Here’s the Australian cover art.

So far, 
Sex at Dawn is scheduled to be translated into Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Finnish, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Ukrainian, and Australian. (We’ll see how they translate the word “mate” into Australian...)


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

by Kate Dailey July 26, 2010

Forget what you think you know about the origin of species. Sex at Dawn sets out to prove that our prehistoric ancestors were happy and healthy, thanks in no small part to lots of egalitarian, polyamorous, noisy group sex.

What’s the Big Deal?

This book takes a swing at pretty much every big idea on human nature: that poverty is an inevitable consequence of life on earth, that mankind is by nature brutish, and, most important, that humans evolved to be monogamous. We’ve discussed the perils of evolutionary biology in this space before, but this book sets out to destroy almost each and every notion of the discipline, turning the field on its head and taking down a few big names in science in the process.

Buzz Rating: Rumble/Roar 

Among the scientific set and the intellectuals who think our culture has too many sexual hangups, this book is buzzing. Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage spent days on their blogs extolling the virtues of this book, leading to several heated discussionsamong commenters. The book got writeups in Salon, GlamourThe Washington Post (twice), The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Times of London.

One-Breath Author Bio
Ryan is a research psychologist, and has a blog at Psychology Today.  Jethá is a practicing psychiatrist.
Don’t Miss These Bits

1. Whither the bonobo? When discussing our evolutionary origins, science has a habit of focusing on chimps alone, which are aggressive and cruel. But the authors point out that the peaceable bonobo is just as closely related and may actually have more in common with humans in terms of “socio-sexual behavior and infant development” (page 77). The libidinous bonobos, however, are routinely ignored by researchers, “simply because bonobos raise doubts about the naturalness of human long-term pair bonding” (page 75).

2. Life in the Stone Age was pretty fantastic. Our ancestors were foragers, wandering to find the next savanna when food got scarce. Humanity was so scattered that they rarely had to fight over the best feeding grounds. A varied diet and constant roaming resulted in excellent health: adults grew to be about six feet tall and live long into their 60s and 70s. Foraging tribes show “no evidence of hypertension, heart disease, or cancer. No anemia or common cold. No internal parasites. No sign of previous exposure to polio, pneumonia, smallpox, chicken pox, typhus, typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria, or serum hepatitis” (page 206). The nomadic lifestyle meant they had no sense of property or ownership, so few real reasons for conflict. (John Lennon, are you listening?). Also: group sex. 

3. And now we come to the orgy. “Survival of the fittest” applied to our ancestors only at a spermatic level. “The idea is simple. If the sperm of more than one male are present in the reproductive tract of the ovulating female, the spermatozoa themselves compete to fertilize the ovum. Females . . . have various tricks to advertise their fertility, thereby inviting more competitors” (page 220). Rather than men competing with one another to win “entrance” to a coy female looking for the best mate, the book argues that lots of men had sex with the same woman and let their sperm duke it out in the vaginal canal. Even to this day, the initial spurt of human ejaculate contains chemicals that “protect the sperm from chemicals in the later spurts of other men’s ejaculate. These final spurts contain a spermicidal substance that slows the advances of any latecomers” (page 228). That explains, the authors argue, why women take so long to get revved up and men finish so quickly. It explains why women are louder during sex (the so- called female copulatory vocalization [page 255])—it served as a mating call of sorts for men in the area. The survival benefits were immense: since there was no way of telling who fathered which child, children were raised by the community of foragers rather than single monogamous pairs. Everyone had lots of orgasms (women most of all). Women weren’t used as property or bartering chips, which led to more equality between the genders. That’s why men today are more interested in pornography featuring group sex scenes with multiple men and one woman, and why many people have a hard time staying faithful. It’s just not natural. Whew!

Hidden Agenda
It’s not so much hidden: the authors want people to stop deluding themselves about the ease of lifelong commitment. As Ryan said in one of his guest “Savage Love” columns, “Our greatest ambition for Sex at Dawn is that it will encourage young people like you to clarify their sexual nature before signing on to long-term commitments they can’t get out of later without making a huge mess.” The authors have been careful to say that they’re not encouraging everyone to take up with multiple partners, but to be realistic about how humans are designed to operate.

Swipe This Critique
Evolutionary psychology was on shaky ground before this book came out, and Sex at Dawn further rattles the foundations—not by irrefutably disproving those theories (men rape because it’s in their genetic blueprint to spread their seed; women have sex just to keep their sole mate from straying), but by showing how easy it is to piece together prehistoric clues to “prove” a variety of competing conjectures. That said, Ryan and Jethá do an admirable job of poking holes in the prevailing evo-psych theories and are more apt to turn to biological, rather than psychological, evidence. That doesn’t mean their thesis is bulletproof. But it does mean there’s a lot of value in reconsidering basic assumptions about our beginnings that we widely accept today as gospel.

Factoid File
“Testify” is rooted in the practice of swearing an oath by placing one’s hand on another man’s testicles (page 234).


Prose: A. Funny, witty, and light, it makes the 400-plus pages of genetic and anthropological interpretation fly by.

Construction: A. The authors spend a fair amount of time establishing how life might have existed for prehistoric humans when they weren’t having sex, providing their theories with more depth and nuance.

Shock Value: A. This book is a scandal in the best sense, one that will have you reading the best parts aloud and reassessing your ideas about humanity’s basic urges well after the book is done.


savage love

Dan Savage, author of the internationally-syndicated sex-advice column, “Savage Love,” asked me (CPR) to be “guest expert” for a weekly column. I answered five questions, three of which made it into the column. The others ran separately, as “Question of the Day” on Dan’s blog. I’ll upload them separately below. For more, check out the Savage Love podcast (under TV/Radio) for my 2 separate half-hour sessions with Dan.

by Dan Savage (July 8th, 2010)

My husband of eight years confessed to wanting to watch me with another man. I found a guy, and he agreed to a full STD screening—at my husband's suggestion and our expense—so that we wouldn't have to use condoms. I was worried about how my husband would react to the reality, but he loved every minute—he loved it a little too much. My husband had sex with me after our "guest" left. I still had our guest's semen inside me. Is my husband gay? Is that what cuckolding is all about? He didn't touch the other guy, but what the fuck?

Spouse Expressing Concern Over Newly Disclosed Sexuality

"Far from being an indication of homosexuality, your husband's turn-on goes back to the roots of male heterosexual experience," says Christopher Ryan, coauthor of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.

Before Ryan walks us through what's so straight about your husband dipping his dick in another man's spunk, SECONDS, let me get this off my chest: 
Sex at Dawn is the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashedSexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948. Want to understand why men married to supermodels cheat? Why so many marriages are sexless? Why paternity tests often reveal that the "father" isn't? Read Sex at Dawn.

Back to Ryan:

"Think about it," says Ryan. "Why would women have evolved the capacity for slow-building multiple orgasms while males evolved the orgasmic response of minutemen accompanied by a sudden disappearance of all interest in sex?"

Because—as Ryan and his coauthor Cacilda Jethá lay out in 
Sex at Dawn—for countless generations, our male and female ancestors, like our closest primate relatives (fuck-mad bonobos), engaged in multipartner sex. Females mated with multiple males, while males—so easily stimulated visually to this day—watched and waited their turn.

"Almost all of us get off on watching other people having sex," says Ryan. "Even if our minds deny it, our bodies respond in many ways, ranging from increased genital blood flow (in both sexes) to stronger male ejaculations."

By inviting another male into your bedroom, SECONDS, your husband—consciously or subconsciously—was inducing what's known as "sperm competition." Watching you have sex with another male made him more excited to have sex with you, not with the other male, and treated him to a more intense orgasm in you, not in the other male.

"So your husband's experience was very heterosexual," says Ryan.

I am a 24-year-old female. I've been in a relationship with a man for six years, on and off. I think I could spend my life with him. But I have a hard time being faithful. I have cheated on him with other men and with women. He and I are not together currently, but we maintain a long-distance sexual relationship. We say that we are going to be together someday, but he has no trust in me. I would love to be content, but I can't seem to go very long before I get distracted. Please give me some insight!

Don't Wanna Be A Heartbreaker

"Toward the end of Sex at Dawn," says Ryan, "there's a brief section called 'Everybody Out of the Closet.' We argue that it's not just gay people who have to go through the sort of brutally honest self-exploration involved in coming out. We all need to go through this process—and the sooner the better."

Here's what you need to come out about, DWBAH: You'll never be content in a monogamous relationship.

"It's time to stop bullshitting yourself," says Ryan. "You're very young, so, with all due respect, a certain amount of bullshit is to be expected. But you sound ready to move beyond this. Before getting into a committed relationship, you owe it to yourself and to the other person to be honest about who you are, and for now at least, you're clearly not sexually monogamous.

"And if you'll pardon just a few words of old-guy wisdom while Dan shares his amazing platform," Ryan continues, "many people your age misunderstand the odds of finding love in life. Few young people really appreciate that by being open about who you really are, you end up wasting much less time on relationships that are doomed from the start. In the long run, it's much more efficient to fess up about who you are and what you're really into from the get-go."

Who are you, DWBAH? You're a slut. (I mean that in the sex-positive sense! I'm a slut, too!). And what are you really into? Variety. And don't feel bad: You didn't fail monogamy, DWBAH, monogamy failed you—as it has failed so many others (Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer, Vitter, Ensign, et al.), and will continue to, because monogamy is unrealistic and—this is not a word I toss around lightly—unnatural.

"Maybe half of the people you're interested in will walk away when you fess up," says Ryan. "Let them walk! Those who don't walk away are a much better investment of your time and energy—both of which are more limited than you can possibly realize at age 24."

I've been with my partner for 10 years. I have lost all interest in sex, while my partner still has a healthy libido. We've agreed on a weekly "sex night." I dread it. We could call it quits, but we have a child and we love each other. I don't want to break up our family, so I put up with "sex night." It sounds depressing, I know, but the alternative seems worse.

Wishes She Was Horny

"Lots of wonderful marriages aren't particularly sexual or exclusive," says Ryan, hinting at another alternative. "Sexual novelty was an important part of our evolution as a species. But, as you and your partner demonstrate, we don't all respond the same way to the absence of novelty.

"You don't say if your loss of libido pertains only to sex with your partner or to anyone at all," Ryan continues, "but it's a good idea to eliminate possible medical and psychological causes before concluding that it's a purely sexual issue. Assuming it's just about libido, I'd encourage you to find a middle ground that preserves your family and the love you share but incorporates a more comfortable sexual arrangement that doesn't leave your partner frustrated and you dreading 'sex night.'"

In other words, WSWH, ask yourself what's more important: staying married or staying monogamous?

"If you can find a way to take the pressure off both of you, you might find a deeper intimacy with each other and a return of your libido," says Ryan.

I usually end with a plug for my podcast. Not this week: Anyone who's ever struggled with monogamy—and any honest person who ever attempted it admits to struggling—needs to read 
Sex at Dawn


From Dan Savage’s Letters of the Day series:

So What You're Saying Is That No One Should Be Monogamous?
Posted by Dan Savage on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 2:51 PM

No, that's not what I'm saying—and it's not what the authors of 
Sex At Dawnare arguing either.

The point of 
Sex At Dawn—and my point in drawing your attention to it—isn't that monogamy is unnatural and therefore no one should attempt it and that people have license to break the monogamous commitments they made to their partners. And for the record: I'm happy to acknowledge that there are lots of good reasons to be monogamous or very nearly monogamous.

What the authors of 
Sex At Dawn believe—what they prove—is that we are a naturally non-monogamous species, despite what we've been told for millennia by preachers and for centuries by scientists, and that is why so many people have such a hard time being and remaining monogamous. I'm not saying that everyone everywhere has to be non-monogamous; the authors of Sex At Dawn don't make that argument either. (Lots of monogamists, however, run around insisting that everyone everywhere should be monogamous—and the monogamists get a pass because, hey, they mean so well and wouldn't it be nice if everyone were?)

The point is that people—particularly those who value monogamy—need to understand why being monogamous is so much harder than they've been led to believe. In some cases this understanding may help people find the courage to seek out non-monogamous relationships and/or arrangements and/or allowances that make them—gasp!—happier and make their relationships more stable, not less, as a routine infidelity won't doom their marriage/domesticpartnership/commitment/slavecontract/whatever. But understanding that monogamy is a struggle for most people, and being able to be honest with our partners about it, may actually help some people remain monogamous.

Buy and read the book.

UPDATE: This letter arrived in the "Savage Love" mailbox as I was writing this post:

I just wanted to thank you for drawing so much attention to the 
Sex At Dawnbook. I am going to get it as soon as possible so I can better understand myself. I have always felt a certain amount of shame because I've never had a monogamous relationship. Having been married 14 years (and having married at 19, which I know is a no-no in your book), I've had plenty of temptation and only given in a few times. Those events felt like they were saving my sanity, they never had anything to do with me loving my husband any less, or making up for his insufficiencies.

Even if I had waited to get married I still would've had these side relationships. It wasn't until I started listening to your advice that I realized that maybe I wasn't the problem. Now there's this book and it gives me hope that our culture might one day be more open about this subject and perhaps more people will come to see the inability to be monogamous as less of a character flaw and more of a fact of life.

For all these years I didn't even know that's what it was, or what was wrong with me, all I knew was that I felt like shit because I couldn't do it. Thanks for cluing me into evolution, reptile brains, etc. This is all very pertinent now, as I am at a serious crossroads and I need all the help I can get.—M

I'm not giving M here a pass on the cheating. I think people should be honest with their partners, etc. What I'd like to see—and what I think a book like 
Sex At Dawn brings us closer to—is more realism and more honesty. People should have open, honest conversations with prospective partners about their needs, their expectations, what they're capable of, and what happens if they fall short, before they make what may be, for them, an unrealistic promise that they are not just likely to break, but hard-wired to break.


SL Letter of the Day: More Advice From Sex At Dawn Coauthor Christopher Ryan
Posted by Dan Savage on Wed, Jul 7, 2010 at 1:30 PM

I'm a 29-year-old straight male. My girlfriend and I have been together for four years, officially as boyfriend and girlfriend for two. We are very much in love. However, since the beginning of our relationship, my girlfriend has told me that she is not interested in being monogamous for her entire life. She has talked to me about this intermittently since our relationship began. Before we were officially together, she dated and slept with a couple of people, and I was ok with it (I didn't like it, but didn't make a fuss either), because that was what she wanted. Over the course of our relationship, she has made it very clear that I am her man, her #1 priority, BUT she knows that in the future she's going to want to sleep with other guys. She also has said that I would be free to sleep with other girls.

My question is, how do I get over this terrible feeling that I get whenever I think about my girlfriend having sex with another man? I try to be open-minded, but every time the idea is presented, I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I want to make her happy, and I want to be able to go along with what she would like, but the same feelings and problems come up when she mentions this. I'll admit that I'm afraid some or all of our own intimacy will be taken away. But I think, what it comes down to, is that I don't like the idea of someone else getting to have sex with MY girlfriend. Am I wrong to think this way? I don't think of her as my property, but we plan on getting married and I'm worried that this will be a huge problem. She says that variety is the spice of life and that I should get over this because i put too much importance on sex, when I should separate sex and love.

I just don't know, Dan. Am I making too big a deal out of this? I am very happy with our relationship, and our sex life. And she has told me on numerous occasions that sex with me is the best she's ever had, but also that variety is the spice of life. Which then makes me think, "Why would she want anyone else if I'm the best?" And honestly, it makes me feel as if I'm not enough. Any advice you can offer would be fantastic.

When The Best Isn't Enough

Christopher Ryan, coauthor of Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, was this week's guest expert in this "Savage Love." You can read his wise, kind, and helpful answers to people struggling with monogamy—and anyone who's made a monogamous commitment is struggling with monogamy there. Christopher was also kind enough to answer a few bonus questions for Slog. His response to WTBIE is after the jump. You should click through and read it right after you buy Christopher's book.
Christopher writes:

Whether or not you’re making “too big a deal out of this” depends on several things. First, assuming you could overcome this sick feeling you get when the issue comes up, would you want a long term (possibly life-long) relationship with this woman, on these terms? In other words, is your reaction something you see as a weakness in yourself that you’d like to overcome, or does it represent a fundamental difference in how the two of you understand and experience sex and intimacy?

You sound like a sincere, thoughtful, self-reflective guy, so I’m going to assume the woman you love is similarly evolved, psychologically. She’s not going to change, and even if you could find a way to make her, that would only lead to resentment and disaster. Our greatest ambition for 
Sex at Dawnis that it will encourage young people like you to clarify their sexual nature before signing on to long term commitments they can’t get out of later without making a huge mess. It sounds like she’s very clear on who she is and what kind of relationship can/cannot work for her long term, so it’s up to you to try to take it or leave it.

As to your insecurities, since she’s already risked losing you by being up-front about her unwillingness to sign on to long-term sexual monogamy, I see no reason to doubt her when she says she loves you and that her intimacy with you is far more than she has with anyone else. One of the advantages of sexual experience (which she seems to have) is that you realize that sex isn’t magical. She’s never going to leave you because another guy has a bigger Johnson or screws her better. She already knows what’s out there, and she’s found what she likes best with you. It sounds like she’s offering you emotional, but not sexual monogamy. So now you’ve got to decide whether you want to try to disentangle those two issues in your own experience.

If you do, I’d suggest seeing this as a way to deepen your connection with her. Explain that you want to really understand her experience and share yours. Ask her to tell you about her experiences with other men and notice your feelings. Are you disgusted? Turned on? Afraid? All of the above? Tell her about some of your experiences with other women and explore her reactions. Watch porn together and see what she particularly likes or doesn’t. Maybe you want to go to a swinger’s club or party together and see how it feels to be in a room with people having sex. You might find that doing these sorts of things together helps transform this issue from something that creates distance to something that binds you together even more.

If this goes well, you might work out some ground-rules for dealing with other lovers. How much do you want to know? Do you want to know when she’s with someone, or just hear about it later—or neither? Do you want to try being with another couple together? (This might help you overcome the fear of the unknown, as you’ll be right there the whole time, with a safe-word that you’ve agreed to use if you want to stop at any time.)

If you can develop a relationship in which sex becomes something the two of you share—even when it involves other people—you might end up with something very special. But if this sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, you might want to seriously consider looking for someone whose views on monogamy are less challenging for you.


If Your Dad's Getting Handjobs From His Masseuse and Your Mom Doesn't Mind—Or Even Approves—She Probably Isn't Going to Tell You About It
Posted by Dan Savage on July 13, 2010

Whenever anyone questions the moral and cultural biases that favor monogamy—and Slog 
ain't the only blog that's been writing about Sex at Dawn—folks with tales of non-monogamous woe rush in to share their sad stories of marriages and relationships destroyed.

Here's the first thing to keep in mind during this discussion: non-monogamy runs the gamut from couples who allow for some outside sexual contact under very limited circumstances to full-swap swingers with sex swings in their rec rooms to couples who are free to do whatever, whenever, wherever to whoever to the masseuse who lightens your mom's load by relieving your dad of his.

And here's the second thing to keep in mind: most people in successful non-monogamous relationships keep their mouths shut. Almost all non-monogamous couples—particularly the straight ones—are invested in being perceived as monogamous because... well, just look at the way people freak out and start jumping up and down when anyone suggests that monogamy isn't for everyone. With so many terrified, insecure people running around questioning the commitment—even the sanity—of non-monogmaous couples, it's understandable that so few are out.

So as you read the sad stories about failed open relationships that are being offered in (over)reaction to 
Sex at Dawn—the authors don't actually advocate open relationships—please bear in mind that the voices of happy, content, and successful non-monogamous couples are almost entirely absent from this debate. Your parents or your married siblings or your coworkers or your best friends—some couples you know—could be in open relationships. And if they are, dear reader, odds are good that you won't find out unless 1. the relationship falls apart and 2. the relationship's failure can be pinned on openness, i.e. dad leaves mom for his masseuse.

While the successfully non-monogamous keep their mouths screwed shut—the tribute a presumed vice is bullied into paying an overblown virtue—survivors of failed non-monogamous relationships 1. never shut up and 2. see their stories highlighted by moralizers as proof that non-monogamous relationships never work out. Because, hey, if non-monogamy ever worked, well, where are all the successful non-monogamous couples then?

I don't know—go ask your mother.


If you are interested in evolutionary biology (as I am) and are interested in sex (as everybody is), eventually you seek out an evolutionary explanation of human sexual behavior. It always goes something like this: Men, eager to spread their genes (in the form of unlimited sperm) far and wide, are naturally promiscuous, and women, eager to provide resources for their genes (in the form of rare and precious eggs), are nesters, trading sex with men for security for their offspring. Thus, horndogs and housewives: Eliot and Silda Spitzer, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods and his wife Elin Nordegren, ad, quite literally sometimes, nauseum. With all that evidence on cable news, I, like millions of others, bought into this model. I even referenced it, approvingly, in my own book.

Which is why my favorite book of 2010 is Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha's Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins Of Modern Sexuality – it's the only book I read this year that proved that I was badly mistaken about something. The "standard model" is, as authors Ryan and Jetha point out, as false as the Piltdown Man. Even worse, it is, as they call it, a "Flintstonization of Prehistory," a way of mapping modern mores backwards onto our ancient past. For centuries, men were allowed sexual freedom, women were not, and thus this explanation exists to provide a "scientific" basis for what we already believe.

Their eminently convincing case argues that our current sexual practices — pair bonding in marriage, monogamy (which, again, historically we've imposed only on women), even the nuclear family — are all a cultural construct, dating from after the rise of agriculture and civilization. To describe sexual behavior in our natural state, in the hundreds of thousands of years before the scant few millenia of recorded history, they use evidence from anthropology, comparative zoology, and evolutionary biology. Their conclusion is that we are evolved to be highly sexualized creatures, almost unique in the world, who use sex as a form of social communication and bonding. And that in our natural state, females enjoy and exercise as much sexual freedom as males, if not more.

They are careful not to draw any conclusions about modern sexual morality, other than to urge sympathy towards those who "fail" at monogamy (see list above). What makes the book so valuable – beyond its good humor, sharp writing, and its remarkable asides on issues such as "female copulatory vocalization" – is the way it casually and effectively demolishes a Solomon’s Temple worth of conventional wisdom about something we thought we understood pretty well: who we are. It made me wonder how much else of what I think I know is wrong, and it, and it makes me eager to find out.

— Peter Sagal, host of NPR’s Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!



Sexy Beasts
Book Review / by Eric Michael Johnson / June 29, 2010

From vibrator sales to troubles with monogamy, evidence abounds that Homo sapiens is an exceedingly sexual species. A new book argues that understanding how this sexuality evolved helps to explain our unique creativityinside — as well as outside — the conjugal bedroom.

When we think of the first swinger parties most of us imagine 1970s counter-culture, we don’t picture Top Gun fighter pilots in World War II. Yet, according to researchers Joan and Dwight Dixon, it was on military bases that “partner swapping” first originated in the United States. As the group with the highest casualty rate during the war, these elite pilots and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual” and had an unspoken agreement to care for one another if a woman’s husband didn’t make it back home. Like the sexy apes known as bonobos, this kind of open sexuality served a social function that provided a way to relieve stress and form long-lasting bonds.

For the husband and wife team Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá in their new book
Sex At Dawn, this example is one of many that suggests the human species did not evolve in monogamous, nuclear families but rather in small, intimate groups where “most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time.” We are the descendants of these multimale-multifemale mating groups and, even though we’ve constructed a radically different society from our hunter-gatherer forebears, the behavioral and psychological traits our species evolved in the distant past still manifest themselves today. Ryan, a psychologist, and Jethá, a psychiatrist, argue that understanding human sexual evolution this way helps to explain our species’ unique creativity inside (as well as outside) the marriage bed. It may also shed light on why fidelity has been such a persistent problem for both men and women throughout recorded history.

For Ryan and Jethá there is little doubt that human beings are an exceedingly sexual species. As an example they detail how in 1902 the first home-use vibrator was patented and approved for domestic use in the United States. Fifteen years later there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes (today this number could be as high as fifty million nationwide). In 2006, according to U.S. Pornography Industry Revenue Statistics, people around the world—the majority of whom were probably men—spent an estimated $97 billion on pornographic material ($13.3 billion in the U.S. alone), a figure that exceeded the annual revenue of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, and Netflix combined. To judge human sexuality based on consumption patterns, as Stephen Colbert would say, “the market has spoken.” When this is combined with estimates that people engage in hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of copulations per child born (more than any primate, including chimpanzees and bonobos) there’s little denying that the human animal is one sexy beast.

But why should a species often described as monogamous be so hypersexual? Monogamous animals by definition don’t have to compete for reproduction and, as a result, are generally characterized by a low level of sexual activity. But according to Ryan and Jethá humans top a very short list of species that engage in sex for pleasure. “No animal spends more of its allotted time on Earth fussing over sex than Homo sapiens,” they write. In fact, the animal world is filled with species who confine their sexual behavior to just a few periods each year, the only times when conception is possible. Among apes the only monogamous species are the gibbons whose infrequent, reproduction-only copulations make them much better adherents of the Vatican’s guidelines than we are. In this way, Ryan and Jethá argue, repressing our sexuality should not be confused with reining in an “animal” nature; rather, it is denying one of the most unique aspects of what it means to be human.

The suggestion that humans did not evolve as a monogamous species is not as radical an idea as it may sound. In The Descent of Man Charles Darwin wrote, “Those who have most closely studied the subject [particularly the anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan] believe that communal marriage was the original and universal form throughout the world.” Yet ever since the nineteenth century anthropologists have struggled over how to identify the mating system of human beings. In 1967 George P. Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas reported that only 14.5% of modern preindustrial societies could be classified as monogamous. Yet, in the West, researchers commonly refer to humans as “serially monogamous,” based on the pattern of repeated monogamous marriages throughout men and women’s lifetimes. But with over half of divorces occurring because of infidelity and one in 25 dads unknowingly raising children that they didn’t father, this is not a picture that fits comfortably with monogamy of any sort, serial or otherwise.

However, by looking at modern indigenous societies and comparing the findings of anthropologists with the latest results in behavioral psychology and biology, Ryan and Jethá piece together a remarkably coherent pattern from an otherwise fractured understanding of human sexuality. From societies that believe that multiple men are necessary for a successful pregnancy (what researchers refer to as “partible paternity”) to those where not having an extra-marital tryst will cause a man to be labeled “stingy of one’s genitals” by his female suitors, the authors conclude that marriage may be an established social arrangement among many hunter-gatherers but it’s one in which sexuality is decidedly fluid. A range of physiological evidence from Western populations is further offered to support this position, from the year-round libido in both sexes, to the unusually large size of men’s genitalia compared to other apes, to the shifting sexual strategy during various stages in women’s reproductive cycle (and lest we forget multiple female orgasms?). All suggest that our species is adapted for several concurrent sexual partners.

This is, of course, not a new idea in human evolutionary research. Primatologist Sarah Hrdy advocated a promiscuous mating system for humans in The Woman That Never Evolved (1999) while psychologist David Barash and psychiatrist Judith Lipton detailed their own argument in The Myth of Monogamy (2001). In Sex At Dawn Ryan and Jethá cover some similar ground as these previous authors but provide a great deal of additional material that was unavailable a decade ago. They also emphasize the ways in which monogamy has been used as a means of controlling women in patriarchal societies and make a number of insightful connections between the invention of agriculture 12,000 years ago and how sedentary societies influence the structure of human mating. However, with a relaxed writing style and numerous examples from modern popular culture, their discussion of these topics remains readily accessible even to those who may be encountering such ideas for the first time.

