Skip to content
Nov 2 / Mr. Science

Sex At Dawn Book Review

There are a lot of books written about sex, but most are either dull medical texts, or over-titillating trash.

Thankfully, Chirstopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá broke the mold on their ground breaking book, Sex At Dawn, about the evolution of human sexuality.

Sex at Dawn is a perfect combination of witty understanding and LONG years of research, as it fashions a compelling argument about how human sexuality evolved as a share-the-wealth resource, and has since morphed into a monogamous (as-in-MINE) resource with the advent of property ownership.

Critical Points from Sex At Dawn:
  • Ancient humans shared everything, including; their land, the animals and plants they ate, and their movable homes. Life was about sharing and sharing everything—even sex—benefited the entire tribe. The book includes vast evidence of the sharing that goes on in ancient and modern hunter/gatherer groups and how this is different from our modern “me” based society. It also provided some nice theories as to why sharing sex was so successful in hunter/gatherer societies (i.e. more fathers=more help).
  • When humans shifted to an agricultural society, from their hunter/gatherer lifestyle, it changed the world to revolve around “ownership”. Sex was no exception to this societal shift toward personal property, as sex is both a human need and highly marketable (just like food). It was the shift to land ownership and cultivation (plus help from the church) that led humans to tie the monogamal knot, thereby insuring access to the resources to feed our kin, while maintaining regular—if somewhat monotonous—access to sex.
  • The authors provide absurd amounts (even Mr. Science was amazed) of reproductive data from studies of humans and other primates that prove how the human reproductive system did NOT evolve for monogamy. It’s phucking fascinating, but you’ll have to read the book for the nitty-gritty bits…
  • The authors (who are married…) do NOT argue that monogamy can’t work. They just provide information on how humans evolved sexually and why monogamy is so difficult for SOME people.

Thanks for the exceptional read Chris (and Cacilda), and I’ll look forward to seeing your talk tonight in Portland. Sex At Dawn is a real inspiration to get my own book finished!

Mr. Science


Leave a comment
  1. Emily / Jan 6 2012

    So, Sex at Dawn accepts promiscuity and non-monogamous relationships as the way we evolved and the way we SHOULD be? This arguement seems really convenient for people who cannot handle the hard work it takes to make a monogamous relationship work.

    I do not buy that just because humans may have evolved from a non-monogamous lineage, that we need to revert to that way.

    I doubt we’re going back to hunting/gathering anytime soon…even if it would be a lot healthier for us than sitting at a desk (or a tractor)!

    • Mr. Science / Jan 6 2012

      Good points Emily, I think you’ve hit a common chord for some people with how Sex at Dawn can discount monogamy for some readers.

      However, I don’t think the authors of Sex at Dawn are arguing what humans “should” be…but more to inform people of where we came from and how we can accept this as part of our humanness.

      For example, just because we’re not hunter/gatherers anymore doesn’t mean we don’t need to exercise. It means that we’ve found an “easier” way of doing things that may or may NOT be good for humans. And if we want to live a long, healthy life we must exercise to make up for the lack of exercise spent finding food.

      I think some people are turned off by the idea of human monogamy not being the ultimate thing that we ALL should strive for…but what is more important is that monogamy doesn’t work for everyone and that there are some very good evolutionary reasons for why this is the case.

      -Mr. Science

Leave a comment to Emily Cancel reply

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *