Sarah's Reviews > Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

Sex at Dawn by Christopher  Ryan
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Jan 14, 2011

liked it

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 jealous, is like asking whether H2O is naturally a solid, liquid, or gas. The only meaningful answer to such a question is: It depends." "'Archaeology,' writes Bogucki, 'is very much constrained by what the modern imagination allows in the range of human behavior.' So is evolutionary theory. Perhaps so many still conclude that sexual monogamy is characteristic of our species' evolutionary past, despite the clear messages inscribed in every man's body and appetites, because this is what they expect and hope to find there." Hear hear!

But then the authors go on to make the same types of errors themselves by selectively presenting and interpreting evidence to make THEIR case. Yes, I like their conclusions better, and thus find them more convincing. Some of the arguments were compelling. Some had obvious holes. Some were ridiculous (e.g. suggesting that the existence of gang-bang porn is evidence of a multi-mating past).

With just a slight shift in presentation, the authors could have said, "We've shown you the flaws in these arguments. Now we'll show you other arguments that can be made from the existing evidence. Science sure is tricky and observer-dependent, isn't it?" That I would've had respect for. This, not so much. Especially when I don't buy into any of the philosophical stances that make the answers really matter. Why should we care whether cavemen were promiscuous? Are behaviors that are "natural" always morally correct? (Like, say, infanticide?) I reject this line of reasoning, just as I find the issue of whether people "choose" to be gay as irrelevant to how people should be treated. I find sex research interesting, but not because it affects what I think of as "right" or "moral."

I do however think this book is important for getting a different story out there. Its critical look at evo-psych theories made it much better than I'd expected and it reviews some interesting modern research.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 12, 2011 – Finished Reading
January 14, 2011 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Christopher Ryan Hey Sarah. Thanks for the review. Wish you'd liked it more, but we appreciate your time in any case.


Darja Lyzenko Sarah, I agree with you 100%! Thanks for putting it so eloquently together.


message 3: by Hui (new)

Hui Ying You're a great thinker and reviewer, I completely agree with you. It's an interesting perspective but every argument presenter has their flaws in their argument.


Muriel Treille-Hawkins Yeah, the porn references bothered me too...


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