Sex At Dawn is a provocative and engaging synthesis of the latest research on human sexual evolution that has the added benefit of being a joy to read. While the authors’ conclusion that healthy relationships can be both committed and open may come as a shock to some readers, others will likely find it refreshingly honest. As their example of WWII fighter pilots emphasizes, human sexuality has numerous social as well as emotional functions and there has never been only a single path chosen by the human species. In offering a fresh look at a fascinating and controversial topic Sex At Dawn is a book sure to generate discussion, and one likely to produce more than a few difficult conversations with family marriage counselors.

Eric Michael Johnson received his masters degree in primate behavior and is now pursuing his PhD in the history of science. He writes on issues of science, politics, and history at The Primate Diaries.


Sex at Dawn
Our Promiscuous Prehistory

What is it about the nature of human sexuality that virtually all civilizations throughout history have tried like the dickens to suppress?   Why is sex so often such a problem when it really *should* be a pleasure?  Why might your otherwise devoted husband rather masturbate to porn than have sex with you?  Why might your normally modest wife fantasize about being consensually gangbanged by the Brazilian soccer team?  Why do so many happily married people risk everything they love and cherish to go off and have an affair?

These are some of the big questions that Drs. Christopher Ryan, Ph.D. and Cacilda Jethá, M.D. address in their hot new book, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. With provocative wit, yet intense seriousness of purpose, they gather together up-to-date research from various scientific disciplines to reveal a side of ourselves that is wild, scary, exhilarating, egalitarian and, without a doubt, non-monogamous. 

Sex at Dawn also addresses some of the little questions like:  Why does a man tend to thrust during intercourse (to displace a rival’s sperm through active suction)?  Why does a woman tend to moan (to let other possible partners know she’s hot)?  Is there a way to understand our non-monogamous sexual urges and fantasies as natural and useful instead of perverse, immoral or dysfunctional?  Ryan and Jethá say yes.

The evidence is voluminous, but the repression of it is tremendous.  So…are we ready to confront such scandalous biological truths about our hunter/gather sexual nature?  Since Sex at Dawn recently hit the the New York Times Best-Seller List, it seems that yes, by golly, we are.  At least, some of us are, from Newsweek’s Kate Dailey, who calls the book “a scandal in the best sense,” to Seattle-based sex guru Dan Savage, who has dubbed Sex at Dawn “the single most important book about human sexuality since the Kinsey Report.”  Then again, Australia’s Sunrise on 7 tried to paint the book as a threat to marriage, morality and all that society holds dear, which, considering the source, only proves the irrefutable power of its message.

A Promiscuous Dawn

I discovered Sex at Dawn on Twitter—where the cyber-hunter/gatherers meet and feast on each other’s tweets—thanks to 
Bonobo Handshake author Vanessa Woods (a previous guest on The Dr. Susan Block Show). It’s appropriate that our kissin’ cousins the bonobos led me, swinging from Twitter tree to tree, to Sex at Dawn.  In fact, the bonobos themselves, as well as the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure, all but embody Ryan and Jethá’s concept of a prehistoric human forager community where “fierce egalitarianism” once ruled, war was virtually unknown, paternity was not an issue and possessiveness was not a problem—after all, what is there to possess when you’re always on the move and U-hauls haven’t been invented?

Most otherwise topnotch evolutionary psychologists, primatologists and anthropologists—like Drs. Helen Fisher, David Buss, Frans de Waal, Owen Lovejoy, Matt Ridley, Steven Pinker, Robert Wright and such notables—come up with flip, vague or convoluted ways to explain away unpopular evidence.  They seem to be trying to squeeze the square peg of monogamy into the round hole of humanity.  Ryan and Jethá have chosen a more well-rounded term to characterize the essence of human sexuality as practiced by our prehistoric progenitors: promiscuity.

That’s a loaded word in common parlance, but when Ryan and Jethá say “promiscuous,” they don’t mean reckless, uncaring, libertine screwing around.  Rather they impart the sense of its Latin root, “miscere,” which means “to mix,” implying that our ancestors enjoyed what biologist Alan F. Dickson called “multi-male/multi-female mating systems,” involving ongoing erotic, caring relationships with a mix of selected members of their close-knit tribe.  I imagine this promiscuity could take many different forms; perhaps one approach might involve serial romances with three or four partners at any given time, erotic skin-to-skin encounters with several others and an orgy around the fire every Saturday night.  Sound like fun to you?

It did to me, so I asked Ryan to send me a review copy in preparation for our 
radioSUZY1 interview which would take place, appropriately enough, at dawn in Barcelona where he and wife/co-author Jethá reside.  As soon as the 400-page tome arrived at the Institute, I devoured it like a hungry forager who had just stumbled upon the Tree of Knowledge, laden with luscious fruit.  Then I read it again, slowly, savoring the pages like an after-dinner liqueur. Sex at Dawn is a sheer pleasure to peruse, and not only because it eloquently backs up theories I’ve been espousing for years with mountains of carefully compiled evidence (which I can now use to thwart enemies of pleasure). This is a book whose time has come…and with all the reverberating tweets, excited postings and passionate reactions (I’m not the only one who’s reading it twice), it seems to be coming again and again…

Farmers and Golddiggers

But back to Ryan and Jethá’s thesis: homo sapiens (that’s us) did not evolve in monogamous, Flintstonesque, nuclear families, with or without the white picket fences, as so many people, corporations and institutions in the “Marital Industrial Complex”—from couples counselors to congressmen, religious preachers to science teachers—preach and teach.  Rather, we evolved in 20-150 person hunter-gatherer groups in which nobody owned property (nor much of anything at all), and normal adults would have been engaged in multiple ongoing sexual relationships with different group members at any given time, quite like our closest living relatives: common chimps and bonobos.

Why is the sexuality of our ancestors some 100,000-200,000 years ago such a huge deal to us now—even to those of us who don’t care about history, let alone prehistory?  Because the human body (featuring, of course, the human brain inside that body) evolved under these prehistoric conditions to be, essentially, what it is today: a highly social, communicative and very sexy beast.

So how in civilized tarnation did we come up with monogamy?  With blood, sweat and a lot of tears.  After hundreds of thousands of years of nomadic, promiscuous foraging, some 10,000-12,000 years ago, a human revolution took place that spread throughout the planet.  This was a revolution like no other before or since; though it didn’t alter human anatomy, it fostered a monumental change in the human way of life.  This revolution was the advent of agriculture.

With agriculture came a relatively reliable source of food for which you didn’t have to hunt or search.  You simply had to cultivate it.  Sounds awesome, huh?  Seems like it would make life a lot easier now that you didn’t have to chase down your lunch through the bushes every day.  That’s a fine theory.  The reality is that farming didn’t make life easier at all, say Ryan and Jethá.  On the contrary, the Great Agricultural Revolution spawned a much more demanding, oppressive, property-oriented, greed-driven, envy-stricken, brutal, stressful lifestyle. 

Of course, it also meant that a lot more babies would survive than did in hunter-gatherer days.  Farming increased fertility and lowered the rate of infant mortality, generating population explosions that led to the creation of great cities and elaborate cultures.  Yet, the host of new diseases farming unleashed, coupled with the less varied nutritional diet, actually worsened adult human health. 

Farming also generated a need for a military, to protect “your” property and/or make war on your neighbors if you felt like taking their property. It spawned governing bureaucracies to make property-conscious laws against stealing and adultery.  And it favored certain aggressive individuals (almost always men) who took “possession” of land, resources and animals, including their fellow homo sapiens.  Yes indeed, the agricultural revolution involved the domestication of human beings—a farmer’s slaves and hired workers, as well as his “own” children and his “own” wife or wives—right along with his other domesticated animals. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this time while standing up on Ryan and Jethá’s mammoth mountain of evidence: Farming is the root of all evil.

Or as Sex at Dawn so eloquently explains: The Bible got it backwards. Adam and Eve weren’t kicked out of a Garden into the wilderness as punishment for their sins.  They were kicked into one.  Upon eating from the Tree of Knowledge and learning the mysteries of agriculture, humanity was swept out of the wilderness, the wild jungles, forests, savannas and untamed coastlines and plopped down behind a Neolithic lawn mower in a garden, aka: The Family Farm.

With farming, the “family” was born, complete with Father knowing best and Mother being barefoot and preggers, presumably with only Father’s offspring.  Before the agricultural revolution, paternity was not an issue.  Since prehistoric human females, like bonobos, hid their estrus, the mechanics of conception were a mystery.  Nobody could be sure whose father was whose, just as no chimpanzee male knows whose baby his current favorite female is carrying (this, by the way, is how chimp kids escape infanticide).

Ryan and Jethá theorize that our prehistoric ancestors may have believed that it took several men’s sperm to make one baby (studies show that some forager tribes still believe this).  Thus, all the men in any given tribe felt more or less the same level of responsibility for and kinship with all the children (also like bonobos and common chimps).

As soon as farmers started breeding plants and domesticated animals, learning exactly how “sex makes babies,” they applied this knowledge to their own sexual relationships.  Paternity went from being a great unknown to being a great big deal. One of Ryan and Jethá’s main points here is that the male obsession with paternity and the female obsession with finding a breadwinner are not innate human sexual nature.  They are not as old as humanity.  They are a reaction to the modern, post-Neolithic world.

Choosy or Floozy?

With this newfound knowledge of paternity, men cultivated ownership of “their” women and children.  The elite practiced polygamy while the majority developed monogamy, in order to “guarantee” paternity.  This way, you knew your kids were “yours” and you could force them to work on your farm and then pass that farm down to them—the lucky little bastards—so that you might feel some sense of immortality, as you died prematurely, victim of diseases from which your forager ancestors never suffered.

With the Agricultural Revolution, the natural promiscuity of “mixing” lovers was turned into the grave sin of “cheating” or “infidelity,” for which the punishment—especially for women—ranged from ostracism to torture to public execution.

Thus chastened, ladies learned to hide their desire, along with their lovers.  And civilization developed the notion that human females are naturally “choosy” and reserved about sex.   Ryan and Jethá reference Advice Goddess Amy Alcon’s over-confident statement that “ancestral women who successfully passed their genes onto us...[were] choosy [about] weeding the dads from the cads” as a prime example of an ill-informed “sexpert” writing about sex; they then proceed to utterly demolish it with illustrations and recent studies from 12 different branches of science. 

Though you’d think it would have been dashed by common sense.  If females are indeed the “choosier,” more sexually reserved gender by nature, why would men throughout history have gone to such great lengths to control the female libido?

And isn’t it funny how we generally don’t assume that motherly love should be confined to one child.  So why do we believe that sexual love must be confined to one lover?

Pleasure, Violence & The New Promiscuity (Much Like the Old Promiscuity)

Sex at Dawn doesn’t present any brand new findings or even any particularly new ideas.  It’s the way in which Ryan and Jethá bring together old and recent findings and ideas to support their thesis that is so valuable and extraordinary.

I was particularly delighted to read their reference to my favorite developmental neuropsychologist and mentor, Dr. James Prescott, whose landmark 1975 paper, “
Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence,” demonstrated that the deprivation of pleasurable physical touch, especially during the infant and adolescent years, leads people to violence and war in 49 cultures.

Ryan and Jethá also quote 
The Lifestyle: Erotic Rites of Swingers, by my old friend Terry Gould, with regard to the WWII Air Force officers and wives who started the modern swinging couples “lifestyle” in 1940s suburban America with their secret “key clubs.”  (Gould devotes another chapter in The Lifestyle to following me and my Bonobo Gang of friends and lovers around a 1996 Lifestyles Convention as we party and discuss Ethical Hedonism and the Bonobo Way.)

That same year, Gould introduced me to the concept of the “sperm wars” that go on inside a woman’s vagina (explained more thoroughly in “
Sperm Wars: Cuckolds, Hot Wives and Evolutionary Biology”). So even if women aren’t so “choosy” about with whom we have sex, at least our reproductive tract is somewhat selective.  That is, through a series of biological hurdles and the phenomenon of sperm wars, the female genital system only allows the strongest—or best positioned—sperm to win the prize of fertilizing the egg.  Of course, this assumes that a woman has sperm from more than one man inside her—or, at least, that she is anatomically built for that purpose—which flows right into Ryan and Jethá’s thesis that the human body has evolved to practice promiscuity.

And they weave it all together—stats and studies on everything from porn to prairie voles, balls to bukkake, vibrators to vampire bats, cuckolds to cougars, Melanesian Wedding Orgies to Victorian morality, instant lust to lasting love—to support their idea (which holds very close to my idea) that the human body and the human mind and that general all-around crazy thing that we call human behavior all reflect both our true highly sexual nature and our very promiscuous prehistoric past—one which seems to have also been a relatively peaceful past, much like the Bonobo Way of peace through pleasure suggests that it would have been…

This is not to suggest that we should all live in polyamorous households.  Personally, I love being married—to just one husband.  And the Sex at Dawn authors, themselves married for over 10 years, aren’t overtly advocating anything except opening our minds to the evidence of our innate promiscuity and the way in which it influences our lives.

But that doesn’t mean that others won’t use Sex at Dawn to validate their open marriages and polyamorous adventures.

More power to them.

Dr. Susan Block is a sex therapist and author of The 10 Commandments of Pleasure, occasionally seen on HBO and other channels.  Commit Bloggamy with her at  Email your comments to her


Elec. J. Sexuality

Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 13, August 31, 2010 (

Reviewed by David S. Hall 

I am a sex educator and have been teaching college students and adults what I have learned about Human Sexuality for many years. This book has caused me to look seriously at what I believed was factual about my favorite subject and question some of the received wisdom of my text books and mentors. I think this book is a “MUST READ” for every sexuality educator, therapist, researcher and anyone else seriously interested in the subject.

I have had many questions about evolutionary psychology since I personally don’t seem to fit into the model. Nor do many of the people I see around me. Monogamy does not seem to be built into our behavior, but forced upon us by our culture and religion. High divorce rates, cheating scandals like Tiger Woods and Jesse James seem more like the norm. The gay marriage issue is difficult to understand in a standard evolutionary perspectives. Did my genes really want me to find a partner of the other sex based on “mate value” and stay with her for the rest of my life, forsaking all others til death does us part? Didn’t work for me.

Ryan and Jethà question almost everything I have been taught about evolutionary psychology. They begin by defining the “standard narrative of human sexual evolution” which is roughly: boy meets girl, they evaluate each other’s mate value based on their differing reproductive agendas (youth and fertility is his measure, wealth and status for her), they mate and form a long-term pair bond. She watches for any sign he might leave her (intimacy with other women) and he watches for any sign of sexual infidelity (lack of paternity certainty). Instead of seeing these as elements of human nature, the authors suggest they are adaptations to social conditions. They then link this to the development of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, about 5% of the existence of the modern human. Prior to that time we lived in “immediate-return hunter-gatherer” communities, small numbers of people on a very large and fruitful earth. Those few of these societies that still exist today are fiercely egalitarian, sharing everything.

They look at the work of the major writers on the human historical record, anthropologists and archeologists and, particularly, evolutionary psychologists, and point out their assumptions. For example, I have been taught, and have taught, that marriage is found in over 140 different cultures and societies. What is the definition of “marriage” being used in these studies? How long do they last, how hard are they to end, what meaning do these cultures apply to what the outside observer sees? Is it marriage, or is it pair bonding, or just sexual behavior they are seeing? Are the scientists trying to fit what they see into what they think “should be” and not letting the information speak for itself? And in any case, what does this say about pre-agricultural societies in the 200,000 years of anatomically modern humans. Read Chapter 8, “Making a Mess or Marriage, Mating and Monogamy” for some insight into this problem.

The authors write at length, and with humor, about the genetic connection to our nearest primate cousins, and question why the chimpanzee is considered the model for human history and not the bonobo. Is it because modern day man is at war over scarce resources and the bonobo just wants to have sex and eat. How could THAT be our ancestor?

“No animal spends more of its allotted time on Earth fussing over sex than homo sapiens – not even the famously libidinous bonobo. Although we and the bonobo both average well into the hundreds, if not thousands, of acts of intercourse per birth – way ahead of any other primate – their “acts” are far briefer than ours. Pair-bonded “monogamous” animals are almost always hyposexual, having sex as the Vatican recommends: infrequently, quietly, and for reproduction only. Human beings, regardless of religion, are at the other end of the libidinal spectrum: hypersexuality personified” (p. 85)

This book is educational, widely entertaining, often humorous, and helps explain why we humans behave as strangely as we often do. I cannot begin to cover what the authors cover in 312 pages of text, 35 pages of endnotes and 31 pages of references. I can only encourage you to buy this book, mark up the interesting parts, review their endnotes and references, and decide for yourself if what you teach is really factual, or socially conditioned cultural beliefs. I suspect you might change your lecture notes, I have.


Wanted to Hate it...

In Review: Why I Wanted to Hate “Sex at Dawn” But Couldn’t

I could barely believe it when a new acquaintance who I have grown to respect deeply insisted, repeatedly, that I read Sex at Dawn. This book by Christopher Ryan, PhD, and Cacilda Jethá, MD, has been described as “the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948” by the most read sex columnist in the US, Dan Savage. Savage also had Ryan on his podcast and has championed the book repeatedly. Sparking debate and controversy, Sex at Dawn challenges many widely held assumptions about evolutionary psychology. Issues raised include:

  • why long-term monogamy is difficult for many;
  • why passion can fade even as love deepens (see my recent blog post on bisexuality and the different parts of the brain engaged for different kinds of love);
  • why a middle-aged man might risk everything for an affair;
  • why homosexuality persists in the face of standard evolutionary logic; and
  • prehistoric origins of modern sexuality as they relate to human bodies.

Why did I hate such a book before reading a page of it? Primarily, because my ex-boyfriend read the book upon a vague reference I made to it (without having picked it up myself), and offered it up as evidence that no human being is wired for monogamy. Bearing in mind that my ex was not exactly the world’s greatest emotional communicator, I developed an unhealthy rage towards this book and could not bear to hear it mentioned for the next few months—a problem since he quoted it most days.

Funny thing is once I got around to reading it, I actually found myself nodding along. And I quickly realized that the authors themselves had a much more complex interpretation of their data and research than the snippets I was afforded through my past partner.

Ryan and Jethá describe the lives of our foraging ancestors, who lived in egalitarian groups that shared food, childcare, and, often, sexual partners. The book details how attitudes around sexual monogamy changed with the advent of agriculture and the ownership of property—and then it offers several ideas as to why. In particular, the book introduced me to the term Male Parental Investment (MPI). It notes, “The standard narrative insists that paternity certainty has always been of utmost importance to our species…Why, then, is the anthropological record so rich with examples of societies where biological paternity is of little or no importance?” In cultures where all of the tribe cares for all of the young, it becomes less important who fathered whose child, and thus “where paternity is unimportant, men tend to be relatively unconcerned about female’s sexual fidelity.”

Drawing on anthropology, archeology, primatology, anatomy, and psychosexuality, the authors make the case that monogamy is not necessarily as wired into human nature as other sociologists, cultural theorists, psychologists, and politicians would have you believe. At the same time, they underscore again and again the innate human capacity for love and generosity of spirit, and regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The authors refer often to the bonobo monkeys, who have peaceful communities, a range of partners, high incidence of homosexual activity, and tons of joyful sex. (A wonderful man I know recently quipped about “homo-bonobos” when I was talking to him about the book, to my amusement.)

Sex at Dawn was engaging from start to finish and chock full of surprising information. For example, there is a chart about the relative body size of different types of male and female primates, along with descriptions of their sexual behavior. I was startled to learn that male gorillas only have one-inch penises, largely because the males of the biggest body mass are usually the ones breeding with multiple females and apparently they don’t need to be well endowed to impress the ladies. We also learn about a remote Chinese community in which brothers assume responsibility as the male providers for their sisters’ offspring, and young women control access to their bedrooms for an array of lovers they may choose to receive. While the larger Chinese government has attempted to alter this small community’s norms and practices, so far they have continued, happily and healthily, year after year.

I recommend this book to anyone who ever puzzled over relationships, sex, or how the two intersect. Looking back, I wish I could have had a more informed discussion with my ex about its contents—it clearly had a lot to offer both of us. So grab the book and check out Ryan’s contributions to Huffington Post and Psychology Today. He regularly makes public appearances, tweets items of interest, and develops ideas and discussions to continue this very important conversation.



Katy Otto is a social justice activist, writer and musician who grew up in the DC area. She works in nonprofit management and development.

Books are my Boyfriends

“Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (is my Boyfriend)

Source (This one is really worth clicking to the original to see the hilarious photos of the author in bed with our book.)

What the Book is About

I haven’t even started writing this review and I’m already tomato-red-blushing.

(At this point I whisper to myself “Whoreface, get it together. You’re a fully-grown adult and it’s a book review. Stop giggling to yourself.”)

Okay so SEX AT DAWN…

Sorry I need to stop giggling. Stopping. Stopping. No. Wait. Okay. No, wait again. Okay. Actually stopping this time. No. Three more giggles. Okay, two more. And…. I’m giggled out, let’s do a book review!

So SEX AT DAWN is the most controversial, provocative and most importantly hot-hot-hot-pants piece of non-fiction you’re likely to find around. If you are one of those people that has read too many three volume Civil War accounts and thinks non-fiction is just the most tedious and tiresome of the boringest, get ready to change your opinion about the genre starting rightthissecondnow. You know in the movies when the quiet librarian type slips off her glasses and takes her hair out of a ponytail and swishes it around and all of a sudden her boobs are busting out of her shirt and she’s wearing eight inch heels, you know that part in movies?

That’s what SEX AT DAWN does to non-fiction.

You only kind of believe me? Let’s make you completely believe me, let’s synopsize! The basic theory the book puts forth is that human monogamy is NOT natural (Warning, 19th century apoplectic women, you might want to get your smelling salts out and find a good couch to go faint on) AND it puts forth the idea that men and women were biologically designed to have lots of undiscriminating casual sex with each other AND if we just got rid of monogamy in human society, we wouldn’t have divorce or war or hurt feelings about all the dudes who are just not that into you.

(You wouldn’t have time to have hurt feelings, you’d be too busy having societally condoned promiscuous intercourse with all the dudes who WERE just that into you!)

There’s also lots of on-the-ground reporting from a polyamorous town in China and a super-orgy-fied jungle in Brazil where if you don’t agree to have sex with whoevs in your tribe is horndogging it for you at the moment you are considered to be “stingy with your genitals.”

“Stingy with your genitals” is a phrase that actually exists in real life, oh my God I love this book so much.

There’s also a really compelling theory that agriculture/owning property set humanity on a course for both monogamy and war, and furthermore that monogamy and war are directly linked to one another, SAY WHAT?

Oh, are you just, like, gagging for another theory? Here you go, here’s your other theory. SEX AT DAWN also argues that humans are much more like peace-loving, polyamorous bonobo apes that the warmongering chimpanzees we are always comparing ourselves to, and citing chimps as our ancestors has let us go about pretending it’s okay for humanity to be an evil, bloodthirsty blight on the planet, when in fact we should be a peace-loving tribe of orgy rockstars like the bonobos.

So basically, sex for everyone, with everyone, everywhere, all the time equals Planet Earth being a real life version of “It’s a Small World After All” with the fricking singing and everything. Did you EVER think that someone would try to solve conflict in the Middle East by trying to tear down the institution of marriage? Yeah, that’s basically how Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha roll.

Bonus plus there is SO much talk about boning in SEX AT DAWN. Do you want to get a great present for that 12 year old boy you know? This might be it. Plus like a video game and a card with a picture of boobs on it. You’ll be so set.

Now after I read this book I did not jump in my car, drive to random dudes’ houses and start intercoursing with men who weren’t my boyfriend. (Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, you won’t get me that easy!) But this book did make me think. A lot. About what sex is. What a relationship is. What the point of monogamy is. Heck on a stick, what the point of ROMANCE is. Me, whose brain is part “The Notebook”-Gosling-and-McAdams-screwing-in-the-rain, part John-Cusack-not-putting-down-that-boombox-in-”Say Anything”-no-matter-how-long-it-takes-for-Ione-Skye-to-come-to-the-fucking-window, part the-ending-of “The Way We Were”- when-Barbara-Streisand-and-Robert-Redford-meet-on-that-New-York-street-years-later-and-having-one-last-sad-hug*, this is THAT ROMANCE IN MY PANTS ME questioning MONOGA-FUCKING-MY!!!

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I love my romance. I love my closed relationship. I love my male friends knowing we are not going to have sex. I love random dudes on the street knowing we are not going to have sex. I love my boyfriend not having sex with random girls. I love my boyfriend being stingy with his genitals. I love being stingy with my genitals!

But I also love a book that really makes me think. Aaaaaaaaand…. is also boner-worth non-fiction. Dudes, you know you want to have a boner while reading non-fiction. Ladies, you know you want to have a metaphorical boner while reading nonfiction.

Non-fiction boners for everyone!

BAMB out!

*Every Jewish girl thinks she’s Barbara Streisand and that Robert Redford is going to see past her nose and be so blue-eyes-chiseled-features-blinding-smile-in-love-with-her. If you’re really good at singing like Babs, you just might have a shot.

What Kind of Boyfriend He is 

Sexy boy anthropologist who believes in polyamory, natch.

Let’s be real here, this is a college-finding-yourself-and-drinking-a-shit-ton-of-Pabst-Blue-Ribbon relationship. Or maybe a wandering-through-your-twenties-aimlessly-and-questioning-everything-you-thought-you-knew-about-yourself kind of relationship. Posssssibly a mid-thirties-getting-out-of-a-long-term-relationship-you-thought-was-going-to-end-in-marriage-and-didn’t-and-now-you-have-misplaced-your-brain-and-are-going-batshit-crazy-all-the-time relationship. But “Sex With Dawn” is not a relationship that is going to go any kind of distance. Which isn’t to say it’s not a relationship worth having. Dude can talk intellectual shop-talk with the best of them, of course he can, he’s a BOY ANTHROPOLOGIST!

Also, all the ladies he’s been with/continues to be with while the two of you are dating? Yeah, he’s learned a thing or two from them.

A thing or two about what to do with his mouth and genitals, I wanted to make sure that was clear in case you didn’t get the innuendo. Oh, you did get it? Oh, you got it a hundred and ten percent? Oh. Okay.

He’s really good with his sexual body parts.

My Date With “Sex at Dawn”-

SEX AT DAWN wants to have an orgy with me and all the books I’ve reviewed on the blog thus far. Check my face for my reaction to this suggestion.

He’s like “Let’s just get all the books on top of you and see what happens.”

I actually though this was just-a-little-bit-this-side-of-sexy so we get our butts all tucked in bed.

Oh, yeah, we are tucked in all right.

And then things got a little crazy…

As long as we’re doing a book-sex shoot, am going to take this moment to reenact my FAVORITE movie sex scene, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in TITANIC (Yeah, yeah!) This is me doing my best impression of Kate’s sweaty hand sliding against the window of the old fashioned car she and Leo are having sex in.

Sexuality Resource 

Sexuality Resource reviews “Sex at Dawn,” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

We moderns tend to think of sexuality as the province of more-or-less monogamous couples, bound together by bonds of love, romantic possessiveness, and jealousy. But according to Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, at the “dawn” of mankind — the vast era dating from 200,000 to 10,000 years ago – things were quite different.

In their new book, 
Sex at Dawn, Ryan and Jethá argue that for hundreds of thousands of years of human prehistory, the basic sexual unit was not the couple at all, but rather small groups of hunter-gatherers — perhaps 50 to 150 individuals in each. These small groups, argue Ryan and Jethá, enjoyed a life of leisure, harmony, and sexual freedom that we can only dimly imagine.

Because they roamed to wherever food was plentiful, these early tribes neither had nor needed many possessions. Because nature provided for all their needs in abundance, they had no modern concept of ownership or property. All resources were shared with the group, and there was nearly always enough.

In these prehistoric cultures, according to Ryan and Jethá, the absence of a sense of ownership extended to personal relationships as well. Sexual enjoyment, like everything else, was a bountiful resource to be shared with everyone. There would probably have been little or no sexual jealousy.

Sexual autonomy and freedom were a natural birthright for both men and women. One could mate with as many partners as one wished. Sexual promiscuity was the rule rather than the exception.

How about monogamy?

Sexual monogamy might have struck these ancients as a silly and selfish idea. No one in such a group could lay exclusive claim to anything, including a mate’s sexual enjoyment. Instead, sexual relations served to bond all members of the group together. The more sex, the happier and more cohesive the tribe.

“OK,” you’re thinking. “A weird but interesting story. But is there any evidence to back up this notion of how our prehistoric ancestors lived?”

It turns out the evidence for it is surprisingly strong. Accounts of actual hunter-gatherer societies, from Captain Cook’s Polynesians to recent inhabitants of the Amazon rainforest, confirm the above narrative in all respects – including the endless sexual buffet.

The evidence from comparative anatomy is even more compelling. As one of the authors, Christopher Ryan, summed it up in a recent article in Psychology Today online, “. . . women’s breasts, orgasms and reproductive anatomy echo the same story told by men’s testicles, penises, and seminal chemistry. It’s an X-rated tale of the orgiastic origins of our species.” I won’t have space here to go into the details — but the anatomic evidence strongly suggests that we are built for non-stop partying, rather than monogamy. (For all of you who are still hesitating about whether to buy the book: the figure at the end of chapter 15 is not to be missed).

“So,” you’re wondering, “What terrible wrong turn did we take, to get from there to where we are today? What awful thing did we do as a species, to get us expelled from this delicious Eden?”

One word:


The dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago was an economic and cultural catastrophe from which we have never recovered.

When humans stopped roaming, and instead settled down to work the land, one’s sustenance now became dependent on how hard one worked. The organizing principle of human existence changed from abundance to scarcity.

Since resources were now scarce, competition became the new cultural norm, as did individual ownership of land and other precious resources. Wars erupted, for the first time in human history. And the once-peaceful little tribal group, with its sharing of bountiful resources, degenerated into smaller family units, each jealously guarding its small plot of land.

Sexual life was transformed as well. In the new ownership societies, one person would now claim another as his or her property, to be jealously guarded against competitors. Cultural institutions arose to safeguard sexual property. Chief among these was the new cultural ideal of sexual monogamy.

Sound familiar?

Of course. This is our everyday world. But take a trip through the pages of 
Sex at Dawn, and you will never take it for granted in the same way again. Like adults watching children at play, the book forces us to confront the existence of a sexual paradise from which our agricultural intelligence accidentally exiled us long ago.

In our world’s fascination with the marriages and infidelities of its leaders and celebrities, the authors of Sex at Dawn see a vague recollection of a bygone era when sexual liberty was considered everyone’s birthright.

Sex at Dawn’s vision of human sexual prehistory spark further debate about our sexual nature?

Let’s hope so. We could use more intelligent debate in our field.

Will the ideas it contains influence our culture — particularly our insistence on monogamy?

Probably not. As the book proves beyond any doubt, culture is very powerful.

But go read it anyway. It’s a great book.

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2010 New York City


Sex Therapist

Will “Sex at Dawn” influence sex therapy?
— Stephen Snyder, M.D.

Recently, Sexuality Resource reviewed Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s Sex at Dawn – a new book drawing on a vast amount of cultural and physical anthropological scholarship to argue that for our hunter-gatherer ancestors, sexual promiscuity may have been an established way of life. And that the development 10,000 years ago of agriculture, an ownership society, and sexual monogamy brought an end to this golden age of sexuality.

As a sex therapist in New York City (where the kind of ownership society begun 10,000 years ago has perhaps reached a pinnacle of development), I wonder about whether the ideas discussed in this book will influence my field much.

So far, it doesn’t look promising. The dominant public reaction to the book in its first month has been that it “shows that humans are meant to be sexually promiscuous.” This is a subtle and understandable misreading of Sex at Dawn, but a misreading nonetheless.

Let me explain why it’s a misreading — using an excerpt from 
Sex at Dawn that you may worry is a digression. But trust me, it’s relevant.

Human nature? It’s the bananas, stupid.

During Jane Goodall’s first four years studying chimpanzees in Tanzania, according to 
Sex at Dawn, she observed them to be remarkably peaceful creatures. But they were difficult to observe, since they tended not to hang around her camp much. So she tried to attract them nearer by regularly feeding them bananas. The effect, evidently, was to make the chimpanzees more aggressive. Fighting between them increased dramatically.

Now, which represented the chimpanzee’s true nature? The gentle chimpanzees happily feeding far apart in the forest, not bothering each other? Or the hoodlum chimpanzees shoving each other out of the way at the daily banana trough?

The answer, as Ryan and Jetha eloquently express, is neither. It’s like asking whether water’s true nature is ice or liquid. It all depends on the conditions. Change the conditions, and you change which of many potential natures will be manifest.

Goodall’s observations also show the relative delicateness and vulnerability of an established primate social order. For the chimpanzees, a peaceful society depended on abundant food supply that was dispersed, with lots of feeding spots for everyone. Stick a big box of bananas in the middle of the forest, and the whole neighborhood goes to hell.

The kind of early human social structure that encouraged sexual promiscuity was a delicate thing. It required a small tightly-knit group of less than 150 individuals, an abundant natural food supply, and an inability to hoard resources. As I look out my front door in New York City, I don’t detect much potential for the establishment of that kind of social order. It’s strictly big boxes of bananas, all the way up Columbus Avenue.

Yet the popular buzz in the book’s first month seems to miss all of this. “We’re really meant to be promiscuous,” yell the headlines.

No. The reality is more sobering. The material conditions that would permit a stable culture of sexual promiscuity are long since gone.

The sober reality is that, as the poet Wordsworth wrote 200 years ago, talking about something completely different but really not so different — “nothing can bring back the hour / Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.”

Sex at Dawn influence sex therapy? In my own practice it already has. But in a different way than you might think.

The Wordsworth poem about “splendor in the grass” begins with the poet’s awareness that as an adult he no longer is capable of the extremes of ecstatic pleasure that he recalls from childhood.

Since reading 
Sex at Dawn, I’m even more conscious in my work with individuals and couples that even our best sexual experiences are probably only a dim echo of a once-ecstatic form of sexual being. One that can no longer be adequately described in words or images, because the psychological and cultural conditions necessary for it have vanished.

This once-ecstatic form of sexual being was probably often communal, and involved an absence of shame and a deep sense of communal connection that I cannot imagine.

There is currently some talk in the sex therapy field about whether we can “change the conversation” about monogamy vs infidelity that currently dominates the American media – perhaps change it to a more European-style model, which takes sexual infidelity less seriously.

Maybe. But I think we’d just be tinkering around the edges.

To me the message of 
Sex at Dawn for sex therapists is this: Be sensitive to the fact that we’re all sexual exiles. Be tolerant of the sexual struggles of your fellow moderns. They’re doing the best they can under quite compromised circumstances. Or, to quote the Wordsworth poem again,

We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering.

Our sexual exile will not end anytime soon. In the meantime, we’ll do the best we can — to treat our sexual selves with kindness and understanding.

Copyright © Stephen Snyder, MD 2010 New York City

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Aqueduct Press

Monday, January 3, 2011
The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2010, pt. 28: Haddayr Copley-Woods
A Good Science Read
by Haddayr Copley-Woods

I love a good science read. Love love it. There are often good sources for solid scientific information that is even sometimes well written. But the confluence of convincingly presented statistics which refute common truisms, layman's-level language without losing a whisker of intellectual rigor, and lots of sly humor is truly rare.

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by research psychologist Christopher Ryan, PhD, and practicing psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá, MD, is exactly that kind of book. I have not read such delightful, convincing, and readable science writing since the dearly lamented Stephen Jay Gould.

This book is funny, absorbing, clear-eyed, and deeply anti-patriarchal in a way that feels incidental to the facts rather than rising from any agenda -- which I find utterly, gleefully vindicating and deeply satisfying.

The stated agenda of this book is to prove that despite years of scientific and social leaders telling us that humans evolved to be monogamous, we in fact evolved to have multiple sexual partners either simultaneously or at least in fairly quick succession.

I think anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to the world around us would come to this conclusion: if monogamy were a deep and driving natural human force, why would we need social and legal laws to enforce it? Why, as the book points out, do some people risk stoning and death for extra marital sexual relations if it is our natural state to be blissfully, lifelongedly (shhhh it's a word now) monogamous?

Well, because it isn't human nature, that's why.

The authors go on at length to pull apart what they call the 'standard narrative,' first presenting the assumptions that have influenced so much of scientific and social thought, as well as their extremely flawed originators. This bit of social history was really quite eye opening, with titles such as "How Darwin Insults Your Mother (The Dismal Science of Sexual Economics)." They not only point out the forefathers' (and one mother's) nearly willful refusal to see the evidence in front of them, but they also point out the better way to interpret the same data in clear, no-nonsense and historically deliciously gossipy ways. They point out that the only apes which are monogamous are gibbons -- more closely related to monkeys than to humans. They also point out how rare lifelong monogamy is among animals entirely, killing such sacred cows as swans and penguins. Sorry, folks, but they practice serial monogamy -- like nearly every other supposedly monogamous animal. Prairie voles, which are famously set up to be an example to us (as we are so closely related, one assumes) will apparently have sex with anything that moves but will only sit next to their lifelong 'spouses.' Aw.

After tearing apart basic and truly flawed assumptions such as sexual competition and presumed desires for human males only to raise their own offspring (and thus control female sexuality), Jethá and Ryan turn to the actual evidence, looking at a wide variety of cultures throughout history and throughout the world to point out that so many aspects of human nature we feel are innate truly are instead cultural, such as sexual jealousy or marriage itself. What I found particularly refreshing was their refusal to exoticize and worship the 'primitive' as a somehow non-cultural being pure and closer to our ancestors than we are, yet still use the data of what few current pre-agrarian or nearly pre-agrarian societies we have at our disposal in real and convincing ways.

What I actually found the most fascinating about this book was not its stated premise, although they certainly make their point with a wealth of well-presented historical and physical data.

What was to me the most compelling was the way Ryan and Jethá pulled apart scientific assumptions by looking closely at the motivations behind various well-regarded evolutionary psychologists and primate scientists, and compellingly presented a pre-agrarian world which was not, as Hobbes called it: "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," but in fact communal, plentiful, peaceful, and long. I will leave him 'nasty' as apparently we were doing the nasty all the time, with pretty much anyone we wanted. Also there was no indoor plumbing.

Critics of evolutionary psychology point out that there is no way of knowing how we may have acted or interacted, although the fossil record does show that after humans managed to survive infancy, we had quite long lives before the agricultural revolution introduced famine, plagues, and bad nutrition. The authors of 
Sex at Dawn acknowledge this, and so instead of making suppositions beyond the fact that pre-agricultural times left us little to fight over, they look closely at the human body, and the practices of our closest ancestors, chimps and bonobos.

The human body, seen through the eyes of Ryan and Jethá, is fascinating, and tells a wonderful tale of competition on a cellular level -- and an equally wonderful story about cooperation between sexes rather than competition.

Their vision of what early humankind was probably like is far more compelling than the story we've all been told of men fighting over 'their women' and controlling the fertility of women much like gorillas, who are not terribly closely related to us in comparison with the freely sexual chimps and bonobos.

The premise I found so heartening and enlightening about this book had nothing to do with sex. It had to do with the patriarchal idea of individual competition. Of 'nasty, brutish' motivations between the sexes that are essentially at odds. It tears that idea asunder and presents us with a far more compelling idea, one that rings far more true: one of humans as distinctly human not by competing with each other, but by cooperating with each other. An idea of what makes us human not as warfare, but as communication, non-reproduction-based sexuality, and cooperation.

With lines like "Despite its lack of curlicues, the human penis is not without interesting design features," it made me laugh out loud every ten pages. Just as importantly, this book made me proud to be human.


Maybe Infidelity Isn't Such A Huge Deal
Women enjoy sex. Often, they like it as much as men do - if not more. As much as this seems obvious to us, this is still in many ways a radical statement. Just ask Holly Hill.

Yesterday, Sadie dove headfirst into some of the worst stereotypes about men, women, and sex - all brought to us courtesy of professional mistress-turned-author Holly Hill. Key to Hill's argument against monogamy is the idea that men need sex, while women simply like it. If you deny your man the loving he deserves, he will just go get it somewhere else. Or so the logic goes.

But there is another argument against monogamy that makes a lot more sense than Hill's retrobabble. In the new book
Sex at Dawn authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue that we might be programmed to cheat (and here's the shocking thing) equally. Instead of viewing women as the unwilling gatekeepers of male satisfaction, Ryan and Jethá suggest that evolutionary psychologists have drunk the misogynist Kool-Aid and missed the point entirely, as shown in this excerpt, published at Nerve:

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?

Female sexuality has been a source of fear for centuries. It's been repressed and pathologized to the point where many women like Hill have come to believe that women seek sex for "intimacy" and not orgasm.

Interestingly, both camps boil it down to a single statement: Humans aren't really meant for monogamy. Infidelity, ugly as it may be, is actually kind of normal. Everything about us, from the shape of our genitalia to the way we have sex, points toward a more open view of sex and love. But does that mean we should just scrap the modern model and move onto polygamy or something of that sort? Hill might say yes, but Ryan and Jethá aren't moving that fast. In an interview
published last week at Salon, Ryan explained:

All we're really hoping for is to encourage more tolerance and more open discussion between men and women about sexuality and about marriage, and to come to see that marriage isn't about sex. It's about things that are much deeper and more lasting than sex, especially if you have children. And the American insistence on mixing love and sex and expecting passion to last forever is leading to great suffering that we think is tragic and unnecessary.

Separation of love and sex is not exactly a new idea, but the underlying context, that maybe sex isn't that big of a deal is something that bears repeating. As a society, we're pretty obsessed with sex. And though talking, thinking, watching, and engaging in sexual activity is all fun, sometimes it's worth restating that being good in bed isn't the most important thing in the world and it really doesn't matter to anyone but yourself if you choose quality over quantity (or vice versa). Maybe monogamy goes against our nature, but I suspect this doesn't matter nearly as much in a relationship as honesty and communication. No one, under any circumstances, needs to cheat - sex may be a driving force, but we are all more powerful than urges. Instead of promoting "tolerance," which is dangerously close the the crap Hill is shilling, maybe we should focus on the "open discussion" part of the equation.


‘Sex at Dawn’ Talks About that Ol' Innate Urge to Share Ourselves Intimately -- With Many

By John L. Murphy 2 July 2010

“Cheating Rumors Fly About The Bachelor‘s fiancée”: this pops up as I log on to type this. Why do Jake and Vienna spark headlines—until the next couple, next week? What lures them to stray? After nearly two million years in the making, must we roam as randily as our bonobo cousins? After hundreds of centuries of civilization and two millennia of convention, why hasn’t monogamy won us over?

Psychologist Christopher Ryan and psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá present their findings about the prehistoric roots of our sexuality. They counter colleagues, clerics, and counselors who demand fidelity as our inborn, “natural” order. Ryan and Jethá assert that we carry within us another urge as we generate generations. “Multiple mating” occupied (at least) 95 percent of our ancestral experience. This replaces the accepted account in academia for men as “serial monogamists”. For millions of years, most of our male and female predecessors “had several sexual relationships at any given time.”

Ryan and Jethá argue that we carry these patterns from foragers, who shared mates as they did goods and as they raised their young. It took a village to raise a child because any father or mother in the village might have created that child. Before the fetishizing of paternity that accompanied the rise of agriculture, the surplus of wealth, and the imposition of fidelity to legitimize inheritance, foragers imprinted their wayward ways within us. The authors show why we, like Jake and Vienna, keep losing the battle of the sexes—as if “cheating” can ever win us the dating and mating game—against the innate urge to share ourselves intimately.

Part One explains why Darwin lacked sexual insight, and how Victorian inhibitions and his wife’s censorship prevented biologists from advancing their own understanding of primate prototypes and parallels for human sexuality. Part Two applies anthropology. The authors dismiss “Flintstonization”, our “widespread tendency to project contemporary cultural proclivities into the distant past.” Scientists who insist on “innate monogamy” perpetuate a primal myth similar to the Fall of Adam and Eve: “sexual deceit, prohibited knowledge, and guilt.”
The “double standard” of a caddish male and jealous female tells but half the story. It cuts out the woman’s leading role as the mistress of her own reproductive and romantic fate. Helen Fisher and similarly acclaimed authorities “begin by assuming that long-term sexual monogamy forms the nucleus of the one and only natural, eternal human family structure and reason backwards from there.”

Instead, Ryan and Jethá emphasize in our desires and design a “natural structure”. They advance a model of “diffuse nurturing”, with all men called father and all women as mother. Such societies exist among today’s foragers. “Could it be that the atomic isolation of the husband-wife nucleus with an orbiting child is in fact a culturally imposed aberration for our species—as ill-suited to our evolved tendencies as corsets, chastity belts, and suits of armor?” Might other familiar headlines—of exhausted parents, broken families, and hostile children—“be predictable consequences of what is, in truth, a distorted and distorting family structure inappropriate for our species?”

Using cross-cultural comparisons with foragers, Ryan and Jethá disprove any “universal” model of family structure or sexual behavior. “Societies in which women have lots of autonomy and authority tend to be decidedly male-friendly, relaxed, tolerant, and plenty sexy.” Men and women can get along, after all, if power and decision-making complement one another.

Why have such models been ignored or opposed? Western academics filter them through biases towards patriarchy; they perceive a matriarchy by distorting a mirror image that no society has been able to match. Ryan and Jethá correct this “confirmation bias” that leads scholars to look for “pair-bonding” as equivalent to lifelong marriage. They remind us how “mate” and “mating” convey, as does “love”, (or “sleeping with” or “making love”) our own socially constructed phenomena. Inspired by sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, the authors confirm that “human sexuality developed primarily as a bonding mechanism in interdependent bands where paternity certainty was a nonissue.” Many women in foraging societies never needed to barter their favors for child care, protection, food, or male fidelity.

Part Three detours into material foundations for such societies, not as we assume so poor, nasty, brutish, or short in lifespan (as Hobbes famously defined the primitive state). Communal belonging likely produced for many of our forebears less stress than we suffer. Conflicts could be avoided or neutralized.

An ancestral, open, relaxed sexuality gave way, with agriculture and wealth accumulation, to more toil, greater disease, and endemic inequality. Men enforced “an exchange of protein and protection for assured paternity.” It seems we lost, as we turned civilized, our “innate capacity for love and generosity”. Perhaps we bargained it away for refrigeration and dentistry, but we also produced slavery, discrimination, pain imposed upon women, and institutionalized fear of their sexual sway.

Part Four shifts back to our physical design. Why do we sexually endure a “symmetry of dual disappointment”? “It’s as if we’ve been sitting down to dinner together, millennium after millennium, but half of us can’t stop wolfing everything down in a few frantic, sloppy minutes, while the other half are still setting the table and lighting candles.”

The authors teach us how we’re engineered for “sperm competition” by penile streamlining, female capacity for multiple orgasm, and “female copulatory vocalization” as a way for letting the neighbors know that while one suitor might be soon spent, others might wait their roll on the savanna. By “sequential sex,” the ready and willing woman could receive her multiple mates. Their ejaculated “post-copulatory” contributions maximized at a “cellular level” her fertility. Her body by “choosing among potential fathers” at a mechanical, non-conscious level of paternity—as researchers now comprehend—deepens profoundly the meaning of “natural selection.”

This book moves briskly, but not all the sections show strong transitions. I sense Ryan’s jocular tone balances his partner Jethá‘s sober data. Their chapters cram dense learning with a lively array of anecdotes and statistics on this endlessly engaging topic. You will learn how Pope John XXI died, whither the preference for “gangbang” over “reverse gangbang” among adult online offerings, why women’s sense of smell may be better than men’s, hear Mark Twain’s rejoinders to morality, and tally Tiger Woods’ scorecard. Despite casual organization, the verve and range of Ryan and Jethá‘s study ambitiously challenges norms of evolutionary psychologists.

The authors wonder if we might be moving into polyamorous relationships again today, as the nuclear family weakens. Instinctive patterns rewarding a non-moralized, positive promiscuity may in time, once and if our morality adapts, replace our rigid monogamy. They suggest sexual openness as an alternative to either male-female monogamy or the other configuration for “long-term pair bonding” as accepted by scientists in “the standard narrative”, that of polygyny—one man, many women.

Most adults lived in small bands, no more than “Dunbar’s number” of 150, for nearly all of our evolution. Trusting their clan, people indulged several sexual relationships at once. This cohesive pattern endures in primitive societies studied today. While agriculture and privatization of property led to its suppression among ancient and modern cultures, its model of “open sexuality unencumbered by guilt or shame” offers us a rationale for Jake and Vienna’s split. Part Five answers why even when bonded to one partner, couples may seek satisfaction elsewhere.

“Erotic plasticity” uncouples females from the male tendency, after a brief chance for open identity in their formation, to conform to a homosexual or heterosexual norm. Females throughout their lives show more acceptance of “variety and change” in mates of either sex. Males crave “necessary spice”—if sprinkled by a partner in a different kitchen. Homosexuals (in too-rapid an authorial aside), persist due to a simple desire for bonding, one that can elude reproductive demands.

Couples seek emotional and sexual adventure so affairs go on; non-monogamy need not equate with debauchery. Our dominant culture that refuses to entertain “swingers” as other than as on a ‘70s sitcom episode suppresses even its therapists. Nowadays, when few would convince a gay man or lesbian to stop being such, our experts keep demanding divorce or “death-do-us part” as the only solutions to the embedded boredom, dissatisfaction, and incompatibility within many a “conventional marriage”. The bonds of wedlock can be loosened, Ryan and Jethá whisper, without being broken.

“Novelty itself is the attraction,” they insist, for male resistance to “monotomy”, monogamy added to matrimony. They tell female readers this is an inexorable result of what another equation sums up in Spanish, where “esposas” means “wife”—and “handcuffs”. Where does this leave those vowed as pair-bonded? Ryan and Jethá hope this book will “provoke the sorts of conversations that make it a bit easier for couples to make their way across this difficult emotional terrain together, with a deeper, less judgmental understanding of the ancient roots of these inconvenient feelings and a more informed, mature approach to dealing with them.”

They don’t dispense pat predictions about how “a more relaxed and tolerant approach to fidelity” might play out. A glance at polyamorous families and a remonstrance to therapists who force couples into “love it or leave it” hints at how this struggle towards acceptance might happen—and how vehement the opposition might well be. Ryan and Jethá compare the slow advances granted to gay rights and same-sex marriage. Ryan and Jethá realize the odds against such tolerance attained by advocates of “free love”, however ethically conceived by those daringly liberated. Ryan and Jethá urge us “to seek peace with the truths of human sexuality.” (310) They conclude this book with a (too brief) look at alternatives few promote even among the psychological and psychiatric professions. “But this we know: vehement denial, inflexible religious or legislative dictate, and medieval stoning rituals in the desert have all proved powerless against our prehistoric predilections.”

They glimpse a future oriented towards love, cooperation, and generosity. Still, I reckon that, even in the most liberated of communities, free minded folks may likely hide their “low-key alternatives to standard, off-the-shelf monogamy.” Unlike our lusty ancestors, most mature moderns seem to draw the curtains, dim the lights, and lower the volume of “copulatory vocalizations”. At least they do in my neighborhood.

Against social and cultural odds, Ryan and Jethá propose that we embrace a sexuality that does not diminish the energies wired into our essential selves. It might be too late for Jake and Vienna to kiss and make up. Savvier readers of this book—rather than that headline—may, however, reconcile themselves with these perplexing instincts, bred into us by our wandering progenitors over millions of years.

Source here.

Blog reviews

Funniest Review Ever

08/06/11 07:18

“Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá (is my Boyfriend)
Posted on June 6, 2011 by Books are my Boyfriends

What the Book is About- I haven’t even started writing this review and I’m already tomato-red-blushing.

(At this point I whisper to myself “Whoreface, get it together. You’re a fully-grown adult and it’s a book review. Stop giggling to yourself.”)

Okay so SEX AT DAWN…

Sorry I need to stop giggling. Stopping. Stopping. No. Wait. Okay. No, wait again. Okay. Actually stopping this time. No. Three more giggles. Okay, two more. And…. I’m giggled out, let’s do a book review!

So SEX AT DAWN is the most controversial, provocative and most importantly hot-hot-hot-pants piece of non-fiction you’re likely to find around. If you are one of those people that has read too many three volume Civil War accounts and thinks non-fiction is just the most tedious and tiresome of the boringest, get ready to change your opinion about the genre starting rightthissecondnow. You know in the movies when the quiet librarian type slips off her glasses and takes her hair out of a ponytail and swishes it around and all of a sudden her boobs are busting out of her shirt and she’s wearing eight inch heels, you know that part in movies?

That’s what SEX AT DAWN does to non-fiction.

You only kind of believe me? Let’s make you completely believe me, let’s synopsize! The basic theory the book puts forth is that human monogamy is NOT natural (Warning, 19th century apoplectic women, you might want to get your smelling salts out and find a good couch to go faint on) AND it puts forth the idea that men and women were biologically designed to have lots of undiscriminating casual sex with each other AND if we just got rid of monogamy in human society, we wouldn’t have divorce or war or hurt feelings about all the dudes who are just not that into you.

(You wouldn’t have time to have hurt feelings, you’d be too busy having societally condoned promiscuous intercourse with all the dudes who WERE just that into you!)

There’s also lots of on-the-ground reporting from a polyamorous town in China and a super-orgy-fied jungle in Brazil where if you don’t agree to have sex with whoevs in your tribe is horndogging it for you at the moment you are considered to be “stingy with your genitals.”

“Stingy with your genitals” is a phrase that actually exists in real life, oh my God I love this book so much.

There’s also a really compelling theory that agriculture/owning property set humanity on a course for both monogamy and war, and furthermore that monogamy and war are directly linked to one another, SAY WHAT?

There’s another supes-interesting proposition that humans are much more like peace-loving, polyamorous bonobo apes that the warmongering chimpanzees we are always comparing ourselves to, and citing chimps as our ancestors has let us go about pretending it’s okay for humanity to be an evil, bloodthirsty blight on the planet, when in fact we should be a peace-loving tribe of orgy rockstars like the bonobos.

So basically, sex for everyone, with everyone, everywhere, all the time equals Planet Earth being a real life version of “It’s a Small World After All” with the fricking singing and everything. Did you EVER think that someone would try to solve conflict in the Middle East by trying to tear down the institution of marriage? Yeah, that’s basically how Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha roll.

Bonus plus there is SO much talk about boning in SEX AT DAWN. Do you want to get a great present for that 12 year old boy you know? This might be it. Plus like a video game and a card with a picture of boobs on it. You’ll be so set.

Now after I read this book I did not jump in my car, drive to random dudes houses and start intercoursing with people that weren’t my boyfriend. (Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, you won’t get me that easy!) But this book did make me think. A lot. About what sex is. What a relationship is. What the point of monogamy is. Heck on a stick, what the point of ROMANCE is. Me, whose brain is part “The Notebook”-Gosling-and-McAdams-screwing-in-the-rain, part John-Cusack-not-putting-down-that-boombox-in-”Say Anything”-no-matter-how-long-it-takes-for-Ione-Skye-to-come-to-the-fucking-window, part the-ending-of “The Way We Were”- when-Barbara-Streisand-and-Robert-Redford-meet-on-that-New-York-street-years-later-and-having-one-last-sad-hug*, this is THAT ROMANCE IN MY PANTS ME questioning MONOGA-FUCKING-MY!!!

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. I love my romance. I love my closed relationship. I love my male friends knowing we are not going to have sex. I love random dudes on the street knowing we are not going to have sex. I love my boyfriend not having sex with random girls. I love my boyfriend being stingy with his genitals. I love being stingy with my genitals!

But I also love a book that really makes me think. Aaaaaaaaand…. is also boner-worth non-fiction. Dudes, you know you want to have a boner while reading non-fiction. Ladies, you know you want to have a metaphorical boner while reading nonfiction.

Non-fiction boners for everyone!

BAMB out!

*Every Jewish girl thinks she’s Barbara Streisand and that Robert Redford is going to see past her nose and be so blue-eyes-chiseled-features-blinding-smile-in-love-with-her. If you’re really good at singing like Babs, you just might have a shot.

What Kind of Boyfriend He is- Sexy boy anthropologist who believes in polyamory, natch.

Let’s be real here, this is a college-finding-yourself-and-drinking-a-shit-ton-of-Pabst-Blue-Ribbon relationship. Or maybe a wandering-through-your-twenties-aimlessly-and-questioning-everything-you-thought-you-knew-about-yourself kind of relationship. Posssssibly a mid-thirties-getting-out-of-a-long-term-relationship-you-thought-was-going-to-end-in-marriage-and-didn’t-and-now-you-have-misplaced-your-brain-and-are-going-batshit-crazy-all-the-time relationship. But “Sex With Dawn” is not a relationship that is going to go any kind of distance. Which isn’t to say it’s not a relationship worth having. Dude can talk intellectual shop-talk with the best of them, of course he can, he’s a BOY ANTHROPOLOGIST!

Also, all the ladies he’s been with/continues to be with while the two of you are dating? Yeah, he’s learned a thing or two from them.

A thing or two about what to do with his mouth and genitals, I wanted to make sure that was clear in case you didn’t get the innuendo. Oh, you did get it? Oh, you got it a hundred and ten percent? Oh. Okay.

He’s really good with his sexual body parts.

My Date With “Sex at Dawn”-

SEX AT DAWN wants to have an orgy with me an all the books I’ve reviewed on the blog thus far. Check my face for my reaction to this suggestion.

He’s like “Let’s just get all the books on top of you and see what happens.”

I actually though this was just-a-little-bit-this-side-of-sexy so we get our butts all tucked in bed.

Oh, yeah, we are tucked in all right.

And then things got a little crazy…

As long as we’re doing a book-sex shoot, am going to take this moment to reenact my FAVORITE movie sex scene, Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in TITANIC (Yeah, yeah!) This is me doing my best impression of Kate’s sweaty hand sliding against the window of the old fashioned car she and Leo are having sex in.

Make Love Like a Caveman

28/04/11 05:45

April 23, 2011 at 5:07 pm (Ethics, Sexuality)

I have recently finished reading Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s Sex At Dawn, and you should read it too – in fact, I think everybody should read it. Not just because of its extremely entertaining prose, nor indeed for the quality or originality of the authors’ research, but because it is what any good work of social scientific enquiry and cultural commentary ought to be – thought-provoking. This is a book that opens a path to enlightenment.

(If you haven’t yet read the book, do be warned – what follows may contain spoilers…)

So, in the spirit of enlightenment, I present my own commentary – this is not so much a learned review of the content of the book (since I am no anthropologist or evolutionary psychologist) as a chance to ponder some of the ideas raised therein. Whilst the authors’ gleeful iconoclasm may not be to everyone’s taste, I found it very well suited to a book that seems to preach free love and anarchism in equal measure.

If you are at all inclined towards polyamory, you’ll find Sex At Dawn very refreshing. Its central thesis is that what many take to be the natural order of human family relationships – monogamous pair-bonding in which a woman exchanges exclusive access to her body for access to a man’s protection and resources – is actually a cultural adaptation to the agricultural revolution, not an arrangement that is innate to our species. The benefits of sexual exclusivity are apparent in a world of settled living and personal property – the woman is afforded the safety and sustenance for herself and her children that the man and his property can provide, and the man can be (at least reasonably) confident that he’s ensuring the survival of his own children, not someone else’s.

Advocates of the naturalness of monogamy for humans rarely state it in such bluntly economic terms, however – unless they are called upon to explain why they think it is natural, even in the face of soaring divorce rates, countless extramarital affairs and widespread single parenthood. Supporters of monogamy are left with little choice but to hold it up as a romantic ideal, obviously difficult to achieve, but worth striving for. The contradictions of their position are obvious when you think about it – if monogamy is natural, why do so many people find it so difficult? And why is it worth striving for if it contributes to so much misery?

Well, the authors point out, it’s not natural for us, and it’s not worth tying ourselves in knots trying to squeeze into a strait-jacket that doesn’t even fit.

This understanding makes sense when you consider that for the majority of time Homo sapiens have existed, our ancestors seem to have lived in small hunter-gatherer groups who very probably had quite different social arrangements to those with which we are familiar. Modern-day foraging societies, it seems, practice what is called “fierce egalitarianism” – they share everything as a matter of course, and there’s no reason to think this doesn’t include sexual partnerships. Sexual intimacy serves to reduce aggression and conflict within the group, and bind its members together in relationships of trust and cooperation. Children are children of the tribe, not of specific pairs, and they are cared for by all the adult members of the group.

What’s more, our two closest primate relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, also demonstrate multimale-multifemale mating behaviours. It seems a little odd, then, to assume that humans would be inclined to monogamy, like the more distantly related, less social and less intelligent gibbon, which is often held up as an exemplar of the nuclear family arrangement claimed to be natural for humans.

The authors go on to show how various aspects of human anatomy, in particular the genitalia, reflect the evolution of humans as promiscuous lovers. Where there is genetic competition, it takes place at a cellular level, much more so than at the macroscopic level of the whole organism. The book offers an extensive and fascinating discussion of sperm competition and shows how humans seem to be evolved for this to take place.

There is something very appealing and even comforting in the notion of the “Noble Savage” (as popularised by Rousseau) but the authors are quick to point out that there’s nothing consciously noble about the way foraging societies operate – it simply makes sense in an environment where there is limited personal property and where survival is dependent upon the strength of one’s ties to the group. As an interesting aside (although the authors don’t really get into this much) the book raises interesting questions about the evolution of morality, not just in sexual terms, but in terms of cooperation, fairness and altruism – all of these things would have their place in a tribal society, and much as many religious types like to say that morality is inserted into the human soul by some supernatural force, it seems more likely that it’s actually a pragmatic response to the circumstances of human evolution.

So, here we are, stuck in a post-agricultural world with our pre-agricultural inclinations. What are we to do about it? Sex At Dawn offers little in the way of suggestions, but it does touch on the potential for polyamorous arrangements, swinging, and generally taking a more open and accepting view of sexuality. If we can recognise that sex and love are separate but related entities, and that we need both if we are to find a measure of happiness in our lives, it’s quite likely that we can move on from the moribund social and sexual norms of the present-day Western world.

The book resonates powerfully with much of my personal experience. Sexual exclusivity has never been of paramount importance to me, nor have I ever considered sexual straying to be a deal-breaker in any relationship (though perhaps an opening for some serious discussion!) Indeed, on those occasions where a partner of mine has been involved with another person, my response has not been to feel jealous, but rather to feel conscious of an expectation that I ought to be jealous. Such is the power of social conditioning. In fact, one of the best things about Sex At Dawn is that it invites us to examine many of the social and cultural assumptions that underpin – and perhaps actually undermine – our understanding of the way things are in our world. It exposes some of the idols of our own minds.

So it is without hesitation that I recommend Sex At Dawn to anyone interested in taking a fresh look at the so-called battle of the sexes. Read it with someone you love. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. It will change your life. Well, perhaps not, but it will most certainly make you think.

Suicide Girls

15/11/10 20:33

And so my verdict on Sex At Dawn is that it’s a very good read and a very important book. I highly recommend it. It goes a long way toward providing a reasonable explanation for the way human beings really are sexually. It doesn’t say much as to how we ought to deal with this information. But that’s not really its purpose. Read More...

The A.D.D. Blog

10/11/10 12:15

“Sex at Dawn should be mandatory reading for anyone with genitals.” Read More...

Economist Robin Hanson

12/10/10 04:39

I like to think of myself as courageously seeking out important truths, however uncomfortable. But like most would-be-courageous folk, I don’t really know what I want until I get it. I was excited to read the contrarian Sex at Dawn, which suggests sexual promiscuity is our forager heritage. But that pretty sparkler was really a grenade – its uncomfortable truths shook me to my core. Read More...

Acid Logic

01/09/10 02:10

In the controversial tome Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality he and co-author Cacilda Jetha argue that for most of human existence, people did not pursue sexually monogamous couplings, but rather engaged in the libidinous and omnigamous* behavior often seen in our close primate relative, the bonobo ape. It was only after the advent of agrarian society and its focus on individual property, the authors argue, that sex became a commodity pursued by men and hoarded by women.

A Reader's Review

27/08/10 10:17

Sex at Dawn is a great book. One of those books that blew my mind and shifted my paradigms. One of those books that I think everyone should read. Here’s why you should go out and get yourself a copy. Read More...

A Comedian's Review

27/08/10 10:13

I’ve really not read a book this provoking in a long time. Where do I stand on the issue? I honestly still haven’t made up my mind… but that’s why I want you to read it. I want to have discussions with everyone I know about this book. Read More...

Hunt, Gather, Love

27/08/10 10:09

This book, while an excellent tour of human lustful behavior, is lacking on the murkier matter of love. But I definitely recommend reading it. It’s certainly fascinating, if anything. Read More...

A Polyamorist's Take

27/08/10 10:06

Whether or not this book will really make such a splash in the wider world, I believe it is the most important thing to happen for the polyamory-awareness movement in a very long time. Read More...

Huffington Post

09/08/10 04:02

Sex at Dawn fearlessly takes on some of the most fundamental assumptions of evolutionary psychology and some of the most basic beliefs of our time. Among the myths the authors challenge are that "monogamy is natural, marriage is a human universal, and any family structure other than the nuclear is aberrant" (p. 5). They have little use for the one about how "men and women evolved in families in which a man's possessions and protection were exchanged for a woman's fertility and fidelity." Read More...

Eat Your Emeralds

26/07/10 09:48

I really do believe, like the authors do, that understanding and accepting our biological make-up can make us happier, healthier, and more peaceful people.  I very highly recommend this book. Read More...

How We Got Here

24/07/10 08:44

The writers of Sex at Dawn suggest that maybe there’s nothing specially virtuous about monogamy; maybe the fact that we suck at it doesn’t mean we’re doomed as a species. Maybe there are other ways of being, ways that still allow for love and intimacy and deep concern for the people we’re closest to. Read More...




Not straight-up reviews, but discussions/interviews about the book.

Mind Reading: Do Humans Prefer Free Love Over the Bonds of Nuclear Family?

By Maia Szalavitz Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Is monogamy unnatural? Is the nuclear family bad for people's mental health? Can a child have more than one biological father? These are some of the provocative questions explored in the new book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by research psychologist Christopher Ryan and his psychiatrist wife, Dr. Cacilda Jetha. The authors argue, among other things, that human beings have evolved to desire sexual novelty — and that the current cultural conventions of marriage and monogamy, while not wrong, come at a cost to well-being — which would help explain why so many couples have problems with infidelity. I spoke with Ryan recently:

Do you think that early humans were promiscuous, rather than monogamous or polygamous?

I think it looked like casual sexual [behavior], with overlapping simultaneous sexual relationships between different people who had known each other for most of their lives. This is the difficulty of using words like promiscuous. For us, promiscuous means random, cheap, shallow, but these people grew up with each other in most cases. There was some shifting between bands of [hunter-gatherers] but they certainly knew each other very well and depended on each other for everything from child protection to sharing food, for support of every kind. There was a very deep sense of intimacy. 

But if humans have evolved to be more polygamous than monogamous, why do we also have jealousy? In various cultures, people become very unhappy when their romantic partners sleep with someone else.

Depending on the cultural context, jealousy can be a major or minor issue. It varies between individuals to a great extent. I think we're mistaken in generalizing our own sense of jealousy and assuming that what we see around us is an expression of human nature as opposed to perhaps something that is [just] part of human nature. [We all have] insecurity, fear of losing someone important — that's been amplified by a culture that encourages a very immature sense of romantic love.

Are you saying that early humans didn't fall in love — or pair-bond, as the researchers say — or didn't mind when someone they were in love with cheated?

It's like [with] jealousy. The pair-bond does appear to be an expression of some aspect of human nature but I think we make a mistake in assuming that the pair-bond included sexual exclusivity. I wouldn't use the word cheat because it is so loaded.

The fact that these are the words we choose says something about the cultural forces trying to shape our experiences. There certainly is evidence that human beings form very deep, loving, long-term, unique relationships, often between a male-female couple, but not always. (More on Can an iPhone App Save Your Marriage?)

So you don't think early humans pair-bonded to raise children?

We're arguing that the pair-bond was not the basis of the family unit and was not, as has been hypothesized, an evolutionary adaptation for raising children.

You are basically agreeing, then, with anthropologist Sarah Hrdy, who claims that parenting requires more than two people and that early human children were raised by extended families and friends.

We're really challenging the whole notion of the traditional family being a mother, father and two kids. We agree with Sarah Hrdy that that's not the nucleus of human organization. The nucleus is a band-level society in which there are many adults taking care of many children. Love flows between all the adults.

The nuclear family is detrimental to both child development and parental mental health. It's too much. It's like wearing shoes that don't fit. Society can force you into [them] or you can force yourself and you're going to suffer.

Are you suggesting that people should not be monogamous?

What we're hoping is that the book will provoke people to reconsider their assumptions about the naturalness of long-term sexual monogamy. We're not encouraging people to abandon the notion of long-term sexual monogamy, we're just encouraging them to educate themselves and have a more realistic sense of what to expect if that's the path they choose.

This is not an indictment of monogamy. Choosing a lifetime of a monogamous union is like choosing to be a vegetarian. It's not necessarily a bad decision. It's very healthy — it's ethically wise, but that doesn't mean that bacon isn't going to smell good any more. (More on The Roots of Empathy)

You wrote Sex at Dawn with your wife. I have to ask you, do you practice what you preach?

We have a stock answer for this. Our relationship is informed by our research but we don't discuss the particulars publicly.

Some would argue that people tried having open marriages in the 1970s and it didn't work out too well. There was a massive increase in the divorce rate.

We confront that in the book. First, where's the proof that it didn't work out so well? We don't know, because discretion is such an important part of intimacy. We don't know how many couples experimented and stayed together. We hear about the cases that don't work, but we don't really hear about the ones that did. Who is going to come out and say, "My wife and I were swingers for 20 years and I want to be your governor"?

Your book also discusses "partible paternity," a belief common to some South American hunter-gatherers that a child can actually have multiple fathers, that all the men a woman sleeps with play a role in fathering her child.

Yes, it's the notion that any individual child can have multiple fathers, in both the biological and the spiritual sense. [They believe that] the fetus is literally made of accumulated semen.

These cultures have names for the different fathers, things like: the "father who put it in, the "father who mixed it up," the "father who gave the child its essence." But how common is this idea really?

There are many different tribes down there who believe in it. And it's not just in the Amazon, it's found all over the world. It's an idea that has arisen [independently] all over the world.

And because the child is — the fetus is literally made of these men's semen — the woman who wants to have a child that combines the advantages of different fathers will have sex with the best hunter, the best looking [guy], the funniest, in order to get some essence of each of these men into her baby.

Where do you think this idea comes from?

It's another indication that sperm competition was present in human evolutionary times, that we evolved in the presence of sperm competition. There are so many indications of that, so many anatomical and behavioral [signs], it's just another nail in the coffin.

What other evidence is there for human sperm competition?

There's testis size and penis morphology and the fact that the testicles are outside the body rather than inside.

Um, how does size matter? Smaller size of male organs means less sperm competition?

[Yes.] A gorilla has a penis the size of a human pinky; its testicles are the size of kidney beans*. [Gorilla males have harems, and females in the harem do not have the opportunity to mate with other males.]

It always amazes me when people try to look for deep psychological explanations for why politicians cheat — as if biology has no influence at all.

Did you see the South Park episode with Tiger Woods? It also had Bill Clinton and Charlie Sheen — all the famous philanderers of recent American history. The underlying thesis of the episode was that they formed a commission in Washington to try to figure out what drives successful, powerful men to have sex with young women. [They proposed ridiculous explanations] like the Peter Pan complex or [that the men were] acting out of fear of their own homosexual urges. (More on The Real Eliot Spitzer Question)

Do you think there are any models for a successful society that is centered less on the nuclear family or monogamy?

Every culture is sort of developing along its own path. One place to look would be Northern Europe. Marriage rates are very low, but the number of single-parent families is also low. There isn't this economic pressure [to stay together] because the government takes care of mothers and children, so people don't need to worry.

In the U.S., a single mother is thrown to the wolves, whereas in a more collectivist — dare I say, socialist — society, there isn't that pressure. People seem to be much more forgiving and the relationships seem to be more durable, even if they are not official marriages.

This is very much a political issue. It's really breaking down into American versus European notions of what society is. To what extent are we in this together? In America, it's become so fractured. People end up being so lonely. It really comes down to whether or not we are sharing our lives with enough people.


Monogamy unnatural for our sexy species

By Christopher Ryan, Special to CNN (July 29th, 2010)

Seismic cultural shifts about 10,000 years ago rendered the true story of human sexuality so subversive and threatening that for centuries, it has been silenced by religious authorities, pathologized by physicians, studiously ignored by scientists and covered up by moralizing therapists.

In recent decades, the debate over human sexual evolution has entertained only two options: Humans evolved to be either monogamists or polygamists. This tired debate generally devolves into an antagonistic stalemate where women are said to have evolved to seek male-provisioned domesticity while every man secretly yearns for his own harem. The battle between the sexes, we're told, is bred into our blood and bones.

Couples who turn to a therapist for guidance through the inevitable minefields of marriage are likely to receive the confusing message that long-term pair bonding comes naturally to our species, but marriage is still a lot of work.

Few mainstream therapists would contemplate trying to persuade a gay man or lesbian to "grow up, get real, and stop being gay." But most insist that long-term sexual monogamy is "normal," while the curiosity and novelty-seeking inherent in human sexuality are signs of pathology. Thus, couples are led to believe that waning sexual passion in enduring marriages or sexual interest in anyone but their partner portend a failed relationship, when in reality these things often signify nothing more than that we are Homo sapiens.

This is a problem because there is no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings. In fact, for millions of years, evolutionary forces have cultivated human libido to the point where ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.

Our ancestors evolved in small-scale, highly egalitarian foraging groups that shared almost everything. Anthropologists have demonstrated time and again that immediate-return hunter-gatherer societies are nearly universal in their so-called "fierce egalitarianism." Sharing is not just encouraged; it's mandatory.

Most foragers divide and distribute meat equitably, breast-feed one another's babies, have little or no privacy from one another, and depend upon each other every day for survival. Although our social world revolves around private property and individual responsibility, theirs spins toward interrelation and mutual dependence. This might sound like New Age idealism, but it's no more noble a system than any other insurance pool. Compulsory sharing is simply the best way to distribute risk to everyone's benefit in a foraging context. Pragmatic? Yes. Noble? Hardly.

For nomadic foragers who might walk hundreds of kilometers each month, personal property -- anything needed to be carried -- is kept to a minimum. Little thought is given to who owns the land, or the fish in the river, the clouds in the sky, or the kids underfoot. An individual male's "parental investment," in other words, tends to be diffuse in societies like those in which we evolved, not directed toward one particular woman -- or harem of women -- and her children, as conventional views of our sexual evolution insist.

But when people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. It became crucially important to know where your property ended and your neighbor's began. Remember the 10th Commandment: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that [is] thy neighbor's." With agriculture, the human female went from occupying a central, respected role to being just another possession for men to accumulate and defend, along with his house, slaves and asses.

The standard narrative posits that paternity certainty has always been of utmost importance to our species, whether expressed as monogamy or harem-based polygyny. Students are taught that our "selfish genes" lead us to organize our sexual lives around assuring paternity, but it wasn't until the shift to agriculture that land, livestock and other forms of wealth could be kept in the family. For the first time in the history of our species, biological paternity became a concern.

Our bodies, minds and sexual habits all reflect a highly sexual primate. Research from primatology, anthropology, anatomy and psychology points to the same conclusion: A nonpossessive, gregarious sexuality was the human norm until the rise of agriculture and private property just 10,000 years ago, about 5 percent of anatomically modern humans' existence on Earth.

The two primate species closest to us lend strong -- if blush-inducing -- support to this vision. Ovulating female chimps have intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and bonobos famously enjoy frequent group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and conflict-free.

The human body tells the same story. Men's testicles are far larger than those of any monogamous or polygynous primate, hanging vulnerably outside the body where cooler temperatures help preserve standby sperm cells for multiple ejaculations. Men sport the longest, thickest primate penis, as well as an embarrassing tendency to reach orgasm when the woman is just getting warmed up. These are all strong indications of so-called sperm competition in our species' past.

Women's pendulous breasts, impossible-to-ignore cries of sexual delight, or "female copulatory vocalization" to the clipboard-carrying crowd, and capacity for multiple orgasms also validate this story of prehistoric promiscuity.

"But we're not apes!" some might insist. But we are, in fact. Homo sapiens is one of four African great apes, along with chimps, bonobos and gorillas.

"OK, but we have the power to choose how to live," comes the reply. This is true. Just as we can choose to be vegans, we can decide to lead sexually monogamous lives. But newlyweds would be wise to remember that just because you've chosen to be vegan, it's utterly natural to yearn for an occasional bacon cheeseburger.



Is Monogamy Like Vegetarianism?

Saturday, Jul 30, 2011 19:01 ET

Just as we're omnivores who can swear off meat, we're a promiscuous species capable of change, an expert argues
By Tracy Clark-Flory

Psychologist Christopher Ryan is out to defeat an archetypal figure in the mythology of monogamy. No, not prince charming; he's after the widespread belief in a prehistoric hunter who would slay an antelope on the plains and heroically haul it back to his nuclear family.

You might wonder what this has to do with monogamy. Well, Ryan argues that in actuality the meat would have been shared with the entire tribe, because pre-agricultural societies shared everything -- including sex. This is a key point he and co-author/wife Cacilda Jethá make in "Sex at Dawn," which was released last year in hardcover and this month in paperback. Our hunting and gathering ancestors were nonmonogamous, they argue -- the implication being that, biologically speaking, sexual exclusivity is unnatural.

The book challenges much of the previously accepted wisdom about the sex lives of our ancestors, although the authors admit they haven't exactly proved their case. Regardless, they have gained praise and admiration from sexual radicals like sex columnist Dan Savage. That makes Ryan an ideal final interview in Salon's monogamy series, which was originally sparked by Savage's thoughts in a New York Times Magazine piece about "monogam-ish" marriage.

Salon spoke to Ryan by phone at his home in Barcelona, just as he prepared for a road trip with Jethá. They planned to set out without a destination in mind, enjoy the drive and figure it out as they went -- which is awfully similar to their attitude toward monogamy in their marriage.

Why is it wrong, as you argue, to assume that women are the choosy sex and men just want to spread their seed indiscriminately?

Well, there's a grain of truth there on a biological level. There's no denying that women make a greater biological investment in pregnancy and gestation than men do. There's no denying the fact that men produce millions of sperm cells in the amount of time that a woman releases one egg. But when you look at highly intelligent, highly social species -- particularly primates but also dolphins -- what you find is that that's not the way things happen. The assumption that women are choosing mates based on their access to resources is simply not the way it works in primates that are intelligent and social. In fact, there are no social, group-living primates that are monogamous.

What you find in highly social species is that resources tend to be shared, particularly in bonobos and to some extent in chimps. When you look at pre-agricultural human societies, there really is no private property. Even the best hunters gain their status by sharing what they catch. The worst thing you can do in those societies is hoard food. We're not saying these are "noble savages," we're not slipping into that "oh, they're so much better than us" mindset -- in fact, they're just like us. They're just in a very different situation in which the best way to spread risk is too share. Today I might kill an antelope, but I'm probably not going to again for a week or two. You don't just go out and shoot an antelope like you go to the grocery store. The way to make sure that everyone eats, especially in a situation where there is no refrigeration, is to share what we find.

They share their shelter, defense, childcare, food, access to the spirit world -- why should we believe that sex is the one thing that they don't share? What we argue is that's an economic issue, it's something that happens with the advent of agriculture when suddenly men became obsessed with paternity because they had this accumulated property that they wanted to pass to their children.

You mentioned love briefly -- how does it figure into all of this?

Cacilda and I don't dispute that love is a very important human emotion and is deeply embedded in our nature. In fact, one of the things that we do best is love other people. But what we do dispute is that it's necessarily linked to sexual exclusivity. I think that's something that's very much culturally encouraged in our possessive, imperialistic society. Whereas in many of the societies we discuss in the book, there's not a lot of accumulated property like in agricultural societies, and there are rituals that are expressly designed to discourage that possessiveness and jealousy. That might suggest that there is a natural inclination toward jealousy and that these societies are working intentionally to minimize that response, whereas we live in a society that works to maximize it.

How natural is sexual jealousy, then?

I think it's as natural as any other sort of insecurity or possessiveness. In these societies there are also rituals to expressly minimize and discourage selfishness about food, because in that sort of system, selfishness results in disaster for everyone. Any sort of antisocial behavior, including sexual jealousy, is discouraged in hunter gatherer societies, all based on whether or not it's ultimately positive for the society.

In our society, it seems to have had some pro-social function, namely knowing whose kids were whose and keeping inheritance lines. But I think we're at a tipping point now with birth control, adoption, gay couples -- all these biological concerns are dissipating, so maybe we're at a point where we're starting to look at a gradual shift to a more hunter gatherer approach to these issues.

So in the future people will look back at the advent of birth control and say it changed the course of sexual evolution?

Yeah, and I think a lot of those changes are a return to earlier ways of thinking. People talk about the sexual revolution in the '60s, which was largely brought on by the pill. For the first time ever, women could have sex with different partners without worrying about it -- at least before AIDS. But in prehistory, I think women were largely having sex without worrying about it, at least in the sense that you didn't need to worry about who was the father of your child, because you lived in a society where resources were shared.

Even if we accept that our ancestral roots are nonmonogamous, we're still living in a dramatically different time now. Does it really make sense to navigate open relationships in this day and age?

[Laughs] Good question. This week I'm substituting for Dan Savage on his "Letter of the Day" column, and I just wrote a response to a letter asking a similar question. What I try to articulate very clearly is that we're not advocating nonmonogamy. What we're advocating is a realistic, informed understanding of what sort of animal we are so that when you enter into whatever sort of arrangement you choose, you do it with your eyes open, you do it with an understanding of the difficulties and the risks. You take a compassionate approach to the problems that you're gonna run into.

We're very careful not to tell anyone what to do; in fact we say very explicitly that we don't know what to do. Cacilda and I have been together 12 years, and we always talk about this stuff. It's a live issue for us and it has been since the beginning. There's a lot of guilt-tripping out there, people saying, "This should be easy for you because you're in love, and if it's not easy for you it means you're not in love." I think that's really destructive and corrosive to the human spirit, and to love itself.

What I say in this column is that monogamy is like vegetarianism. All the evidence points to the fact that we've evolved as omnivores, but that doesn't mean that living as an omnivore in today's world is inherently superior than choosing to be a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian can make perfect sense, it can be ethical, healthy and smart -- but it's not going to come naturally, right? Just because you've decided to become vegetarian doesn't make you an herbivore. You're an omnivore who's chosen to live as a vegetarian, but bacon is still gonna smell good and you shouldn't feel guilty about that. I think it's offensive when social institutions like religions and governments and even some scientists say, "Hey, this should come naturally to you. This is human nature. If you get hungry when you smell bacon, there's something wrong with you."

It's interesting, the idea of it being a "live issue," something that's revisited and talked about in the relationship.

Relationships are living things, they're constantly changing. When we were working on the book and anticipating what sort of questions we'd get, that was of course at the top of our list: They're gonna ask us about our marriage. One of the first interviews was with Dan Savage and he asked that question and I said, "Our prepared answer is: Our relationship is informed by our research." He cracked up; he said, "That's gonna be my answer from now on, too."

Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter. More: Tracy Clark-Flory



Proof We're Not Monogamous? We Grill the Author of 'Sex at Dawn'

Jul 28th 2010 By Amy Keyishian

I have a really good male friend who lives with a woman. He also can't keep it in his pants. He's not a jerk, but when he's on the road, which is a lot, he makes with the local fare. It doesn't affect his home life; they aren't that tight of a couple in the first place. But he still insists on referring to himself as a "slimebag" and a "sociopath" because that's just how he rolls. This makes me sad.

Honestly, while it's not ideal that he's not super-up-front about his habits, this doesn't make him a sociopath. It makes him not monogamous. Which is not a crime, a moral failing, or a sign of immaturity, according to two new authors.

Christopher Ryan, co-author of "
Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origin of Modern Sexuality," wants my friend -- and anyone else calling him- or herself nasty names because they don't fit the marriage-plus-two-kids-forever mold -- to know that the long-accepted idea that humans are naturally monogamous ain't necessarily so. Give him a chance. At first, he sounds like he might be Mr. Leisure Suit with the cocked eyebrow and the vasectomy pin ... and then? Then you start realizing he makes a lot of sense.

And it's ideas like his that might do more to 
save marriage than anything else in today's social-theory landscape. Seriously.

Start with his central argument: "The generally accepted myth of the origins and nature of human sexuality is not merely factually flawed, but destructive, sustaining a false sense of what it means to be a human being ... It amounts to false advertising for a garment that fits almost no one. But we're all supposed to buy and wear it anyway." Wow!

Lemondrop: So what is this destructive myth about how human sexuality works?

Ryan: Well, the standard narrative has many different parts, but the crux of it is that paternity certainty has always been of central concern to human males. So, there's allegedly been this exchange between men and women that goes back to the origin of species, in which women trade sexual fidelity for material support and protection from a particular man.

Which seems to make perfect sense. That's what we've always been told.

It does! It makes so much sense to people who look around and say, "That's the central exchange in the relationships in my life." So they project it into prehistory, something I call "Flintstonization," and assume that's how it's always been. It's comforting for people who want to keep the status quo.

The trouble with it is that we've found that in prehistoric times -- before our society became agrarian -- there was no reason women had to trade sexual autonomy. Everything was shared, from sexual partners to childcare. This central conclusion concerning monogamy is just not backed up.

What's destructive about this myth?

It's wrong. Adultery has been documented in every human culture studied, including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all this bloody retribution, it's hard to see how monogamy comes "naturally" to our species. If monogamy were an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, like the myth says, adultery wouldn't be an issue. No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.

One of the things that really propelled us to write this book was the feeling we got that the standard narrative is like the pre-Copernican version of the solar system. It's so complicated, and it's layer upon layer of explanation that doesn't fit together.

The mainstream authorities have tried to plug it all together, but there are so many holes in their argument, it's just sort of absurd.

How do bonobo apes factor into all this?

Bonobo apes and chimps are our closest relatives on this planet. We share more DNA with them than we do with, say, gorillas. We're more closely related than the African elephant is to the Indian elephant. So while people like to compare humans to, say, lions or walruses, and extrapolate the reasons for our behavior from the animal world, they really should be looking at the bonobos.

So? How do the bonobos work?

They have a lot in common with us. They have sex even when the female is not ovulating, which is quite unusual. They spend most of their lives on the ground and are highly intelligent and intensely social. Their vaginas are more front-facing, making it easier to have missionary-position sex. They stare into each other's eyes and kiss when they have sex, something that sets them apart from every other primate except for humans.

And they're quite promiscuous. They don't pair off for life. Rather, they live in close-knit groups where nobody's quite sure who fathered any of the children of the group, which means everybody has a special interest in all of the children of the group.

Monogamy isn't natural to any primate except -- if we believe this narrative -- us.

Are there are human societies where this is the case?

Yeah. We go into it in depth in the book, but there are few examples. Paul Le Jeune was a 17th-century Jesuit missionary who lectured a Montagnais Indian man about their society's promiscuity, and was told, "Thou hast no sense. You French people love only your own children. But we all love all the children of our tribe."

And there's the case of the Mosuo of Lugu Lake, in China. The have almost complete sexual freedom and autonomy for both men and women, which was first observed by the West via Marco Polo in the 1200s. They don't marry, they call each other "friend" rather than "husband" or "wife," and children are the paternal responsibility of a woman's brother, not her husband. The Chinese have been trying to squelch this tendency since they gained control in 1956, but to no avail. The system continues to work in a peaceful way.

Let's talk about female orgasms and how they factor into your argument.

Well, it's not the orgasms themselves. It's the female copulatory vocalization. I've asked audiences everywhere: Raise your hand if you've ever heard your neighbors having sex. Now drop your hand if the man was making more noise than the woman. It's universal: in every culture, the woman makes more noise.

It's a direct contradiction to the standard narrative. If sex is universally shameful, and women are less libidinous, then why are they so likely to loudly announce their sexual pleasure?

It doesn't fit into what we "know," according to this central myth. But it does fit into our new paradigm, because the primate species where the females make the most noise are the one where the females are the most promiscuous, because this attracts other males.

Fine, I'm convinced that monogamy isn't necessarily natural to our species, even though I'm personally happy to be monogamous. But weren't the open-marriage experiments of the '60s and '70s sort of an epic fail?

I question that the '60s and '70s were an epic fail. Everyone wants to say, "Well, we tried open marriage, and it was a disaster." Well, we tried energy conservation in the '70s, and it didn't solve all our problems. Does that mean we never try again? You could say, "We tried racial integration, and it was a failure." Was it? We don't have a perfectly equal society, but we have a black president. Look at our social situation now -- we're debating gay marriage, and it has already passed in several states. Here in Spain, where I live, it's completely accepted. In fact, it's illegal to discriminate against LGBT people. The '60s and '70s laid the groundwork for what we have now.

When it comes to any sort of unconventional relationship that threatens the powers that be, success and discretion go hand in hand. Who knows how many people found their own non-standard ways of living and were completely successful? We hear about the failures. We don't hear about private people who don't want to attract attention to their arrangement, so they don't run around proselytizing.

Now, that being said, it's difficult to take a prehistoric sexual situation and insert it into a modern, capitalistic society. Like anything from prehistory -- from diet to exercise patterns -- we may know these things are healthy for us, but who has the time to walk 15 kilometers every day? Who wants to eat rabbits and insects? We are up against 10,000 years of agrarian culture. You don't necessarily want this fluid situation for your kids when everyone else has fathers and central families at their school.

We don't have the answer. We don't know what to make of it either. But this pervasive myth has got to go. Our principal ambition for the book was that it would encourage and empower people to clarify their sexual nature before signing on to long-term commitments. All we're advocating is to take a harm-reduction approach to infidelity rather than a "just say no" approach.

So, to those who say, "Just get divorced if there's infidelity ..."

Marriages are not disposable TV dinners. It's very American, this script that you just end the relationship. We're calling for sex without lying. If that's what you want, figure out a way to deal with these things without the deception, self-destruction and pain to both parties. You have to have the courage to come out of the closet about what you want or need, and you will eventually find people who understand that and can do that. You do it in every other aspect of your relationship. Be open about what you both need, and if you can't figure that out ahead of time.

If you aren't sexually compatible, that's not a sign of immaturity. You can't "just grow up" and change your nature. It's a sign of being incompatible. Nothing more and nothing less.

Amy L. Keyishian lives in San Francisco, but left her heart in Brooklyn. She's written for every magazine you can think of, having spent four years as a Cosmopolitan staff writer and then freelancing for Self, Glamour, Maxim, Men's Health, Seventeen, Inc., Mac|Life, and who the hell knows what else. She has a couple kids, a couple step-kids, a husband, and a severe Twitter hashtag addiction.

sex therapists' take

Psychology Today

Interview by Stephen Snyder, M.D.

In our modern world's fascination with the infidelities of its leaders and celebrities, the authors of Sex at Dawn see a vague recollection of a bygone era when sexual liberty was considered everyone's birthright. 

Lead author 
Christopher Ryan is an American psychologist living in Barcelona. I was able to persuade him to make time for the following interview -- 

Christopher, many authors have noted that the human body seems designed to generate near-constant sexual interest. Your book offers an explanation why -- because it motivated early hunter-gatherers to mate promiscuously, which was good for the group.

We've known that grooming behavior was crucial to maintaining social networks among group-living primates. But this same logic hadn't really been applied to sexual contact before.

Your idea that the basic sexual unit in hunter-gatherer societies may not have been the couple, but the group -- how did this idea come to you?

When I was working on my PhD dissertation, back in the late 1990s, I read Lewis Henry Morgan's Ancient Society (1877). Morgan is largely forgotten today, even among anthropologists. He spent long periods living among Indian groups in upstate New York, and wrote about the "primal horde" as an early stage of social organization. I suppose it was Morgan who really got me started down this path. 

Reading your book, I thought, "Of course early human sexuality was a group affair. They didn't have bedroom doors." 

Right. There was very little privacy for most of our existence as a species. Even today, many pre-agricultural people live in communal dwellings where sex is at least a semi-public event. 

Among sexuality scholars, there's always a tension between the essentialists who look for enduring truths, and the social constructionists who say all sexual norms are dictated by culture. Your book seems to move back and forth between these tendencies.

How so?

Sex at Dawn gives great examples of the social construction of tastes and attitudes, both sexual and non-sexual. For instance, some hunter-gatherers report that grub worms taste great. You suggest that if we saw our parents eating them, we would eat them too. 

But I should stipulate that I've never eaten a grub worm. I'm as much a victim of cultural programming as anyone! 

But then you tack in an essentialist direction - saying that we are "essentially" promiscuous by design.

I think it's pretty clear that human beings are both. We're highly adaptive and responsive to cultural conditioning, but our experience and behavior also reveal deeply ingrained structures reflective of evolutionary pressures. Our culture has convinced many of us that a Big Mac, fries, and a milkshake constitute a good meal. But when we eat this way, our bodies inevitably rebel. So we're highly malleable, but only within certain biologically-imposed parameters. 

The media have paid lots of attention to your claim that monogamy is the equivalent of a Big Mac with fries. The social constructionist part of your book, with its careful exploration of culture's influence on sexual attitudes, has been pretty much neglected. 

As Tony Soprano would say, "Whaddyagonnado?" 

You're not discouraged? 

Frankly, we're thrilled the book's getting any attention at all! As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." 

Your vision of early human male sexuality is pretty consistent with our standard notions of "essential" masculine nature. 


But your depiction of early human female sexuality is a radical departure: you depict early hunter-gatherer women as sexually bold, confident, autonomous, and novelty-seeking. 

I think it's difficult for most of us to really imagine how women would behave if they weren't backed into a corner by being economically dependent on men - and carrying several millennia worth of sexual repression on their backs. Even as we speak, clitorectomies are taking place in North Africa, women in Iran are being stoned to death, and American girls are committing suicide because their classmates call them "sluts" online. The world is hardly a safe place for women to express sexual curiosity, and hasn't been for a very long time. 

I was surprised by the book's ending. Given your argument that monogamy was a natural outcome of our transition to an ownership society, it surprised me that you argued that we could now incorporate non-monogamy. 

We argued for incorporating honest communication about our true feelings and experiences. A recent Gallup poll found that Americans considered marital infidelity the worse thing a person could do, beating divorce, suicide, abortion, medical testing on animals and the death penalty. Clearly, there's room for a bit of realism to be interjected!

I came away from Sex at Dawn convinced that once you have an ownership society, you're stuck with monogamy. 

Maybe. But there are different types of ownership societies. Denmark is very different from the U.S., for example, and those differences are reflected in family structure and sexual behavior. 

But let me ask you.  How would you have ended the book?

I'd have said that abandoning our hunter-gatherer ways was tragic in many respects -- but that we can't go back to Eden. 

Good luck selling that proposal to a publisher! 

Come to think of it, maybe a good sequel would be to explore Sex at Dawn's religious implications.

Forget it. I'm in enough hot water already, thank you.

© Stephen Snyder, MD 2010 New York 


carnal nation

The Dawn of Swinging: An Interview With Christopher Ryan

By Kamela Dolinova
Created 09/22/2010 - 11:58am

Sex at Dawn [8], the new book on prehistoric human sexuality by Dr. (of psychology) Christopher Ryan and Dr. (of psychiatry) Cacilda Jethá, has already gotten heaps of media attention—with good reason.  Using evidence from psychology, archeology, physiology, anthropology and primatology, the book traces the sexual behavior of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and comes to a culture-shocking but inescapable conclusion: as a species, Homo sapiens is not naturally monogamous.

Intelligent, iconoclastic, and wildly entertaining, the book takes on the "standard narrative" of the withholding female and the jealous male and turns it on its head. 
Reviews [9] and interviews [10] abound summarizing, praising and challenging the work, but we wanted to know: what does all this mean for the sexual activists and adventurers of the modern world? 

I asked Christopher Ryan some questions about the things that matter to those who care about sexual freedom.

Kamela Dolinova:  I understand that you are a psychologist and your wife is a psychiatrist.  What led you into working on this book?

Christopher Ryan:  I wrote my doctoral dissertation on human sexual behavior in prehistory and Cacilda did research on human sexuality in Mozambiquean villages for the World Health Organization back in the 90s, so this book has been percolating in both of us for a long time.

KD:  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, both on an intellectual level and as entertainment.  I've seen people comment, however, that your humorous style felt flippant or dismissive.  In a field that is already so open to ridicule, why did you choose to write Sex at Dawn this way?

CR:  Our goal was to write a book that was both informative and fun to read, but some people think that a serious book has to have a serious tone. We disagree. Humor can be very serious, and serious issues can be pretty funny. Plus, we're liberated by not being academics, so we don't need to worry about faculty meetings and tenure committees. I tried to have fun in my dissertation, but one of the readers on my committee kept writing, "Save it for the book." So I did.

KD:  Many "experts" seem to believe that open relationships are impossible, and I've been surprised at the violent reaction [11] some people have had to your book.  With all the misery that the "standard narrative" causes, what do you think people are so afraid of?

CR:  When people feel threatened, they fear any relaxation of structures they think are protecting them. From Vietnam to the war on drugs, Americans refused to give an inch until millions of lives were needlessly destroyed.  Often, the greatest threat we face is our refusal to accept the inevitability of change. By refusing to accept it, we surrender our opportunity to shape it.

Everybody knows that conventional marriage is a failed institution for the vast majority of people, but rather than allow it to change with the times, these reactionary types are digging in their heels. It's a very unfortunate pattern we see playing out in practically every arena of American society right now.

KD:  I live and write in a loose-knit community of polyamorists, and know many people who make it work beautifully.  What do you think is the next step for modern romance and family life?

CR:  I suspect the next few decades are going to bring a radical reconfiguration of American society. Romance and family rituals generally follow and adapt to economic conditions, so we may well see realignments resulting in multi-family homes and off-the-grid communal situations. Some of these could involve some form of group parenting, home schooling, and so on. But a lot of this depends on what happens economically and politically in the U.S. Crisis brings opportunity for change, and major crisis looms ever larger these days.

KD:  One of the things that struck me most strongly about this book was its powerful feminist message: your impassioned defense of female sexuality, and the descriptions of the brutal treatment women have received in the process of its repression.  How much of writing this book, for you and Cacilda, was about this issue?

CR:  Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book, and dividing men and women is probably its oldest application. The thing we most passionately wanted to convey in this book is that men and women are not from different planets and the so-called "War Between the Sexes" is a dangerous distraction from the real enemies targeting all of us. We need to be united against those who tell us we are born in sin and must live our lives in shame and guilt. We need to work together to overcome those who are trying to convince children that God hates them for their natural curiosity, refusing homosexual couples the dignity and legal protections of marriage, and legislating morality they themselves don't follow.

Much as we respect and admire Darwin, we thought it important to show how misogynistic the Darwinian view of human sexual evolution really is. We're all susceptible to social influence, and people need to understand how deeply Victorian morality is entwined in some Darwinian theory. [In Darwin's day], the notion that women are not particularly sexual beings and that they naturally trade their sexual "favors" for what they want from men [was common]. This same unwarranted assumption about female sexual appetite being limited to whores and nymphomaniacs fueled the pathologizing of healthy female sexual response [that continues to this day].

KD:  I write about kink as well as about open relationships, and I noticed that you write only briefly about "paraphilias," and paint them in a negative light as the result of sexual repression. But you spend no time discussing the wide variety of kinky sex and fetishes that many enjoy in the modern world.  Do you believe that the pain and power play that kinksters engage in is solely a result of the patriarchal power dynamics that emerged when our species went agricultural?  Is there any evidence of "kinky" sex in hunter gatherer societies?

CR:  Apart from group sex, partner-swapping, trans-gender acceptance, higher tolerance for child sexuality, and a lot of homosexuality, we didn't come across many indications of sexual practices that Westerners would consider kinky. This could simply reflect the fact that most anthropologists would be uncomfortable writing about these things, but it's more likely an indication that there's not much of a BDSM presence in hunter gatherers. It seems that when sexual satisfaction is relatively easy to come by [as it is in many such cultures], these more elaborate expressions of libido—particularly those related to pain and control—tend not to develop.

KD:  One subject that didn't get a lot of treatment in your book was sex work.  As a sex-positive feminist, I believe in women's rights to do sex work safely and consensually.  Following from the theories in your book, sex work would have been wholly unnecessary until the dawn of agricultural civilization.  Did you do any research as to when "the world's oldest profession" actually began, and what are your thoughts on sex work in the modern world?

CR: This would depend on how you define prostitution. As we discuss in the book, women often offer themselves sexually in order to motivate men to get out of their hammocks and do something productive. We also talk about a woman going with work parties to have sex with the men at the end of the day as a way to make the work more palatable. But this isn't really prostitution, as there's no money changing hands and the women, according to the anthropologists' reports, don't feel put upon in any way. This is just their way of contributing to the effort. So, if you're defining prostitution as money for sex, then it couldn't logically have arisen before the advent of agriculture which, if we're correct, was when sex (along with most everything else) shifted from an economy based upon sharing and plentitude to one organized around scarcity and hoarding.

As George Carlin observed a long time ago, how can it be legal to sell things and legal to have sex but illegal to sell sex? Any adult should be free to do whatever he or she wants with their mind and body. If someone wants to sell an hour of sex for $50, how is that different from agreeing to an hour of sex after eating a dinner that cost $50? It's nonsense. And it's dangerous nonsense because its illegality creates unregulated markets, inflates prices, and empowers the criminal element—just like we see with drugs. Declaring war against human nature is always a mistake, but we appear to be unable, or unwilling, to learn that lesson.

Sometimes I think the human brain is nature's only example of an animal having an organ it doesn't know how to use.


new zealand listener

NZ Listener August 7-13 2010 Vol 224 No 3665
Sex at Dawn

by Hamish McKenzie

When it comes to sex, we’ve got it all wrong, according to what’s being touted as the most important book about sexuality since Kinsey.

Here’s the truth about sex: monogamy isn’t natural, most libido-deprived marriages are no one’s fault and we like to do it in groups. A new book says we have been at war with eroticism for centuries, suppressing biological imperatives while attempting to abide by a societal structure set down by religious, political and scientific forces that have misinformed us about our sexuality. In service of the monogamy myth, marriages have been needlessly broken, families torn apart and political leaders from Bill Clinton to Don Brash humbled and humiliated.

“By insisting upon an ideal vision of marriage founded upon a lifetime of sexual fidelity to one person – a vision most of us eventually learn is highly unrealistic – we invite punishment upon ourselves, upon each other, and upon our children,” writes psychologist ­Christopher Ryan in Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Internationally syndicated sex advice columnist Dan Savage has called it “the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948”.

In 300 pages laced with witticisms and pop culture references, Sex at Dawn lays down a framework for understanding the roots of our sexuality, arguing that today’s concept of sexual monogamy is a result of the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, when private property led to paternity becoming a crucial concern. Before that, Ryan says, humans lived in small egalitarian groups, surviving by sharing everything: food, shelter, care of the young and, yep, sex partners.


* * *

In the mid-1990s, Ryan was at San Francisco’s Saybrook University casting about for ideas for his PhD thesis in evolutionary psychology. At the time, Republicans were tearing President Bill Clinton to shreds for the misuse of a cigar in the Oval Office. Ryan, an American now based in Barcelona who possesses the gravitas of a scientist but writes and speaks with wry humour, had just read The Moral Animal, Richard Wright’s best-seller on evolutionary psychology. The book presents what Ryan now calls “the standard narrative”: since the beginning of time, men have made a trade with an individual woman, giving her protection, meat and status in return for sexual fidelity and therefore paternal certainty.

A fan of the book, Ryan, like most others in the field, bought into this theory. But it didn’t mesh with the Clinton he was seeing on the evening news.

“I was struck by the fact that here we have arguably the most powerful man in the world who is being publicly humiliated for having a consensual sexual relationship with an adult woman,” Ryan says during a Skype call from his temporary base in Amsterdam. “All this despite the fact that for the entire existence of our ­species, men had supposedly held all the levers of power, from physical strength to economic power to political power to military power … and yet they created a world in which the most powerful man could be humiliated for simply being a man. It just didn’t make sense.”

He started to see that the standard narrative was naive in many ways. “It equated human beings with birds while ignoring the sexuality of chimps and bonobos, who are right next to us on the evolutionary tree.”

Ryan figured if he took that narrative and shifted it so the core principle became that humans evolved in groups that shared everything, including sexual pleasure, then everything started to make sense.

“All of the different things, which in the standard model have individual, mutually contradicting explanations – in our model they all fit into the same argument, and they’re mutually reinforcing.”

To turn his dissertation into a book, he spent five years reading up on primatology, anthropology and anatomy. What he ultimately found challenges or contradicts a slew of heavyweight intellectuals, including Steven Pinker, Helen Fisher, Napoleon Chagnon, Thomas Hobbes, and even Charles Darwin, who, though otherwise unimpeachable on evolution, apparently didn’t know much about sex.


* * *

A male and a female bonobo are sitting on their haunches under a leafy tree, enjoying each other’s company on a still, sunny day. The female stretches out a crooked, hairy index finger and prods at her companion’s leathery nose, and then curls up her fingers and lightly boxes him under his chin. He puckers his lips and lets her knock him around a little. All the while, his eyes regard her with what looks like an accepting, contented expression. Later, the video shows the two rolling around together in the grass, embraced in a hug. Eventually, the male leads the female by the hand away from the watchful eyes of human onlookers.

This apparently happy union, however, is almost certainly just one of many partner­ships the bonobos will form during their lifetimes. They are fun-loving, highly social animals with some eerily human habits: they look deeply into each other’s eyes before sex; they show affection through holding hands and hugging; and perhaps most significantly, they occasionally stand up to walk and carry food. In fact, we are so similar to bonobos that it has been only five to six million years since we split from the ancestral line that links us with them and our chimpanzee cousins.

In the past, human behaviour has been compared closely with that of chimps, which have shown war-like tendencies under certain settings as well as numerous redeeming characteristics. But the often-overlooked bonobos, an endangered species found only in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, are a decidedly more peaceful and loving bunch. They are also spectacularly promiscuous within their groups.

“For them, sex is really a mechanism to defuse tension in the group,” says Vanessa Woods, an Australian scientist and writer who has just released a book called Bonobo Handshake. “And I think one of the most important things is they don’t have any war.” To ignore the bonobo in a consideration of human evolution is to neglect some of the best available evidence, says Woods. “We do share 98.7% of their DNA and they have sex in much the same context that we like to have sex.”

That extends to the noise the females make while copulating. It turns out that bonobo females at the height of their fertility, not unlike their human counterparts, can be very loud in expressing their carnal pleasure. Ryan, who shines a spotlight on the similarities between bonobos and humans in Sex at Dawn, says there’s a clear explanation for this “copulatory vocalisation”: they’re advertising their fertility to all the males in the area, most of whom are only too happy to make their own contribution to a competition among sperm that is fought out within the female’s reproductive tract, rather than in a bar between a bunch of rowdy Larrys.

A legacy of this behaviour is seen in a 2005 Australian study that showed that guys who view porn depicting two men with one woman produce ejaculates with more effective sperm than those viewing porn showing only women. It also explains why men reach orgasm quickly and then temporarily lose interest in sex, while women have developed the capacity for multiple orgasms.

The bonobos’ benevolent promiscuity isn’t exclusive to apes or prehistoric humans. Even today, many societies have an open approach to sex, marriage and parenthood. One such group is China’s 55,000-strong Mosuo people, who allow their daughters to choose their male sex partners at whim – with no strings attached. The daughter’s extended family and others in the village then take collective responsibility for any offspring.

In the Amazon, meanwhile, dozens of independent societies believe a fetus is an accumulation of semen, contributed by multiple males over a period of a woman’s life since she first starts menstruating. Because of this belief, prospective mothers will often have sex with the best of the tribe’s hunters, thinkers, lookers and so on, in the hope of producing a well-rounded child. The men then all take on a father role in raising the child.

* * *

New Zealanders, as you may have noticed, are not Mosuo or Amazonian, and we’re a few million years removed from bonobos. So the idea that monogamy isn’t natural might not come easily to us.

“It’s normal that people are going to feel threatened by this,” Ryan concedes, “because a lot of people, especially people who haven’t read the book, think we’re saying, ‘Hey ladies, you should just let your husbands screw around and go back to the 50s when nobody made a big deal of it’ – which isn’t quite what we’re saying.”

On the contrary, Ryan presents strong arguments for preserving marriages and useful advice for saving them. He talks about the power of “soul passion” over “sexual passion” and points out that all available statistics show single-parent kids do worse in life than kids with two loving parents. He is, in fact, married – to ­psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá, a Mozambique-born Indian with a Portuguese passport who shares an author credit for Sex at Dawn.

Ryan and Jethá are simultaneously comforted and unsettled by the book’s conclusions, but they hope they help, rather than hinder, marriages. “We’re not advocating anything except a candid and honest assessment of what we are, as animals,” says Ryan. “Our greatest ambition for Sex at Dawn is that it will encourage and empower people to clarify their sexual nature and their sexual compatibility before they sign on to a long-term commitment that can’t be renegotiated later without a huge amount of suffering for everyone involved.”

American psychologist and addiction specialist Stanton Peele, who calls Sex at Dawn a “very significant” work, supports this view. “We’re constantly dealing more than ever with how human beings are drawn apart, what an effort marriage is, and it’s almost as though we have no tools to recognise the stress that those relationships produce,” he says on the phone from New York. “If you can’t recognise the forces that work against that, then you’re going to have a hard time being realistic in facing marriage as an individual, or in dealing with people and their marital problems and everything else, because you don’t have a firm foundation for understanding what the forces they’re confronting are.”

As it stands, too many people attribute a declining sex life to falling out of love, but it needn’t be that way. “They beat themselves up, they think it represents a failure of their relationship, or one of them,” says Ryan. “It’s not at all. It’s just a natural dissolution of something that’s served its purpose. The purpose of sexual attraction is to bring two people together. Once they are together, there’s really no reason for that feeling to persist, and so it doesn’t. It can’t be morning all day.”


* * *

So, what to make of love? If all that stuff Hollywood has peddled about Mr Right and The One turns out to be just an excuse to get us rutting to perpetuate our DNA, is there any hope for the starry-eyed among us? Surely Mills & Boon built an empire on something more substantial than vicarious orgasm (oh, wait …).

But here Ryan offers a sharp distinction between love and being in love. The former is deep and real, he argues, while the latter is probably just pleasantly delusional, a hasty misinterpretation of the hormonal frenzy that comes with initial, and ultimately fleeting, sexual passion (which lasts about two to four years).

Part of that, at least on the male side, can be attributed to the increased levels of testosterone experienced when a man finds a new sex partner. Sadly, Ryan says, as a man’s testosterone levels sag with age, he can experience a loss of energy and libido, which flows on to other reported symptoms, such as a loss of ambition and passion, even sense of humour.

The renewed vitality and stronger sense of being alive that a man gets from a novel lover, however, is hard to replicate. Despite the advice from various glossy magazines, a few candles, some crotchless panties and a handful of rose petals are not going to have a long-lasting effect on the areas that testosterone so adroitly targets.

But none of this is to say that love is doomed and there’s no hope of finding a meaningful lifelong companion with whom to share intimacy. There are still strong forces within us that can accommodate the vagaries of our sexual biology, Ryan says.

“We equate being in love with building your house on December ice,” he continues with Northern Hemisphere-centric metaphor. “It’s going to shift. It’s not a very good idea. You’re building on something that’s not going to last very long. That’s sexual passion. But there’s a passion of the soul that doesn’t dissipate with age and isn’t touched by sexual attraction to other people or viewing pornography, or any of these other transient biological impulses.

“If people are lucky enough to find love, then I think they’ve found something that lasts much longer and is much more solid ground for building a family than being ‘in love’.”

Ryan allows that his book’s premise may not necessarily be right, but he did spend five years looking for a reason it was wrong and didn’t find one. “If it is truth,” says Ryan of his theory, “then it’s completely predictable that the process of arriving at a life that incorporates that truth is going to be disruptive, because what you’re doing is replacing one paradigm with a different paradigm, and that’s always disruptive.” But coming to terms with our sexual nature is, Ryan concludes, “ultimately liberating and invigorating”.

If he is right, then Western society, among a few others, may need to do some serious soul-searching. Perhaps that disgraced politician deserves another chance. Perhaps that failed marriage can be revived. Perhaps Tiger Woods’s biggest failing was actually insincerity. Whatever the answers, at least the questions are now being asked.

Of course, one of the big unanswered questions is why is jealousy such a powerful emotion, especially if monogamy was never meant to be such a big deal, and paternity certainty isn’t as paramount as we at first thought. The standard evolutionary explanation holds that jealousy helps to ensure paternity certainty – making a man more sure about whether a child who emerges from a new mother’s loins is his own. But Ryan argues this is a cultural construct with an economic justification. In its basic form, he says, jealousy is just fear of losing something that seems essential.

“If you look at sexuality as a commodity – as it is now and has been for 10,000 years, more or less – it makes perfect sense that people are very afraid of losing it, because like all other commodities, it exists in the context of scarcity,” he says. “So we fear losing our lover or relationship because we can’t imagine ever replacing that feeling that we get from that person – that feeling of security, that feeling of intimacy.

“If you imagine a society in which sexual pleasure – and intimacy and companionship and help with the kids and all the rest of it – was not a commodity and was not a scarce commodity, then people wouldn’t be scared of losing it.”

And yes, such a society exists. Those Mosuo people of China, whose women take on multiple sex partners and who share responsibility for the young, consider openly expressed jealousy aggressive because of its “implied intrusion upon the sacred autonomy of another person”, notes Ryan. Jealousy for the Mosuo “is thus met with ridicule and shame”.


the west australian

Why we are lusty libertines

The West Australian September 16, 2010

If you think fidelity is the fibre that's holding your fraying relationship together, think again. It could in fact be that nagging little hang thread that caused it to unravel in the first place. Humans, you see, have evolved to be "shamelessly, undeniably, inescapably sexual".

We are, according to authors and partners Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, "Lusty libertines. Rakes, rogues and roues. Tomcats and sex kittens. Horndogs. Bitches in heat." And monogamy, this controversial pair says, is a shackle many of us choose to wear - a socially acceptable form of self-sabotage that in many cases destroys marriages rather than enhances them.

Sex at Dawn is a fascinating, funny and unflinching look at the history and evolution of human sexuality. It sets about debunking a whole range of sexual myths and challenges some of the central themes of modern-day relationships.

And it ponders some carnal curiosities, too. Like why, compared to our more hirsute relatives, we humans are so ridiculously sexually well-endowed, why women have "pendulous" breasts and indulge in "copulatory vocalisation".

Why, with the advent of agriculture - which author Jared Diamond said was "a catastrophe from which we've never recovered" - we've evolved from a species that enjoyed free and friendly love to a patriarchal society that views woman as child-bearing chattels who have sex because they have to (not, God forbid, because they might want to).

Ryan, a research psychologist, reckons we take sex way too seriously. Even the word on a page might cause a casual reader to recoil involuntarily. SEX. See? Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, Ryan and Jetha knew they needed to approach it with humour - a concept their publishers initially struggled with.

"As first-time authors everyone expected us to do as we were told but we had a very clear sense of what we wanted to write and I've taught quite a bit and in my experience the best way to hold someone's attention is to keep them laughing," Ryan says. "The other reason we thought it important to keep it light was because a lot of people feel emotionally threatened by the material, so if we could charm them a little bit maybe they would listen to us - at least long enough to see that it's not as threatening as maybe they thought."

The couple's playful approach works well in what could have been a rather confronting chapter discussing why females are such noisy lovemakers. We have sprung, they say, from thousands of generations of "multiple maters" and the "copulation call" is an ancient tool used to incite other potential suitors and provoke "sperm competition". Men, on the other hand, don't need to bother.

"If you're one of the 10 or 15 people alive who have never seen Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, go watch it now (it's easily accessible online)," they write.

"It's one of the best-known scenes in all of modern cinema but if the roles were reversed, the scene wouldn't be funny - it wouldn't even make sense. Imagine: Billy Crystal sits at the restaurant table, he starts breathing harder, maybe his eyes bug out a bit, he grunts a few times, takes a few bites of his sandwich, and falls asleep. No big laughs. Nobody in the deli even notices."

Despite the playful language, the proposition is serious: Sex at Dawn turns on its head the very foundation and definition of relationships in modern society - monogamy isn't part of our programming and we're constantly ruining things by confusing love and lust.

And while their theory on monogamy is not new, it's got a new audience in the increasing number of couples struggling with failing marriages.

"Once you understand that the terms of success are completely stacked against you, you know, lots of people are in potentially perfectly wonderful relationships but they're destroying them because they're disappointed and angry that it's not what they saw on some movie 20 years ago and that's really hurting a lot of people," Ryan says. "Obviously we're really focused on couples but the people we're really concerned about are kids, they've got nothing to do with any of this and, 'oh, daddy and mummy aren't going to live together because they're not getting laid enough'. Are you kidding? That's ridiculous!”

And the couple has anticipated the inevitable questions about their own relationship. Do they indulge their primal urges to "multiple mate"?

"Cacilda and I worked out a stock answer to those questions which is that our relationship is informed by our research. We don't discuss details publicly and we encourage other people not to as well."


austin examiner

An Interview with the author of Sex at Dawn; The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

I recently had the opportunity to speak with psychologist Christopher Ryan, one of the authors of a revolutionary new book that debunks the theory that monogamy is a natural and thus appropriate construct for our species. The book is entitled Sex at Dawn; The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality and was co-written by Ryan's wife, psychiatrist Cacilda Jetha.

--What was the catalyst was for the inception of your book, Sex at Dawn?

I did my doctoral research on human sexual behavior in prehistory. Once I started to see how much the conventional narrative departed from what the data actually suggested about our sexual prehistory, I felt a book coming on. But I knew it would take a long time to bring my knowledge up to speed in the various areas I'd have to understand in order to put together a compelling argument: primatology, comparative primate anatomy, anthropology, archeology, psycho-sexuality, etc. It's impossible to say much about our sexual behavior in prehistory without getting into other aspects of what human life was like, in terms of politics, male/female relations, child care, diet, health, and so on.

--Those of us in non-monogamous open relationships have grasped the notion that sex and love are two very separate entities. It is clear that your book strives to enlighten others to this concept. How was it that the two became so inextricably linked in the first place?

Human beings are, perhaps more than anything else, a species that feels love: "Love is all you need." "God is love." "Love is all that matters." So, from a cultural perspective, if you can link love with a desired behavior, you've got a very powerful way to control behavior. Because of the inherent intimacy of sex, it's not hard to add love and convince people the two things are inseparable.

But love is equated with other, less likely, behaviors as well. I was struck recently by an interview I saw with Sebastian Junger, who's just published a book about American soldiers' experiences in Afghanistan, called "War." He was asked (I'm paraphrasing), "Given all the political complexities of modern wars, where it's not clear to most soldiers why they're fighting in a particular place and time, what motivates men to risk their lives in war?" He replied, "Love. They fight to protect their buddies. Even if they can't stand each other in normal life, once the bullets start flying, they'll risk everything for each other." He went on to say that this intense intimacy is what veterans report missing most about their time at war.

--I find it fascinating that people are so surprised that humans are not designed for monogamy, despite the rate of infidelity and the social tolerance surrounding it. What do you suppose is the reason for this disparity?

Human beings are extremely susceptible to cultural norms. People are surprised that they get obese from doing something as "normal" as drinking a 64 oz. bottle of Coke with every meal. They're amazed their arteries harden after a few decades on the sofa watching TV. "Everybody does it," they'll say. As a species, we've got an amazing ability to ignore the reality right in front of us if it doesn't fit with the dominant narrative we've internalized. I think it was the author Philip K. Dick who said, "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't disappear."

--When you studied jealousy (or the lack of jealousy in other cultures), did the concept of compersion, which is sometimes referred to as "the opposite of jealousy" come up at all? (The ability to feel empathetically the pleasure that your partner feels, even if the source of that pleasure is someone else) 

No, I don't remember coming across that concept. But that doesn't mean people don't feel it. Most of the reports we have are filtered through anthropologists or explorers who may not have thought to ask about these sorts of feelings (as they would be so far from their own expectations) or who wouldn't have reported them even if they'd had such conversations, due to the very controversial nature of such notions. So much important information has been lost, or just not collected, because it could call into question the dominant paradigms of love and sex. I know of several modern anthropologists who openly admit that they left out of their ethnographic reports sexual information that they felt personally uncomfortable with. Then you've got cases like Darwin's daughter, who deleted any references to human sexuality she found to be too racy from his later works, including his autobiography (and she was an incredible prude!). Richard Burton, who was probably the greatest scholar of human sexuality in human history is another tragic case in point. He traveled the world, studying (and experiencing) the sexual practices of many different cultures. He was the first Westerner to visit Mecca (in disguise), first to translate the Kama Sutra to a Western language, spoke two dozen languages. Upon his death, his wife burned all his notes and writings on human sexuality. Thousands of pages of first-hand accounts lost forever because she feared they would tarnish his reputation.

--Since you admit to not "knowing what do to with the information" you present in your book in terms of negotiating or navigating new relationship styles, what do you suggest to your readers who might decide as a result of your findings that they want to follow their natural and biological inclinations and give non-monogamy a try? Do you feel a responsibility for providing such clear-cut information in terms of how others might proceed based on what they've read?

We made a conscious decision to try to stick to the science in this book. We're working on a follow-up book now that explores some of the ways people navigate their way through this tricky terrain, but in this book, we really wanted to just make the scientific argument and leave it at that. Our editor convinced us to add that last bit at the end where we explore, very briefly, how some of these ideas might play out in a typical marital crisis, but our original manuscript didn't address this sort of real-world application at all. We didn't want to be seen as advocates for any particular approach, because we're really not. People are dealing with so many different factors that we could never anticipate or address adequately in something as impersonal as a book.

Every relationship is a constantly changing world, with rules and customs no outsider can really understand. Cacilda and I respect the uniqueness of other people's relationships and would never presume to tell anyone else how to live their lives. We just wanted to offer a more accurate assessment of the realities of human sexual nature so people can make more informed decisions about how to move forward, either individually or together. I don't think it's necessary to really spell things out for readers too much these days. Between the books we mention in the text and a few minutes on Google, any interested reader can easily find whatever they're looking for, in terms of alternatives to conventional monogamy.

--So, do you agree with Freud's classic assertion that we are a species driven primarily by our libidos? 

I do, actually. Freud was so very wrong about so very much, but I think his most basic insight was deeply correct and actually quite courageous: Human beings are highly libidinous creatures in conflict with "civilizations" that seek to repress and redirect those energies in ways that hurt us individually.

I'm sure there are Freud scholars who would disagree with my expression of the essence of "Civilization and its Discontents," but that's what I remember from reading it years ago. Forget all the Oedipus nonsense and the penis-envy crap that followed. That central insight is radical and, I think, very accurate.

Little known fact: apparently, young Sigmund was a chronic masturbator. His father told him that if he didn't stop masturbating, he'd cut off his penis. Thirty years later, Freud proposes that every man suffers from castration anxiety. Speak for yourself, Siggy!

In Sex at DawnChristopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá put to lie the notion of sexual monogamy as something intrinsically human, arguing we gave up sexual novelty for agriculture. "Agriculture" probably means "beer". We gave up orgies for beer?

As a lover of both booze and sex alike, it's the most troubling existential question I've ever faced: Would I give up easy access to booze to have easy access to more sexual partners?

To condense a beautifully researched book into a gross synopsis, Ryan and Jethá's theory goes like this:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         From    Sex at Dawn   .

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         From Sex at Dawn.

• Before humans settled down into civilization, we were small bands of hunter-gatherers who had no notion of sexual monogamy. Within our relatively small tribes, most humans had multiple partners, primarily from within the tribal group, although occasionally we'd have a dalliance with a stranger to keep the DNA pool zesty. Children had multiple social "fathers", jealousy was nearly nonexistent, and relatively easy access to calories kept us fit, happy, and satisfied well into our 70s and 80s—provided we managed to get past the perils of high mortality rates expected from a wild environment and primitive medicine.

• Upon the discovery of agriculture, nomadic wandering was no longer possible—someone has to stick around to water the crops—so the ideas of property and inheritance became sadly useful. Domesticated food could become scarce, unlike the effectively endless bounty of hunter-gathering (ignoring the occasional climate-torqued famine or run of bad luck), so hoarding became necessary to ensure calories even in lean times. It's a lot of work to farm, so it became important to ensure that you weren't wasting your precious grains on someone else's offspring, especially if it meant you own kid was getting short shrift. Hence monogamy, marriage, and the unfortunate concept of partners as property, manifested in agrarian societies as a tendency to view women as chattel.

• Our genes, still tuned toward sexual novelty, cause us to really hate being monogamous, but societal pressures—including centralized codified religion—force men and women into an arrangement that brings with it just as many problems as it solves. Men cheat, women wither in sexual shackles (or, you know, cheat), wars erupt over resources or sexual exclusivity, cats and dogs almost start sleeping together except they're afraid the neighbors might find out—Old Testament, real wrath of God-type stuff.

While that glosses over so much good stuff from Sex at Dawn—our sexual similarities to our closest relatives, the bonobos; the dismantling of the idea that most animals are monogamous; humans' absolutely scandalous appetite for sex and our correspondingly massive genitals—I hope it's a fair summation of the part that's relative to my point (which is coming, I swear!): Agriculture fundamentally altered human sexuality.

Patrick E. McGovern. (Buy him dinner first.) His 2009 book, Uncorking the Past, lofts the idea that humans first cultivated grains not for making bread, but for brewing alcoholic beverages.

It's possible we have been drinking alcohol for a couple of million years. The "drunken monkey hypothesis" proposed by biologist Robert Dudley attempts to explain why our bodies have evolved such a happy capacity for metabolizing ethanol. From 
Uncorking the Past:

On average, both abstainers and bingers have shorter, harsher lives. The human liver is specially equipped to metabolize alcohol, with about 10 percent of its enzyme machinery, including alcohol dehydrogenase, devoted to generating energy from alcohol. Our organs of smell can pick up wafting alcoholic aromas, and our other senses detect the myriad compounds that permeate ripe fruit.

For eons primates have been getting soused on overripe fruit, fermented honey, or collected, macerated grains that have gone off after sitting overnight. (Primates are hardly the only animals that get tipsy, either, although sadly the tales of drunken elephants are 
probably mostly hype.) We spent a couple of million years getting drunk whenever we could—enough that we evolved bodies that could better handle the hard stuff—but probably picked it up where we could find it or made simple fermented drinks like pulque as circumstance allowed.

But then one day a few tens of thousands of years ago someone got the bright idea to cultivate. I'm sure it seemed like a great idea at first. Who wouldn't want to get drunk whenever they chose? (A stocked liquor cabinet is certainly how I measure my own personal success.) And no less a man than Benjamin Franklin, one of the architects of modern society, acknowledged that "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Little did that intrepid farmer know that in just a few generations the idyllic, if unpredictable era of lazy browsing, casual sex, and occasional fruit-fueled orgies would give way to the terrible force of civilization—all so we could bring home a six-pack every night.

Source. Also, see this brief TV interview provoked by this article.

Sex at Dawn

Last Updated: 11:56 PM, July 31, 2010
Posted: 11:56 PM, July 31, 2010

Of all the arguments and ideas posited in the intriguing “Sex at Dawn,” its dominant one is the most controversial: Humans are not, nor have ever been, wired for monogamy, and our societal insistence on it is indisputably harmful and punitive.

The concept isn’t new — Lewis Henry Morgan, a peer and friend of Charles Darwin, put forth the same argument in the 19th century, coining the term “omni-monogamous” to describe the baseline setting of human sexuality. The proof presented by authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, however, is new. “I was surprised — I started out with the passion of the convert when it came to evolutionary sexuality,” Ryan says. “But the data is overwhelming.”

“Sex at Dawn” begins by dismantling centuries-old conventional wisdom regarding human sexual behavior — that we mature, go through a period of sexual variety, then settle down with one person, forever. That concept came into being with agriculture, and the benefits were as much economic as societal. But the belief that such mores are ingrained in us, not the other way around, has somehow managed to persist even as human behavior continually proves the opposite — in America especially, where attitudes towards sex remain Puritan and binary. We are a culture that places the highest value on marriage and monogamy, yet porn generates more profit than pro football, baseball and basketball franchises combined.

“It’s an adolescent culture,” says Ryan, himself an American who’s lived in Spain for the past 20 years. “I think Americans adhere to their Hollywood mythology, the sense that love is sex, and sex is love, with its magic and spirituality.”

“Sex at Dawn” seeks to disabuse us of this notion.

In Russia, for example, sex on vacation doesn’t count. In France, adulterous affairs don’t necessarily lead to divorce; in America, infidelity is one of the top reasons marriages split up. In their book, Ryan and Jetha cite the 2007 work “Lust in Translation” and author Pamela Druckerman’s conclusion that more American women leave their marriages than want to, mainly because of societal pressure, the idea that it’s the only way for a betrayed spouse to reclaim dignity. “She refers to it as ‘the script,’” Ryan says. (Druckerman was shocked to hear from women who left their marriages over a one-night stand, “because ‘that’s what you do.’”)

America’s “spectacular failure of marriage,” Ryan says, is one of the most poignant arguments for a reassessment of our attitudes towards monogamy, to aggressively question whether we are, in fact, setting ourselves up for failure. Could it be that we may be more complicated than we know and, also, simpler? Our closest living relatives, after all, don’t have sex with just one mate. As the authors write, “Monogamy is not found in any social, group-living primate except — if the standard narrative is to be believed — us.”

This is not to say that romantic love and long-term pair-bonds are also societal constructs, or are less important than sex. Nor do the authors see love and bonding as better. Just different. (Primates, as it turns out, also exhibit behaviors once believed the sole province of humans: they hold and kiss each others’ hands, walk arm-in-arm, gaze into each other eyes. They do form bonds — but not every sexual encounter means that pair-bonds exist, or that they will result.)

The authors believe that if American attitudes towards sex could lighten up — and not in a juvenile, sex-farce way, but in a grown-up, every-encounter-isn’t-laden-with-import way — humanity would benefit. Like primates, our prehistoric ancestors used sex as currency, as a buffering mechanism, as a means to keep the group on an even keel; there’s a reason we have a sexual drive that doesn’t remain fixed on one mate. (Whether we choose to keep it there, they maintain, is possible — just not natural.)

“We see it like the war on drugs,” Ryan says of his and Jetha’s attempt to change the discourse. “There are a lot of parallels.” “It’s ‘just say no’ vs. harm reduction. We’re all at the point where we’re about to admit that marijuana use isn’t a big deal. Sexuality’s the same thing.”

As for the popular theory that romantic love is an evolutionary adaptation meant to prevent sexual infidelity, Ryan finds the notion flawed. Aside from scientific studies proving that women’s biology is perfectly designed to obscure paternity, and men’s designed to reproduce quickly and often, there is a philosophical distinction that Ryan says is the crux of the book’s argument.

“I would ask, what is meant by the word ‘love’?” he says. “Love that makes you want to share your life with someone and visit them in the hospital and take care of them when they’re dying — that’s different,” he says. “People in European cultures can see that love isn’t sex, and sex isn’t love. We should just accept the kind of animal we are.”


washington post

On Love Sex at Dawn' authors say humans aren't naturally monogamous

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 30, 2010

It was Bill Clinton who first got Christopher Ryan thinking about monogamy.

As a doctoral student in psychology in the late 1990s, he kept wondering: "How is it that the most powerful man in the world is getting publicly humiliated for having a casual sexual relationship with someone?"

And it wasn't just Clinton, of course. Again and again, leaders were putting themselves in a position where "they could lose everything" for the sake of an affair.

Ryan devoted his dissertation to an examination of the roots of human sexual behavior and suggests, in new a book co-written with his wife, psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá, that we reevaluate the idea that monogamy comes naturally to men and women -- and look at whether it should even be something we require of our spouses.

In "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," to be published this summer by HarperCollins, Ryan and Jethá point to anthropological and biological evidence that humans are designed to seek variety in sexual experiences.

The myth, says Ryan, who writes a blog at, is that "you should be completely happy, completely fulfilled with one partner for 50 years. But that's not the design of the human organism."

"In fact," he says from their home in Barcelona, "the human organism is designed for the exact opposite of that."

"Adultery has been documented in every human culture studied," Ryan and Jethá write in the book. If monogamy is such a natural state, the authors ask, why are so many people driven to cheat?

Ryan and Jethá trace many of our modern ideas about matrimony and monogamy back to Darwin and a Victorian understanding of sexuality. To support their theory that the story is much more complex, they examine early human cultures and those of remote tribes that don't place a high value on monogamy. Some peoples believed babies could receive genetic material from multiple fathers, so women were encouraged to have sex with men who could pass on different positive characteristics.

Ryan's hope is that the book will prompt readers to question their beliefs about monogamy, though he knows many will be incredulous at the suggestion that adultery comes naturally.

The authors, who are married, are actually in favor of matrimony -- especially, Ryan says, when "it provides an emotionally and economically stable environment for a kid to grow up in."

The problem, as he sees it, comes when an expectation of absolute fidelity is placed on marriage. "There's a lot of suffering -- and what I would say is unnecessary suffering -- between couples who have unnecessary expectations of what life is going to be like," he says.

The authors draw a sharp distinction between love and lust -- in their view, an act of sex outside of marriage doesn't necessarily diminish the love one has for a spouse. "When it's just sex," they write, "that's all it is."

In their own 11-year relationship they've "had a similar understanding from the get-go," says Ryan, 48.

Americans in particular, he adds, see adultery as grounds for divorce, while many Europeans are inclined toward a more laissez-faire attitude when it comes to marital transgressions.

Their hope, he says, is that the book will spark honest conversations between couples, and incite them "to have a more tolerant attitude toward themselves, and their relationships." 

Link to source.

washington post 2

Polite Sex at Dawn 

By Ron Charles | June 11, 2010

Two weeks ago, I saw a review on our Weddings page of a book called "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality" (HarperCollins). Without much thought, I blurted out in a tweet that it sounded pretty stupid to me.

But that started a surprising e-mail conversation with one of the authors, Christopher Ryan. It's interesting not only for what Mr. Ryan says, but as an example of the way patient authors can profitably engage even caustic critics:

Ron Charles: Thank you for your gracious note, which is more than I deserved. If the short bit in the Sunday Post was unnuanced, then a tweet based on that short bit is probably pretty close to worthless, so you're wise not to lose any sleep over it. More than ever, all publicity is good.

Christopher Ryan: Maybe it's a sign of my not having fully joined the Twittering classes, but I felt like an interloper responding to your tweet. Please don't let my barging in dissuade you from future pithy dismissals in 140 characters or less!

Ron Charles: I have to say, though, that I'm fundamentally suspicious of applying "anthropological and biological evidence" to what are essentially moral and ethic concerns.

Christopher Ryan: Me too. One of my concerns about how our book will be received involves the fact that the paradigm of human sexual evolution we present isn't cleanly aligned with either of the opposing camps in the endless debates over human nature. Everyone from Steven Pinker to Naomi Wolf will find plenty to scoff at, so we're not likely to attract many natural allies, I fear. But to your point, "moral and ethic concerns" don't arise spontaneously, right? Although they are generally spun as if they were eternal and immutable laws (the word of God), it's clear that moral concerns reflect deeper cultural forces--normally economic, I'd argue. One way, albeit not the only way, to investigate these deeper issues involves the application of anthropological and biological evidence.

Ron Charles: "Adultery has been documented in every human culture studied"? So what? We observe murder in all those cultures, too, but that's no argument in its favor. And isn't "the idea that monogamy comes naturally to men and women" a bit of a jism-stained straw-man argument? Who exactly is promoting "the myth that you should be completely happy, completely fulfilled with one partner for 50 years? Surely, no church makes that fairytale argument. "Ryan knows many will be incredulous at the suggestion that adultery comes naturally." Really? Many? Where are these virgins pure as the driven snow? Do they not own televisions, talk to friends, read novels, date men?

Christopher Ryan: I've pasted below the context from which that line was taken, which shows that the mention of adultery in every culture was just one of several data points cited to make the case, not intended as an argument in and of itself. While I agree that asserting humans are "naturally monogamous" will get you laughed out of any bar (especially a gay bar), the principle of the exchange of female fidelity (and thus, paternity certainty) for male food, status, and protection is fundamental to mainstream thinking on human evolution. This, we're told, is why women prefer older, richer men, and why women are less sexual beings than men, in general, and are far more choosy about their mates. Women's jealousy is supposedly keyed on her mate's emotional ties to other women, while men's is focused on her potential sexual contacts. There are hundreds, if not thousands of research papers (not to mention books) that take this scenario for granted, but we question whether this essential exchange between a man and a woman really had much importance at all until the advent of agriculture, about 10,000 years ago. (We've existed, more or less as we are today, for about 200,000 years.) I won't tax your patience with a point-by-point response, but we devote an entire chapter of the book to laying out precisely what we're arguing against, so that we can't be accused of attacking a straw-man, jism-stained or not. (One of the fun facts you can learn in Sex at Dawn is that "jism" and "jazz" come from the same root, etymologically.)

Ron Charles: Entirely unfair of me, I know, to take a potshot at your book in a tweet, -- or even here without having read it -- but that's the state of critical affairs nowadays I'm afraid.

Christopher Ryan: Not at all. The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, to quote Oscar Wilde. Your potshot is much appreciated.


Ask an Expert: Why Famous Men Cheat and What Our Ancestors Really Thought of Sex and Monogamy

By Rosemary Brennan, July 8th, 2010

I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear someone (usually a guy) say that humans aren’t wired to be monogamous, I get a bit suspicious. I mean, where’s the research?!

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality is a recently released book that explores these deep questions. I had the opportunity to read Sex at Dawn and it was such an insightful look into the ways our ancestors viewed sexuality.

Earlier this week, I spoke with the book’s author, Christopher Ryan, PhD about the real nitty-gritty of mankind's sexual past. Christopher is a research psychologist who has taught at the University of Barcelona Medical School and in several European hospitals.

Rosemary: How are our contemporary views of sexuality different from those of our ancestors? Were our ancestors more open about sexuality?

Christopher: Yes, the evidence strongly suggests that until about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture, people lived a much freer life, sexually speaking. Although most mainstream scientists have argued that a sense of shame is universally associated with sex, in Sex at Dawn, we discuss many societies where this is clearly not the case. We argue that most of the sexual repression that characterizes contemporary societies only entered into human life when people started worrying about property. Among nomadic foragers who have little or no personal property, paternity tends to be a non-issue. But once we had houses, land, animals, and other forms of wealth to "keep in the family," paternity suddenly became a critical concern. Of course, the only way to assure paternity was to control women's sexual behavior. Shame is one of the most powerful ways of manipulating people, which is why there are so many more words for women who disobey sexual rules than men (whore, slut, harlot, bitch, hussy, and so on).

Rosemary: Why is monogamy difficult for some couples? How is our view of monogamy different from our ancestors?

Christopher: Monogamy is difficult in the same way that working the night shift is difficult. Because we're just not made for working nights, the disruption of our evolved energy cycles causes a range of health problems—both psychological and physiological. As thinking beings with free will, we can certainly choose to be monogamous over a lifetime, but we should understand that this can be a costly decision, like working the night shift, refusing to exercise, or living on pizza and beer.

Sex at Dawn, we are careful to distinguish sexual monogamy from emotional monogamy. It's quite possible that many of our ancestors maintained very special, uniquely intimate relationships over their entire adult lives, but unlikely that many of them considered sexual exclusivity to be a necessary part of that intimacy. So, perhaps our ancient ancestors felt just as much "love" as any of us do, but they very probably considered sex to be a separate matter.

Rosemary: What makes people, especially high profile celebrities (Jesse James, Tiger Woods) cheat? Do they believe they won’t get caught?

Christopher: There's undoubtedly some sense of false invulnerability in someone who grows accustomed to being surrounded by yes-men and women. But these situations are also largely a function of opportunity. It's difficult for most men to imagine what it's like to have an endless supply of attractive women offering themselves, no strings attached (theoretically). An attractive woman will have little trouble finding a willing sex partner within minutes of walking into the right sort of bar, but very few men ever experience that situation, and most who do encounter it only as adults, when they've achieved some great success or fame (or in strip clubs, which are an artificial replica of such a situation). So they don't really know how to deal with the overabundance of erotic opportunity. Many of these men may have an accumulated sense of sexual frustration from those lean times in their teens and 20s when they were dorky unknowns practicing their guitar or golf swing.

Think about it: even if Tiger Woods had sex with a thousand different women, he still probably refused the explicit advances of ten times that many very hot ladies. How many men ever get the chance to say no to ten thousand women?

Rosemary: Is the idea of a “sexual addiction” a new one? Or is there evidence of our ancestors exhibiting such behaviors?

Christopher: I agree with addiction theorists like Stanton Peele who argue that addiction is a behavioral and cognitive pattern that exists largely separate from the object of the addiction. In other words, the sort of person who is addicted to sex could just as easily be addicted to gambling, drugs, or a host of other behaviors or substances. Because we live in a society that is so deeply conflicted about sexuality, many of us develop twisted, destructive relationships with these erotic energies. The deep sense of shame and self-hatred that results from ignorance and deliberate misinformation about the nature of the human animal we all are results in criminal tragedies like the sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church—which has been going on for centuries, accepted by millions who were too ashamed and afraid to say a word about it.

Rosemary: In long-term relationships, why does the sexual passion fade even though the couple’s love grows?

Christopher: It fades because its work is done. Sexual passion is a force for drawing two people together. Once they are together, it's utterly natural for that passion to fade. If the couple are compatible on other levels, it will be replaced by something deeper and much more enduring than sexual passion, something we might call "soul passion." Trying to build a family on sexual passion is like building a house on December ice, but founding a marriage on soul passion is building on solid ground.

Couples who feel a sense of failure in the passing of sexual passion are the victims of a childish and false vision of "love" promoted by the fairy tales of Hollywood and romance novels.

Rosemary: Were first romantic "firsts" like kissing for the first time or sleeping together for the first time as important to our ancestors as they are to us? Did our ancestors gossip with their friends and compare sexual exploits as we do?

Christopher: One of our absolute favorite books is called Nisa: The Life and Words of a !Kung Woman by Marjorie Shostak. In this book, Shostak recounts Nisa's life story, told to her over a series of afternoon meetings that went on for months. It's really an amazing look into the life of a hunter-gatherer woman whose existence is at once utterly different from anything we can imagine, and yet so very similar. One of the most beautiful aspects of the book is when Nisa talks about her first kiss, her first sexual experience, loving a man for the first time, having her first child, and so on. These experiences were obviously deeply important to Nisa. Both Nisa's story and other anthropological accounts confirm that in most societies sexual gossip is present.

One very interesting exception to this that we discuss in 
Sex at Dawn is the Mosuo people, of China. Part of their view of romance is that sexual gossip is deeply shameful and must never happen. Each person's sexual autonomy is absolute (men's and women's) and any attempt to limit this essential freedom by innuendo, declarations of jealousy, or any other means is strongly discouraged and ridiculed. As one Mosuo woman put it, "Women and men should not marry, for love is like the seasons—it comes and goes." Of course, the Mosuo have a family system which doesn't depend on married couples to provide social stability.


Authors contend that promiscuity - not monogamy - is our norm

By Zosia Bielski
July 29, 2010

If monogamy feels impossible, there's good reason, argue the authors of a new book. It's not our natural state. Our promiscuous origins make faithfulness an unnatural impulse

'Of all Earth's creatures, none is as urgently, creatively and constantly sexual as Homo sapiens," authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá write in their new book 
Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality.

The husband and wife team pore over anthropological, anatomical and psychosexual evidence, arriving at a bleak conclusion: Our rabid sexuality just doesn't gel with monogamy.

That's because we weren't a dutifully faithful species until the advent of agriculture, at the most 10,000 years ago, the authors contend. Before that, people evolved in "primal hordes" where food, shelter, childcare - and sex - were shared. Men didn't care about paternity because they had no private property to pass down, and women got all the resources they needed from their community, not individual men.

That dynamic resurfaced with the original American swingers - not hippies, but crewcut Second World War air force pilots swapping wives at key parties. If a husband was killed overseas, the surviving pilots would, in theory, take care of his wife.

Our bodies offer even more clues to our promiscuous origins, from women's capacity for multiple orgasms to men's penises, the largest of all in the primate order.

Still, the authors lament, monogamy persists as the norm even as high divorce rates, a burgeoning hook-up culture and a porn industry grossing some hundred billion dollars annually declare our randy dispositions. Dr. Ryan, a research psychologist, spoke to The Globe and Mail from Barcelona.

If promiscuity was the norm for our ancient ancestors, why does being cheated on hurt so much, in a way that feels instinctive?

Things that feel natural aren't necessarily natural at all. That gut feeling is not a good guide to actual human nature.

Do you really believe culture, and not nature, fuels sexual jealousy?

To some extent jealousy is part of human nature but there are societies that accentuate it and societies that minimize it.

During the marriage ceremonies of the Canela [a tribe in Brazil], the woman's mother lectures the couple to never be jealous of each other's lovers because that will ruin their marriage. Or the Mosuo in China - here, jealousy is considered ridiculous, laughable and sort of pathetic. These structures are built right into the society to try and get people to calm down and minimize these feelings.

You describe the Melanesian tribe in Oceania: Here, married men take young women as lovers to avoid marital monotony. The wives regard these concubines as status symbols. Are you advocating for something like that?

No. We're not advocating for anything in this book other than a greater degree of sincerity and communication between couples.

Do you see how women could find some of these tribal dynamics appalling?

I could certainly see how a certain feminist perspective could read this book as a justification for men screwing around but that's a very shallow reading of the book. What we're arguing is that the war between the sexes is a false conflict. The conflict isn't between men and women: The conflict is between men and women together on one side, and social conventions on the other side that try to convince us that what we feel is unnatural and shameful.

You write, "We'd like to confusingly suggest that most of us take sex way too seriously ... it's not love. Or sin. Or pathology. Or a good reason to destroy an otherwise happy family."

Two books, Lust in Translation by Pamela Druckerman and Mating in Captivity [by therapist Esther Perel] talk about the harm that's done from the automatic reaction. [Ms.] Druckerman calls it "the script:" if there's an affair, it's an indictment of the marriage. If the man is attracted to another woman, it's an indictment of his wife. In light of our evolutionary design, none of these things are necessarily an indictment of anyone. It's often a great mistake to end a marriage and dissolve a family over something that's really not necessarily that big of a deal. If there are lies involved and deception, those are very serious issues. But the sex itself isn't necessarily that big of a deal.

You write that gay male couples seem to get this concept.

A recent survey in San Francisco found that more than 50 per cent of long-term gay couples together five years or more were in relationships that allowed some degree of outside sexual contact.

You also mention the French and their liberal attitude towards infidelity. Why are the French always held up as a model? Are they actually happier than us?

According to [Ms.] Druckerman, the French tend to be a bit happier in terms of their sexuality. Certainly, anecdotally walking around Paris, the older women seem to see themselves as sexual beings. Their sexual lives seem to extend quite a bit further than for most American women. The evolved design of our species means the sexual passion between a couple tends to fade over time. If there's zero input of erotic energy coming from anywhere outside of the relationship, then the flame can get pretty low. This is all conjecture and I've never lived in France, but perhaps French women are getting this sexual energy from outside the marriage.

By cheating - but you're not a fan of that term.

It's a very loaded term. It assumes lies and deception. If the relationship has a provision for these sorts of things, then you're not necessarily cheating at all. You're playing the game everyone's agreed to.

You end with a mention of a long-term triad relationship - Scott, Larry and Terisa. Do you think people in open relationships are better off? A lot of the book seems devoted to dissing the monogamous marriage.

I don't think we dissrespect monogamous marriage. I think we diss the lie that monogamous marriage comes naturally to Homo sapiens. That's what we keep banging away at. Next month my parents celebrate 50 years together and they have a wonderful marriage and I admire them greatly. It would never occur to me to diss people who make a decision to forsake all others and follow through with it. But it's like vegetarianism: I think there are philosophically sound reasons for being a vegetarian, but that doesn't mean a barbecue isn't going to smell good. That's what you have to face up to because of the animal that you are. We're not saying that everybody should be polyamorous or into group sex.

How do you expect these insights to play out between couples? You write that you have "little helpful advice to offer."

We're hoping that people who read the book will approach their lives and relationships with a more informed, possibly more tolerant understanding of the difference between passion of the soul and passion of the body. Passion of the soul is something upon which you can found a family and expect to share a life together, to grow old together, to take care of each other in sickness and in health. Passion of the body is something that's transitory, that's fun while it lasts but doesn't last long. To conflate those things causes great confusion and great suffering.

This interview has been condensed and edited. 

We're just swingers after all

July 31, 2010

Celebrating long-time marriages, it seems, goes against the natural order, writes Tim Elliott.

On May 13, Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher, the world's longest-married living couple, celebrated their 85th wedding anniversary. Herbert, who is 104, and Zelmyra, 101, live in North Carolina, where they met when they were in elementary school. Herbert was the only man for Zelmyra. "He was not mean; he was not a fighter. He was quiet and kind," she told a local newspaper. "He was not much to look at but he was sweet."

Depending on your point of view, spending 85 years with just one person is either the ultimate love story or something akin to death itself. For the psychologist and author Christopher Ryan, however, such monolithic monogamy is simply unnatural - deeply, profoundly unnatural, like foot-binding or head-flattening - and the cause of much human suffering.

"Since Darwin's day we have been told that monogamy is natural, that it's the way we evolved," Ryan says. "But this is not true, and never has been. Monogamy is a choice, not a default position for our species. And it comes with social costs that have to be recognised."

Ryan is the author, with his wife, Cacilda Jetha, of 
Sex at Dawn, an energetic and wide-ranging investigation into the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. While there have been many books, including The Myth of Monogamy and The Ethical Slut, which have questioned monogamy and championed open relationships, Sex at Dawn claims to demonstrate once and for all that monogamy is unnatural and moreover, unhealthy, and that humans are a hypersexualised species hard-wired for promiscuity.

Using anthropology, anatomy, archaeology and primatology. Ryan takes aim at what he calls the "standard narrative", the idea that men and women evolved in families in which a man's possessions and protection were exchanged for the women's fertility and fidelity. This notion, what the anthropologist Helen Fisher calls the ''sex contract'', has long dominated our thinking about sexual evolution.

But it is a myth, according to Ryan, who points out that for 2 million years our ancestors lived in small, interdependent, highly egalitarian groups who shared everything, including sex. "Evidence suggests that our pre-agricultural ancestors would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any one time," Ryan says. "These overlapping, intersecting sexual relationships strengthened group cohesion and could offer a measure of security in an uncertain world."

The British archaeologist Timothy Taylor agrees, writing in 
The Prehistory of Sex that "hunter-gatherer sex had been modelled on an idea of sharing and complementarity''.

All that ended, however, with the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago. When humans started farming, they organised themselves around hierarchical political structures, private property, and a radical shift in the status of women, who, Ryan writes, "went from occupying a central, respected role in foraging societies to becoming another possession for a man to earn and defend, along with his house, slaves and livestock."

Sex at Dawn contains many examples of isolated societies that still exhibit vestiges of this more communal, ancestral attitude to sex, including the Inuit, who early explorers found to practise a system of spouse exchange, and the Warao, of Brazil, who periodically suspend ordinary relations to celebrate ''mamuse'', a festival during which adults are free to have sex with whomever they chose. Then there is the famously libidinous Trobriand Islanders, the Kulina of Amazonia, and the Mosuo, of south-western China, who consider a vow of fidelity inappropriate, "an attempt", as Ryan puts it, "at negotiation or exchange''.

If humans had indeed evolved to be monogamous, we would be in tiny minority, according to Professor Leigh Simmons, a biologist at the University of Western Australia's Centre for Evolutionary Biology. "Most of the work on animal mating systems up until about 20 years ago assumed that many animals were monogamous," Simmons says. "But when scientists began using DNA technology to analyse parentage, they discovered that many animals had multiple fathers for different offspring."

For clues to human sexual evolution, Simmons says, it pays to looks at testicles. "The size of an animal's testicles have been shown to be directly related to the promiscuity of the females," he explains. "This is because when sperm from two or more males are present in a female's reproductive tract, there will be competition between them to fertilise the egg. The more promiscuous the female, the larger the male's testicles have to be and the more sperm they have to produce."

Chimps and bonobos, our closest primate relatives, are prodigiously promiscuous; not surprisingly, they have large testicles for their body size (a 45 kilogram bonobo has testes the size of chicken eggs), not to mention huge sperm production capabilities. Gorillas, on the other hand, have testicles the size of kidney beans, which are hidden inside the body. This is because gorillas establish harems: once a silverback establishes his dominance, there is no sperm competition. Human testicles are smaller than those of chimps and bonobos but far larger than those of gorillas, suggesting, Simmons says, "we have in the past been something other than monogamous".

Ryan, who also examines this phenomenon, points to recent reductions in human sperm counts and testicular volumes, and even suggests, half jokingly, that "sexual monogamy may be shrinking men's balls".

But balls, it seems, are just the beginning: according to 
Sex at Dawn, the price of monogamy is steep indeed: fractured families, failed marriages, flagging libidos, all casualties in the battle between our evolved nature and the figleaf of propriety otherwise known as marriage-for-life.

Ryan insists the book is "not an advertisement" for polyamory (having multiple partners at any one time). Rather, it's an argument "for greater knowledge and honesty in our relationships", which ought to be "informed by an understanding of the underlying realities of our species [not] fairytale misrepresentations of human nature promoted by religious organisations and other cultural forces."

And yet books like Ryan's are inevitably regarded as another notch in the belt for the polyamory movement, for which monogamy is anathema. Polyamory has long been associated with swingers, key parties and other largely disastrous forays into free love during the 1970s. But for a Sydney woman, Jenny Ford, it's working out just fine. Ford, 43, has been married since 1989, and has three children. But both she and her husband (who does not want to be named) have other lovers and are free to sleep with whomever they choose. Ford describes herself a "triogamous, meaning I have three life partners" - her husband, 42, a Swedish man, Kipp Jansson, 35, and "Tom", who is 28.

The first reaction to this arrangement by most couples with children is: "Where do they find the time?" But Ford insists being "poly" produces more clarity and simplicity, not less. "Being poly forces you find out what you want and explain it to people, to ask questions of yourself that you would not otherwise ask. How do I want to wear my hair? What fulfils me? Do I want to have a house? Where in the world do I want to live? I never asked those questions because there were these train tracks laid out by social conventions - get married, have kids, save for retirement - that we never really questioned."

Even her children are fans. "They are not like most teenagers. They are very grounded about sex. They are even a bit evangelical themselves about being poly."

Rather than jealousy (which in severe cases, can be treated, Ford says, "like a phobia"), polyamorous people are said to experience something they call "compersion", which means, in simple terms, to take pleasure in your partner's pleasure. Such an arrangement is reasonably common among gay male couples, who, as Ryan writes, recognise that "additional relationships need not be taken as indictments of anyone".

Polyamory has touted as an "ethical" solution to the misery of conventional marriage. (The radical US theologian John Humphrey Noyes propounded his ideas of "complex marriage" - a precursor to free love - at his Oneida Commune in 1848.) But most remain unconvinced. "Polyamory is an answer that is not really an answer," Reverend Graham Long, of the Wayside Chapel, says. "I've met people who for a period of time convince themselves that it works, but that period always ends, because sooner or later someone always feels betrayed or inadequate."

Long, married for 40 years, concedes monogamy isn't easy: in 2003 he was suspended from ministry after it was revealed he'd had an affair. "But polyamory is merely a three-card trick: you're saying, I am going to hurt you but at least I am being honest about it," he says.

For Ryan, meanwhile, the real issue is informed choice. Monogamy, he says, is like being vegan.

"There are lots of very good reasons to be vegan, but it certainly is not a convenient lifestyle or something you do without thinking it through. We are omnivores, just as we are omnigamous. And all I'm saying is that if you cut things out of your diet, so to speak, it has consequences."

Sex at Dawn , by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha (Scribe, $35), is published on Monday.



"Sex at Dawn": Why monogamy goes against our nature

Sunday, Jun 27, 2010 14:01 ET
From testicle size to our slutty ancestors, a new book explains what human history teaches us about sex and couples
By Thomas Rogers

According to Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, the authors of the new book "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," the state of the American marriage is awfully grim. We have a stratospheric divorce rate and a surge of single parents. Couples who stay together are often trapped in sexless, passionless unions. An entire industry — from couples therapy to sex supplements — has emerged to help people "rekindle the spark" without straying from the confines of monogamy.

But Ryan and Jethá also have a theory for what's causing this misery: From a biological perspective, men and women simply aren't meant to be in lifelong monogamous unions. In "Sex at Dawn," which uses evidence gathered from human physiology, archaeology, primate biology and anthropological studies of pre-agricultural tribes from around the world, they argue that monogamy and the nuclear family are more recent inventions than most of us would expect — and far less natural than we've come to believe.

Before the advent of agriculture, they argue, prehistoric humans lived in a much less sexually possessive culture, without the kind of lifelong coupling that currently exists in most countries. They also point to the bonobos, our closest relatives, who live in egalitarian and peaceful groups and have astronomical rates of sexual interaction, as evidence of our natural inclinations. While Ryan and Jethá's book (Ryan is a psychologist, and Jethá a practicing psychiatrist, in Spain) is often a bit scattered and hard to follow, its provocative argument is also impossible to dismiss.

Salon spoke to Ryan over the phone from Barcelona about the problem with American marriages, why gay men understand relationships better than straight men, and the hidden meaning of human testicle size.

You paint a bleak picture of the state of marriage in the West, particularly in the United States. What makes it so bad?

Marriage in the West isn’t doing very well because it’s in direct confrontation with the evolved reality of our species. What we argue in the book is that the best way to increase marital stability, which in the modern world is an important part of social stability, is to develop a more tolerant and realistic understanding of human sexuality and how human sexuality is being distorted by our modern conception of marriage. Certainly growing up in the '70s and '80s there were very few kids I knew whose parents weren’t divorced at least once. The economic, emotional, psychological cost of fractured relationships is a major problem in American society — with single mothers and single-parent families.

You argue that much of this misery stems from changes that occurred when humans developed agriculture, around 8000 B.C. What happened?

The advent of agriculture changed everything about human society, from sexuality to politics to economics to health to diet to exercise patterns to work-versus-rest patterns. It introduced the notion of property into sexuality. Property wasn’t a very important consideration when people were living in small, foraging groups where most things were shared, including food, childcare, shelter and defense. It makes perfect sense that sexuality would also be shared — why wouldn’t it be when paternity wasn’t an issue?

When you have agriculture, men started to worry about whether or not certain children were theirs biologically, because they wanted to leave their accumulated property to their own child. At that point, people also made a very clear connection between sexual behavior and birth. Lots of people didn't have a very clear understanding of the cause and effect of sex and birth, but when you have domesticated animals living side by side with people, they start to notice that the characteristics of a certain male that has mated with a certain female show up in the offspring.

One of the central ideas of much biological and genetic theory is that animals will expend more energy protecting those they’re genetically related to — siblings, parents, offspring — as opposed to those they're not related to. Why wouldn't that apply to humans?

There are many, many exceptions to that rule in nature. One of the exceptions we talk about in the book are the vampire bats that share blood with each other. They go out and they suck the blood at night and then they come back to the cave and the bats that didn’t get any blood will receive blood from other bats. They share, and that has nothing to do with genetic connection. And in terms of animals that are much more closely related to humans, when you look at bonobos and their promiscuous interaction, it’s virtually impossible for a male to know which of his offspring are related to him biologically. So to say that there’s this inherent concern with paternity within our species, I just don’t see evidence for that.

Does this mean that humans didn't form couples before the advent of agriculture?

Because human groups at the time knew each other so well and spent their lives together and were all interrelated and depended upon each other for everything, they really knew each other much better than most of us know our sexual partners today. We don’t argue that people didn’t form very special relationships — you can see this even in chimps and bonobos and other primates, but that bond doesn’t necessarily extend to sexual exclusivity. People have said that we’re arguing against love — but we're just saying that this insistence that love and sex always go together is erroneous.

Given that these people have been dead for thousands of years, and we don't have a fossil record of sexual activity, isn't this hard to prove?

The evidence comes from several different areas. We look at pre-agricultural people who have been studied today and horticultural people who have been studied by anthropologists. There’s a fair amount of information about the sexuality of people who haven’t been deeply exposed to Western influence. There are accounts from travelers and colonialists, first-contact accounts from historical records, that we rely on. But you can also extract a great deal of information from the human body itself — from the design of the penis to the volume of the testicles to the sperm-producing potential of the testicular tissue and the way we have sex.

What does our testicle size tell us about the way we have sex?

Our testicles aren’t as big as those of chimps and bonobos, but our ejaculation is about four times as big in terms of volume. The theory is that when males compete on the level of the sperm cell, they develop much larger testicles, because in promiscuous animals, the sperm of the different males is competing with the sperm of other males to get to be the first to the egg. And the fact that our testicles are not as small relative to our body as the monogamous gibbon or gorillas reinforces the idea that we have been non-monogamous for a long time.

Plus the design of our penis strongly suggests that it evolved to create a vacuum in the female reproductive system, thereby pulling out the semen of anyone who was there previously. There are all kinds of indications of sperm competition in the human male. And one of the things that we suggest in the book that no one else has suggested is that because the testicles are genetically the part of the body that adapts fastest to environmental pressure, it’s quite possible that our testicles are much smaller than they were as recently as fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, to reflect the historical cultural imposition of monogamy. And of course we all know that sperm count is dropping precipitously even as we speak.

But that drop in sperm count has been reported over the last few decades, and I don't think American culture has becoming less sexualized since the 1950s — I think the opposite is true.

Well, it’s hard to say because it’s only been measured for about the last 100 years. So it’s very difficult to know what was happening before that. But yeah, it does seem to be plummeting faster and faster, and there are indications that it has a lot to do with industrial contaminants in the environment, and antibiotics and growth hormones in the food supply and so on.

But I think there’s this bifurcation of American culture where you’ve got the liberalization on one side with states passing gay marriage, but then you have other states veering off in the other direction. I think the Bill Clinton and Lewinsky situation could have been such a great opportunity for the culture to grow up instead of wasting so much time and money and political capital in this investigation of a victimless crime. If the Clintons had gone on their "60 Minutes" interview and just said, "You know what, our sex life is nobody’s business but ours," I think the country would have been so much better off.

I think from a cultural standpoint the idea of strict monogamy has far less currency within the gay male world than it does within the straight world. I’m a gay man, and I think probably about half the gay male couples I know are in open relationships. Why do you think that is?

First of all, they’re both men, so they both know what it’s like to be a man. They both know from experience that love and sex are two very different things, and it seems that for women the experience of sexuality is much more embedded in narrative, in emotion, in emotional intimacy. But also it’s really hard to judge what women would be like if they hadn’t been persecuted for the last five or six thousand or ten thousand years for any hint of infidelity.

