilitating scorn heaped on any female who chooses to be generous with her sexuality...all parts of a worldwide campaign to keep the supposedly low-key female libido under control. Why the electrified high-security razor-wire fence to contain a kitty-cat?” 28 likes
“Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy. Got that, fellas? If you're unhappy at the amount of sexual opportunity in your life, don't blame the women. Instead, make sure they have equal access to power, wealth and status. Then watch what happens.” 22 likes
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