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Sex, Time, and Power: How Women's Sexuality Shaped Human Evolution

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,117 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
Why did big-brained Homo sapiens suddenly emerge some 150,000 years ago? The key, according to Leonard Shlain, is female sexuality. Drawing on an awesome breadth of research, he shows how, long ago, the narrowness of the newly bipedal human female's pelvis and the increasing size of infants' heads precipitated a crisis for the species.

Natural selection allowed for the ada
Paperback, 1st Penguin Books edition, 464 pages
Published August 3rd 2004 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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The Center for Sexual Pleasure & Health
I was a little nervous when I picked up Leonard Shlain’s Sex, Time and Power. The book is close to 400 pages and didn’t strike me as exactly a beach-read. As I started really delving into the book, I continued to have problems with Shlain’s reasoning and style. The book explores how gender and sexuality has shaped human evolution, differentiating us from our ancestors lower down on the food chain. While usually anything about gender and evolution has me punching my own face, this book was genera ...more
Matt Holmes
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
This book was polarizing. For me. Personally. I was polarized.

One camp of my consciousness was thrilled by the actual physiological science he rolled out early on. The chapter about iron was fantastic, and I am still reeling from how nutritionally efficient meat is. All those amino acids! That sweet, non-chealated iron. Mmm, girl!

And then, the animus and anima. Wheeling out Jung! A bold move, since he was sort of a quack, brought fake-astrology (the Myers-Briggs) and the whole "collective unco
Jun 27, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: the open minded
Shelves: non-fiction
I would have given it four stars for the originality of ideas presented and its compelling questions, but there were tangents that made me cringe.

The book is exploring the question of how women's sexuality shaped humanity. Interesting no? It goes back to early human existence and describe what Shlain calls a "sex for meat" arrangement. Women realized the link between sex and pregnancy, and since there was such a high mortality rate among them (due to now larger human heads), they developed veto
Kristi Thielen
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Reviews on state that Dr. Shlain is a dynamic speaker and perhaps he is. His writing style is more that a little over the top and the same can be said for conclusion he draws.

The chief issue tackled in this book: why do women, alone among female creatures, menstruate and in a monthly cycle and so copiously? Shlain's premise: When ancient females came to understand that this would occur in a cycle that mimicked that of the moon, they began to understand the concept of time - which men
Feb 03, 2014 rated it did not like it
From my last status update, on page 129 of 448:
That's it. I'm done. I can't force myself to read another chapter of paternalistic drivel from the privileged viewpoint of an old white American male physician.

While some of his physiology has merit, the conclusions he draws from it do not. Oh, did I mention that he's a devoted Freudian? And that his writing style is so florid, egotistical and repetitive that any random passage could be a contender for the Bulwer-Lytton Prize?

The author promises th
Jan 07, 2008 rated it really liked it
I just finished the book, and the ending moved me and made me feel optimistic. I like using the evolutionary lens to look at how we came to where we are. It makes the current patriarchal structures somewhat understandable, but also shows that we are evolving past any need for them.

While I found some of the tangents and various use of creative license a bit meandering and at times cringe-inducing, as a whole this book stretched my perspective and gave me plenty to think about.
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have to come back to write a proper review on this book. One of the most fascinating reads of my life. I still refer to it in a variety of discussions on seemingly unrelated topics. Brilliant, and brilliantly written.
Dennis Hidalgo
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Though there are several problems with the late Shalin's narrative and data, this book is a brave tour into a subject which he propped open (more books on this topic have been flowing from the presses recently).

His hypotheses are super interesting possibilities:
1- Women saved humanity from extinction (by babies with dangerously large skulls) by developing something no other mammal have done: control her "heat" season, and thus ensuing the complicated and crucial art of female/male courtship. Th
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the most interesting books that I have read this year. Long and scientific, it held my interest all the way through. I have discussed some of the author's points with others, and they have wanted to read the book. Why did mankind survive when our women need iron, and could not hunt (children, menses scents, etc.?) Why do women not go into "heat" and do not indicate when they are fertile, when the rest of the animal kingdom gives such clear signals? How did we survive as a species when our ...more
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in why humans are the way that we are
What a fascinating read -- especially for a book that we bought on a whim.

The author does a good job of making it clear when he is speculating and when his views are supported by research, which I really appreciate in a "sciency" book.

The writing is very readable, with some nice bits of humor sprinkled in there. The thinking is excellent.

This will challenge people to think differently about sexuality and humanity. What does a woman reallywant? According to the author, a steak! And, hence, the s
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book was insane! It talks about the act of sex and how women have evolved over time to become the chosers and the source of power in the human race. Women not only live longer, they are responsible for the prorogation of our species and have made evolutionary changes to allow human birth to be possible. It was seriously empowering to read this book.
Sarah Linster
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
You know how I always wanted to know what was up with the menstrual cycle? Well, this Doctor has the best explanation of why that I have heard so far, and also covers all sorts of other big picture questions like sex drive differences between genders, origins of patriarchal society, and marriage.
Jun 25, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: babble-added
although the main position is simplistic in its assumption by glossing over practicalities of execution the supporting research is fairly solid in itself, should be required reading for dudes
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Well, with very few reservations, I really liked this book. I had begun the book Art & Physics by the same author with great reluctance and disdain, thinking "oh, how could a surgeon know anything about art?" However, I was pleasantly surprised by the sensitivity and intelligence of his comments. Although on a different subject, I initially approached this book in the same way, but almost immediately changed my tune and found myself already appreciating the transparency of his preface, which ...more
Mar 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011-reads
I read Shlain's "The Alphabet and the Goddess" earlier this year, a book about how the shift to literacy changed the fundamental way humans thought, giving birth to patriarchal religions, politics, and basically the foundation for modern gender relations and misogyny. In this book, "Sex, Time and Power," Shlain digs deeper into pre-history and forms a theory that a woman's need for iron and her discovery of the relationship between sex and childbirth is actually the root of modern gender relatio ...more
Apr 21, 2015 rated it liked it
This book aimed to explore the question "what could possibly be the evolutionary advantage to women losing significant amounts of blood/iron each month". As he tends to do, Shlain was able to hypothesize an answer incorporating seemingly disparate facets (in this case, including fatherhood, existentialism, and the linear perception of time). His arguments are always interesting and at least somewhat substantiated, but this book felt like it was built on less solid ground than The Alphabet vs. th ...more
May 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. First, let me admit the fact that I got the abridged audio version of this book. Leonard Shlain is such a wonderfully pedantic writer, that I knew in advance (from reading "The Alphabet Vs. The Goddess) that I would read 2/3 of this book and lose my steam. Then I would forever mean to pick it up again and regret that I hadn't finished it. So, abridged audio was perfect.

I will let other people, more eloquent than myself, elaborate on the details in Shlain's text, his suppositions, an
Melissa Mcdonald
Dec 06, 2012 marked it as to-read
Shelves: gender
This book sets out to explore why and when people evolved so far away from other mammals in several key ways, all of which Dr. Shlain ties to the biological differences between men and women. As in his excellent prior work The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image (which holds that there are links between the ascendancy of patriarchy and written language and the descent of matriarchal societies and goddess-based religions), some of the concepts proposed in this book mi ...more
Feb 24, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting views. It is hard for me to say why this book rubs me the wrong way, but it does. It seems to be well researched and there are many different ideas presented that do actually make a lot of sense. Perhaps it is the author's tone or the fact that he seems to preach or that it is just not presented in a scientific format, it reads more like a novel. For whatever reason I found myself scoffing at legitimate theories and taking more of what was presented with a grain of salt than I think ...more
Nov 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Why did Gyna Sapiens begin walking upright? Why do human women bleed profusely during menses, but have no estrus period? Why did human language develop? Shlain tackles all these questions and more in this fascinating and broad look at the history of human evolution, and how it's all tied to women's sexuality. Drawing on a wealth of historical and scholarly research, Shlain presents some fascinating explanations and ties his points together seamlessly. He also raises additional interesting questi ...more
Mar 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting story about how women's periods lead to humans learning to tell the time - and also lead to iron deficient women being dependent on men to hunt for meat for them. It pretends to be scientific but at the crux of the argument lapses into a story which depends on an intelligent creator which intended humans to have foresight and helped them to evolve that way.

As a Christian, this doesn't bother me at all. But the author doesn't appear to be aware he's slipped into theology, and blithely
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Haven't finished it, but I'm up to Chapter 4 and it's fascinating. Very powerful. Thought about reserving that 5th star for when I'm done, but I can't bring myself to do it. What if it impact's someone's reading decision against it?! (GASP!)

Written by a surgeon, who is obviously in command of the English lexicon. Not for the average 7th grade reading level, by any means! However, it's not at all verbose, and reads quickly if you are able to read uninterrupted, or if you also elicit similar vocab
Recommended to me by my Italian Cinema professor, this is definitely one of the best academic books I could recommend a person. It wasn't difficult to read, but you learned a shitload of things from it about... everything, really. He explains how it was women who taught us about time and thus mortality, and it's knowledge of death that spurns us in just about everything and... It covers so much, I can't even begin to say, except that it's definitely worth reading. It's sciencey, it's abstract, a ...more
Jul 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing book. Read this and Guns, Germs and Steel and you will basically have an understanding of the whole history of the human race and development of society. These two books explain almost all human behavior and history. Deep down we all know the sex for meat thing is true and yet society has found thousands of ways to codify but civilize that bargain in our culture. Every young man and women should read this book to understand what is driving almost all of their behavior. Your success in ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it liked it
This book suggests that the catalyst that propelled our species into homosapians was female sexuality. It's a very interesting concept, one that isn't often considered in discussions of evolution. I also feel like I learned way more about vaginas than I ever wanted to know. It's a very interesting book, but I think that he makes too bold of a claim in suggesting that it was purely (or even mostly) female sexuality that caused our species to evolve. Also the book waxes too poetic for a scientific ...more
Scott Oesterling
Jun 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
The author has some tangents that detract from the presentation of his ideas. He does examine some interesting adaptations in human reproduction - occult ovulation, heavy blood loss, and the placenta. However, his writing style is a diservice to the reader. He really could have benefitted from a more aggressive editor (or one at all) or a co author.

I would highly recommend this to anyone interested in the topic, but it is not a casual read.
Diana Ray
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
All human beings should be required to read this book. YOU must read this book. It is not fiction except for historical re-enactments meant to help present assumptions about pre-historic times. Written by an MD/PhD, his ideas are unbelievably insightful and informative. So many Americans are ignorant of the history of U.S. culture, this book begs the queston whether much of humanity is ignorant of its own evolution.
You must read this book cover to cover!
Frank Pacosa
Dec 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Her is a man who thinks outside of the box, big time. Women's hidden menstrual cycle was evolutionarily selected to keep track of time and power. Gotta read it to see how he gets there. This story has legs. Can't believe I haven't heard more about it. But alas the patriarchy will have none of it as he shows in his The Alphabet vs. The Goddess.
Summer Brennan
Aug 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
There were some strong points, but it devolved abysmally towards the end. I heard that the author was completing this while nearing the end of a terminal illness, and that may have something to do with it. A very smart man, it is too bad he didn't have more time to devote to a better book.
Jessica Dwyer
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Speculative, but essential.
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Leonard Shlain was an American surgeon and writer, the Chairman of Laparoscopic surgery at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco and was an Associate Professor of Surgery at UCSF.
He was a speaker at such venues as the Smithsonian, Harvard University, Salk Institute, Los Alamos National Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center and the European Union's Ministers of Culture. In 1999, he
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“How could a slight, five-foot-tall, two-legged animal create such sublimity and yet wreak so much havoc in so minuscule an interval of earth’s history?” 1 likes
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