Gay men in the United States have also by definition gone through a process of self-examination. The whole process of coming out is a process of integrating sexuality into your life in a way that takes courage, and it’s not something that happens naturally. I think gay people have an advantage because they’ve already gone through a process of saying: "Look, my sexuality is what it is. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m going to live openly and in accord with it." That puts them on a different level than most heterosexual people who are able to pass along and pretend that they fit into the normal parameters.

It seems like many Americans, in particular, have a very strong notion that a marriage must remain monogamous at all costs — and that any infidelity is grounds for divorce. In other countries, like France, for example, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I’ve been living off and on for almost 20 years here in Barcelona, and from outside, the United States looks very adolescent, in a positive and negative sense. There's its adolescent energy — its idealism — but there’s also an immaturity and intolerance toward the ambiguity of life and the complexity of relationships. The American sense of relationships and sexuality tends to be very informed by Hollywood: It’s all about the love story. But the love story ends at the wedding and doesn't go into the 40 years that comes after that.

So if monogamous marriage isn't the right arrangement for us, what is?

We’re not really arguing for any particular arrangement. We don’t even really know what to do with this information ourselves. What we’re trying to do in the book is give people a more accurate sense of where we came from, why we are the way we are, and why certain aspects of life feel like a bad fit. I think a lot of people make a commitment when they’re in love, which is a sort of a delusional state that lasts a couple of years at most. I think it was Goethe who said that love is an unreal thing, and marriage is a real thing, and any confusion of the real with the unreal always leads to disaster.

All we’re really hoping for is to encourage more tolerance and more open discussion between men and women about sexuality and about marriage, and to come to see that marriage isn’t about sex. It's about things that are much deeper and more lasting than sex, especially if you have children. And the American insistence on mixing love and sex and expecting passion to last forever is leading to great suffering that we think is tragic and unnecessary.


the humanist

Speaking of Sex

An interview with psychologist Christopher Ryan, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

by: Barry F. Seidman and Arnell Dowret

Published in the March / April 2011 Humanist.

Christopher Ryan received a BA in English and American literature from Saybrook University in San Francisco, California, in 1984 and returned twenty years later for an MA and PhD in psychology. The intervening decades, he writes, were spent “traveling around the world, living in unexpected places working at very odd jobs (e.g., gutting salmon in Alaska, teaching English to prostitutes in Bangkok and self-defense to land-reform activists in Mexico, managing commercial real-estate in New York’s Diamond District, and helping Spanish physicians publish their research).” Drawing upon his multi-cultural experience, Ryan’s research focuses on trying to distinguish the human from the cultural; his doctoral dissertation looked specifically at the prehistoric roots of human sexuality. Based in Barcelona since the mid-1990s, he has lectured at the University of Barcelona Medical School and consults at various local hospitals. He speaks about human sexuality to audiences around the world, and his work has appeared in major newspapers, magazines, and scholarly journals. He is also the author of a textbook used in medical schools and teaching hospitals throughout Spain and Latin America. 

In December 2010 Ryan appeared on the radio program Equal Time for Freethought (ETFF) where he spoke about Sex at Dawn, coauthored with Cacilda Jetha and published by Harper in 2010—and also about just what the anthropological and psychological evidence says about humans’ “natural” state. The following excerpt is reprinted here with permission from the producers.

ETFF: Dr. Ryan, can you give us an overview of your work, as explored in your new book?

Christopher Ryan: Essentially, what we argue in Sex at Dawn is that there’s a great deal of data—evidence from primatology, from human anatomy, comparative primate anatomy, psychology, sexology, all sorts of anthropology—that all point to the fact that our sexual evolution was as a promiscuous species where most of our ancestors would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given point in their lives. And when I say promiscuous, I mean it in the original sense of the word, which is just “to mix”. I don’t mean any sort of moral judgment. And I certainly don’t mean to imply that these were casual, non-loving relationships.

Our ancestors spent their lives in groups, generally of under 150 people, where they would have known everyone very well, very intimately. So even if they had several ongoing sexual relationships, they would have been more intimate in many ways than the casual relationships that people experience these days. We evolved as sharing everything before the advent of agriculture, including sexual pleasure. Then with the agricultural revolution, which was only about 10,000 years ago (a period that’s only 5 percent of our existence as anatomically modern humans), we took a 90-degree turn off the path that we had been on for a very long time, and everything changed. And that’s when we became possessive about each other, about sexuality, and also about paternity and land and housing and animals and all these things that entered human life with the advent of agriculture.

ETFF: The traditional message we get about our sexuality is that we’ve always been this way, and always will be. Evolutionary psychologists sometimes tell us bizarre things about human history, for example that rape made us a more successful species evolutionarily speaking. Is it possible that if we look at the evidence carefully, we may find that reality is very different from what the traditional narrative tells us?

CR: Well, we tried to be very careful in Sex at Dawn not to romanticize pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer societies. So we’re not saying that sharing was so widespread because everyone was loving and sitting around the fire singing “Kumbaya” every night. The reason that sharing was so widespread—and continues to be in the remaining hunter-gatherer societies in existence—is because it’s simply the most efficient way of distributing risk among a group of people. So the conventional view, what we call the standard narrative in our book, is that males have always been obsessed with the sexual behavior of females because that’s the only way to assure paternity. A male doesn’t want to invest in children that aren’t his biological children, right? That’s the core of the standard narrative of human sexuality.

But if you really think about that, if you apply that to actual pre-agricultural society, what you see is that it makes no sense at all. Because it assumes that a man would go out hunting, let’s say he kills a deer. He comes back to the village, to the camp of people he lives with. He’s lived with them his whole life and is related to most of them—his brothers, cousins, parents, and so on—but he’s only going to share that deer with his wife and his children? It makes no sense at all, and we find no evidence for that. In fact, what we find in pre-agricultural societies that have been studied is that the worst possible thing you can do is hoard food. That sort of selfishness is not only bad form, but it puts the entire group in jeopardy. It causes conflict and it’s just plain stupid. Because you’re not going to get a deer every time you go hunting; nine times out of ten you’re going to come home empty-handed. So it simply makes sense to share what you get when you’re lucky, and other people share what they get when they’re lucky. That way everyone survives. Nobody starves to death. Without that understanding, the groups would fragment, obviously, because of the conflict.

Since Darwin, we’ve basically taken a nineteenth-, twentieth-, and now a twenty-first century view of contemporary society, and we’ve projected them onto the past. We’ve imagined that the distant past to be very much like the present, just with some modifications around the edges. In the book we refer to it as “Flintstonization,” because the Flintstones are the so-called modern Stone Age family. It’s a nuclear, suburban existence, but in prehistory. And that doesn’t cut it in terms of science. We need a bit more imagination and fealty to the facts as we find them.

ETFF: Does the traditional take on human nature lead then to our ideas on human sexuality and behavior in general, or is it the other way around? Where can we look to better understand all this?

CR: Well, it’s interesting. The two primates that are most closely related to human beings are chimps and bonobos. And they’re equidistant. So any time you read that chimps are our closest primate relatives, that’s false; they’re exactly the same distance from us genetically. And that’s significant for several reasons. First of all, we’re more closely related to them than an Indian elephant is to an African elephant, or a dog to a fox. We’re very, very closely related. And in fact, chimps and bonobos are closer to humans than they are to gorillas or any other ape.

When talking about human nature, discussions generally refer to chimpanzees. And in chimpanzees you find war, you find rape, you find murder, you find infanticide; you find all these nasty Machiavellian political calculations. Frans de Waal has written great books about chimpanzee politics and so on. But what’s often left unmentioned, not by de Waal but by other commentators, is the bonobos. And that’s significant. Because bonobos are the opposite of chimps in every one of those categories. In fact, in the thirty or forty years that bonobos have been studied in captivity and in the wild, not a single case of infanticide, murder, rape, or war between bonobo groups has been observed.

Bonobos are highly sexual, and in fact extremely similar to human beings in many important respects in terms of their sexual behavior. Bonobo society is dominated by females, whereas chimp society is dominated by the males, and what we propose in our book is that it seems likely that pre-agricultural human societies were much more aligned with the bonobo model, whereas post-agricultural society seems to have shifted over to the chimpanzee model. And so when we’re talking about human nature, it’s important to look at the economic conditions in which we existed.

When people ask me, “Are humans naturally violent or peaceful, generous or selfish?” I say that’s like asking, “What’s the natural state of H2O?” It depends. It depends on the temperature and on the context. If it’s cold, it’s solid. If it’s a moderate temperature, it’s liquid. If it’s hot, it becomes a vapor. I think that’s what human nature is. Human nature is extremely reactive. So if you put us in a scarcity-based environment where we’re in a zero-sum situation, a competitive situation with other individuals, then we tend to get more like chimps. But if you put us in a sharing, non-zero-sum-based environment where sharing makes more sense than hoarding, then we tend to go more toward the bonobo approach to life.

ETFF: Is there evidence that during our nomadic hunter-gatherer existence, there was anything like today’s nuclear family, pair bonding, and perhaps jealousy?

CR: I’m sure there was some level of jealousy, just because that’s sort of omnipresent, even in nonsexual issues. But there would have been rituals to minimize jealousy as there are in many societies now. Because there is no solid evidence for purely social relationships, we’re working from various types of physiological and anatomical evidence, anthropological and primatological, and so on. But essentially what we come to is a picture of groups of humans who took care of each other’s children, who considered the children of the group to be shared among all the adults. Children probably referred to all the men as “father” and all the women as “mother,” even if they knew who their biological mother was; they likely believed in what anthropologists called partible paternity, which is the belief that several different men can all be biological fathers of one child. And as so many things were shared (like food and grooming) as a way to strengthen the group, so sexuality would have been as well.

Now there’s no reason to think that there weren’t loving relationships and very special, even pair-bonded relationships between individuals who just really enjoyed each other’s company. But there’s no reason to think that those would necessarily have been sexually exclusive. That’s the connection we make between love and sexuality but we don’t find it expressed so much in pre-agricultural society. And sometimes not at all.

ETFF: You’ve said that near the dawn of agriculture and the domestication of animals there was a change, that at this point in human history, we entered a truly new era.

CR: Yes, there were many changes. Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel) wrote an essay in which he describes the advent of agriculture as the greatest disaster in the history of humankind. Which is shocking, because it’s the opposite of what so many of us were told in school, how it was the dawn of civilization and made everything wonderful. But we find that the evidence actually suggests that agriculture was a big step down for our ancestors in terms of health, diet, famine, infectious diseases, you name it. And in addition to all that sort of material stuff, it also changed the way we dealt with each other socially. Because it introduced this concept of property. When you’re a nomadic society, you’re walking ten to fifteen kilometers most days. You don’t want to carry a lot of stuff around, so you don’t acquire much property. And whatever property you’re taking, like cooking pots and knives and things like that, you want to be sure it’s not more than you absolutely need as a group. It makes more sense to share these things. But when you’ve got settled communities and people working the land, you’ve got a very different way of looking at things. Now you say, “This is my land. It makes sense for me to spend five or six years building a house here, because I’ll leave this house to my children even when I’m dead.” But then you have to know who your children are. And the only way to know who your children are is to control the sexuality of your wife, and to have a wife, to have this concept of a woman as your property.

When you look at the Old Testament, we all know the line: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” and we generally assume that’s about jealousy, right? But if you read it in context, it says: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his house, nor his ox, nor his servants.” Basically you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s stuff. And his wife is part of your neighbor’s stuff. So it’s really about property. And so that’s where everything changed. Then you start to get hierarchical societies, because somebody has to control the planting operations, and then the harvesting operations, and somebody’s got to store the food for the winter and deal with distribution, and you have to raise armies to defend your land against other agricultural societies, and so on. So it’s a very different life that started 10,000 years ago compared to what our ancestors experienced before then.

ETFF: Are there similarities concerning sexual and related attitudes between Americans and similar cultures in, say, Europe where you live now?

CR: I’ve been living in Spain for twenty years off and on now, and when I talk to my Spanish friends about the States, we all say the same thing: it’s like a country ruled by teenagers. They’re obsessed by sex, but they’re also afraid of it. They’re obsessed by violence. Non-Americans can’t understand things like NASCAR, which is obviously designed to appeal to the adolescent, testosterone-intoxicated male mentality. But let’s not forget the Islamic societies, which have a similar take as the conservative American right-wing on sexuality and so-called traditional values that seek to put the woman back in her place, and whereby anyone who’s not in the group is necessarily evil and to be oppressed or attacked in some way. So I think it’s not just the United States that has a puritanical vision, but a good bit of the world, unfortunately.

ETFF: What is meant by “natural?” Are we in this mess today because we’ve moved away from what is natural, or is everything natural because we are, after all, part of nature and thus our innovations are natural?

CR: That’s an excellent question and it’s the subject of my next book.

We’ve already established that human beings are extremely flexible, surpassed only by the cockroach, perhaps. We can eat anything, we can live in all sorts of different temperatures, we can live underground if we have to, and we’re extremely adept at that. But there are costs to be paid when the cultural adaptation runs counter to our predisposed state. I try to stay away from the word “natural” because it’s so charged, but we are evolved for certain environments. So if you look at something like diet or exercise, when we stray too far from certain marginal parameters within which we operate most efficiently, we end up with obesity and diabetes and circulatory diseases and so on. So we’re not infinitely malleable. We’re still apes, and we have bodies that are evolved for a certain kind of diet and certain kind of exercise and certain stress levels. So as I said earlier, we do have the bonobo, we do have the chimp within us, but it’s worth noting that nobody suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from helping a stranger. Now when we kill other people and hurt other people we suffer from that, it hurts us. So that does indicate that we’re not neutral, that we are, I would say, closer to the bonobo than to the chimp in terms of our reaction to violence and our ability to tolerate high levels of stress. There’s an interesting story that when the Allies bombed Dresden, there were chimps and bonobos in a zoo nearby. And after the bombing, they found that none of the chimps had died. They weren’t hit by bombs, the zoo wasn’t hit by the bombs, but the explosion and the noise was incredible. None of the chimps had died, but all the bonobos were dead.

ETFF: Perhaps we’re just not very experienced at this society thing yet. After only 10,000 years, is it possible we’re still working the kinks out of having surplus (though capitalism does create a kind of false scarcity), and that with the notion of radical individuality we seem to be intoxicated with, perhaps we’re still immature as a species? Perhaps we’re still figuring all this out?

CR: Well, if that’s the case, we’re not nearly as smart as we think we are. Ten thousand years is plenty of time to figure things out. Agriculture seemed like a good idea at the time, and it probably was a good idea at the time, since climatological evidence from that period suggests people basically could either start irrigating and cultivating grain or they would die. The problem is that once you start cultivation, your population starts growing. And so you’re on a spinning wheel where you have to always cultivate more land in order to feed this ever-growing population. And you get into this Malthusian struggle. So until we find a way to radically reduce population levels, we’re always going to be chasing our tails. The problem is that the planet isn’t infinite, and we can’t play this game forever. And it certainly seems like we’re coming to the end of the road here, with systems completely collapsing and the rest of it. So I’m not real hopeful that we’ll have much more time to learn our lessons. I think it’s now or never.


times of london

From the Times of London
by Valentine Low

July 10 2010

If the footballer Ashley Cole was repeatedly unfaithful to his wife, Cheryl, he was not being a “love rat” or any of the other abusive epithets heaped on the heads of men who cheat on their wives.

Instead he was merely paying the price for the way that human beings have denied their essential nature for thousands of years. Mankind was not born to be monogamous, according to a controversial new book, and the divorce statistics are there to prove it.

In Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, which has provoked a vigorous debate in the US, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue that forsaking all others till death us do part goes against men and women’s natural inclinations. “The campaign to obscure the true nature of our species’ sexuality leaves half our marriages collapsing under an unstoppable tide of swirling sexual frustration, libido-killing boredom, impulsive betrayal, dysfunction, confusion and shame,” they write.

It is, apparently, all farming’s fault. Before the human race turned to agriculture, during the hunter-gatherer days, people lived in groups where everyone had sex with everyone else and shared the responsibility for child-rearing, according to the book. Then, in about 8000BC, men started worrying about which children were theirs so that they could pass on their accumulated property to them. “Suddenly, women lived in a world where they had to barter their reproductive capacity for access to the resources and protection they needed to survive.”

The evidence for this, Ryan admitted to The Times, was circumstantial but in his view compelling. It ranges from the size of men’s testicles to what he referred to as the “copulatory vocalisation” of the human female — what the rest of us might call a Meg Ryan moment from When Harry Met Sally.

Man, said the writer Ryan (no relation), has large testicles, relatively speaking: not as large as chimpanzees’, but larger than those of gorillas. This is related to how the different species mate. A male gorilla mates by defeating all the other males in his group and winning the right to be the alpha male who mates with a harem of females.

Gorillas, therefore, are large and ferocious, but only have small penises and testicles because their sperm does not have to compete with that of other males. Chimpanzees, on the other hand, are highly promiscuous, and compete on the level of the sperm cell — hence the large testicles. Man, said Mr Ryan, is much more like a chimpanzee than a gorilla.

As for the Meg Ryan vocalisations, Ryan said that they were a way for women to let other potential mates know that they might get their turn soon. Along with women’s capacity to have multiple orgasms, he said, it was “another suggestion of multiple-male, multiple-female sexual interaction”.

Ryan insists that he has nothing against marriage and perhaps that is just as well, since his co-author, a psychiatrist, is also his wife of ten years — and this year his parents will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

“We are not a couple of hippies advocating free love with a naive Rousseau-ian view of prehistory,” Ryan said. “Our ambition is that the book will lead to more marital stability because people give each other a little more leeway and have more understanding of where these feelings come from.”

Love doesn’t have to be forever

Published on 27 Mar 2011

ELIZABETH Taylor was adored by men.

But women loved her almost as much – perhaps because, while the actress was in thrall to the institution of marriage and the sparkling rocks that came with it, she didn’t let that stand in the way of her pursuit of personal happiness. So what if, following the sudden death of her third husband, Mike Todd, she wailed with grief and considered suicide? She moved on – to Eddie Fisher, husband of Debbie Reynolds. And although Richard Burton was the big love of her life, she wasn’t going to suffer through the whole trauma of being married to a difficult alcoholic, at least not without a break in the middle.

Taylor could be seen as a proto post-feminist, a woman who was happy to enjoy her sexuality and a cultural antidote to the ubiquitous cliché of the promiscuous serial womaniser and fatherer. Of course, Taylor was a woman of her time and mores – she once said that she had only ever had sex with her husbands (all seven of them) – and that probably informed her need for getting married.

But despite this, she put a hatchet in the notion that it’s only women who are after the lifetime committed relationship, and men that are dragged into it. The Liz Taylor story tells us that there’s no big shame in divorce, nor is there anything wrong in putting on a fancy dress and doing it all over again – and again. If you want to celebrate your love, even if the certificate is only going to last a year (as with her second marriage to Burton), then go on and do it.

Of course, one can never know any individual’s secret sufferings, but Taylor appeared to be the antithesis of the long-suffering wife. Marriage in the past wasn’t all that good for women and though times have changed and the lot of a wife has vastly improved, there are still many who feel trapped by it (I say this as a woman who is married and very happy with her lot).

The story we continue to tell about marriage is that it is hard work, something into which you have to put effort. Like a garden that bears fruit after many years of toil, it will reward you in the end. If, on the other hand, it breaks up or fails to satisfy, it’s your own sorry fault, slacker. When you consider all this exhausting effort, it’s hard to believe that lifelong pairing is really the natural lot of humans and not just a cultural invention.

In many ways, we as a society are loosening our grip on the idea of the lifelong love. We are sliding, via the common pattern of several cohabitational relationships before settling down to have kids, towards serial monogamy. Already we have acknowledged that lifelong marriage doesn’t suit human needs and desires all that well. Since we are still fed endless romantic tales about finding “the one”, however, we are also doomed to feeling that we have failed when we don’t conform. Yet as a culture, we still feel duty-bound to squeeze into the one-size-fits-all wedding dress forever because we know, from the statistics, that divorce is bad for kids, as is growing up without a male role model.

It’s often said that Taylor lived her life like a soap opera character, and her relationship history would certainly make a good plotline. We like the fact that she found a big love in Richard Burton, yet could not live with him. We love the story about the time she told Eddie Fisher to shut up playing the piano because she wanted to flirt with Burton.

My feeling is we like Taylor because her life, stripped bare of the diamonds, wealth and wedding rings, wasn’t so very distant from that of many women today – who perhaps had their children with one man, hitched up with another for a while, married a third, and then fell in love with another.

We often call this dysfunctional, the “breakdown” of family life, but is it really the crisis we make it out to be? Isn’t it, rather, part of a slow evolution away from an institution that has never served human beings all that well? Some people struggle on with one person; Taylor just got out and got married again.

So, is human happiness to be found in a Tayloresque succession of weddings? Last year, a book published in the United States caused some controversy. In
 Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins Of Modern Sexuality, husband and wife Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha (one a psychologist, the other a psychiatrist), argued that human beings were not naturally monogamous, and that in hunter-gatherer communities, women often had sex with a number of different men.

This meant it was never really certain who was the father of any child, and so fathering became a function of all men in the tribe. Ryan pointed out: “Though often casual, these relationships were not random or meaningless. Quite the opposite: they reinforced crucial social ties holding these highly inter-dependent communities together.”

Taylor knew the madness and folly of her desire for marriage. “I am a very committed wife,” she once said. “And I should be committed too – for being married so many times.” But she also said she was very attached to the institution. As a married person, I am too.

But Taylor is a reminder that there is another way. Relationships can be chapters in people’s lives, or even, as 
Sex At Dawn suggests, form many parallel plots – and there is nothing so very wrong with that. Indeed, it may be what feels right to human beings, even if it seems unworkable in our atomised society of today.

That doesn’t necessarily mean we should all join a commune, cultivate open marriages or sign up to a swinging club. Rather it means we should be kinder to ourselves. We should forgive ourselves if it does all go wrong and remind ourselves to say: “Well, wasn’t it great while it lasted?”

Marie claire

Why Men Have Flings

Marie Claire
June 28, 2010 11:13 AM by 
Maura Kelly

Do you think that "true love" really exists and comes instinctually to us humans — or do you think it's just a cultural construct? Do you think monogamy is natural or, rather, that social norms (and Hollywood happy endings) help keep us brainwashed into thinking it is? Would we all be a lot more at peace with our lives if "free love" or polyamory were considered normal instead of aberrant?

These are just some of the questions raised in a new book called 
Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, written by Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., and Cacilda Jethá, M.D., a psychologist and psychiatrist. Given the complicated state of marriage and sexuality in contemporary American society — where the divorce rate is high, marriages that stay together are often unhappy, and single people are frequently confused about how to act on their sexual desires (ahem) — Ryan and Jethá decided to take a look back at what sexuality used to be like, in the caveman days, in the hopes of helping us understand why the hell we're so confused now. Ryan and I recently discussed their investigation into the evolution of our sexual habits.

Reading your book, I found your theory about why many middle-aged men risk it all for flings with younger women very interesting. Can you tell us a little about that?

We think the role of testosterone (T) deserves more attention when it comes to the question of middle-aged men's eroticism. In their twenties, men's T levels begin a long decline, often experienced as diminished passion. One of the few things that can reliably revive sagging testosterone is exposure to a new woman; even a brief chat with an attractive female can raise men's testosterone levels by 14 percent, as one study found. In Sex at Dawn, we suggest that many men may be confusing the hormonal rush they feel after being with a new lover with actual "love," leading to foolish decisions that damage their families, their marriages, and eventually themselves.

Why is long-term fidelity so difficult for many people, men and women alike? And why does sexual passion fade for a couple, even as their love deepens?

Several factors conspire to make long-term sexual monogamy difficult for people. We evolved to be sexually responsive to novelty. In hunter-gatherer societies, our ancestors were genetically predisposed to be attracted to new and unusual partners because that helped them to avoid incest and to have offspring with greater genetic variety — which helped them to become more fit to survive. 

Another problem is that many people in the West marry because they're "in love," which is a temporary, 
possibly delusional state we should not expect to last forever. As the German poet Goethe put it: "Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing. A confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished." 

The intense infatuation that makes us want to spend all our time together only exists until we really do spend all our time together. Then, like any hunger satisfied, it gradually dissipates. While married life can be deeply satisfying and uniquely meaningful, it cannot sustain the passion of those first months or years. Many American couples have unrealistic expectations about the longevity of this initial phase and consider its passing a sign of a failed relationship, which is unfair, unrealistic, and unfortunate.

Is long-term fidelity "natural?" And does it really matter if it's natural or not? Is fidelity more dependent on individual ethics, values, and decisions rather than any kind of biological imperative?

Long-term sexual monogamy clearly doesn't come "naturally" to our species. But that doesn't mean we can't choose it, as long as we fully understand and accept the costs involved in living in a way that conflicts with how we evolved.

How long into old age does sexual passion continue? What helps it continue into this latter stage of life?

Assuming one is physically and mentally healthy, there's no reason sexual passion can't continue throughout life. An open, flexible mind is probably the key to maintaining a satisfying sex life, at any age. Things change, and a willingness to accept and adapt to these physical and emotional changes is essential to aging with grace and passion.

Readers, I wonder what you think about all this. Do you find it encouraging or disappointing to think that monogamy isn't natural to humans — but that we can be monogamous if we make a conscious choice and a concerted effort to be? (Or do you think that's too glib — and even conscious choices and concerted efforts can be sabotaged by certain biological imperatives and subconscious desires?)

Should We Stop Expecting Our Spouses to Be Faithful? Christopher Ryan Answers

Jun 29, 2010

In Sex at Dawn, we present overwhelming evidence that human beings are the most sexual creatures on earth. Homo sapiens evolved to be lusty ladies, libertines, rakes, rogues, and roués. Tomcats and sex kittens no doubt think we make too much fuss about sex!

True, some of us manage to rise above this aspect of our nature (or to sink below it—depending on your perspective). Willpower fortified with plenty of guilt, fear, shame, and mutilation of body, soul, and spirit may provide some measure of control over these urges and impulses. But even when controlled, they refuse to be ignored. As German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out: Der Mensch kann wohl tun was er will, aber er kann nicht wollen, was er will. (One can choose what to do, but not what to want.)

There are costs involved in denying our evolved sexual nature, costs paid by individuals, couples, families, churches, and societies. They are paid in what famed biologist E. O. Wilson called “the less tangible currency of human happiness that must be spent to circumvent our natural predispositions.” Is a family destroyed by a meaningless sexual dalliance better off than the family that remains intact because the couple recognized the meaninglessness of the event? We think not.

Given the realities of our evolved appetites, it’s probably wise for us all to consider lowering our expectations of strict fidelity to a level more cognizant of our nature as organic beings. (Is she cheating if she masturbates? What if he looks at porn? What if she occasionally thinks of someone else when making love? What if he notices a sexy woman in the street?)

But even as we allow for less fidelity, we may find our relationships enriched with greater faithfulness. When an occasional casual sexual adventure is no longer an existential threat to a marriage, it may become something partners can choose to share openly with each other, thereby increasing their own sense of intimacy and trust. Many couples, in societies near and far, recognize that sex can be just sex. Exciting, pleasurable, maybe vitalizing, but certainly no reason to abandon an otherwise happy, stable marriage.

Christopher Ryan is a psychologist and the co-author (with his wife, Dr. Cacilda Jethá) of Sex at Dawn, which hits bookshelves today.


Fab Over Fifty

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, adultery is rampant, and many married couples struggle to keep the passion alive. Is monogamy working?

In their best-selling new book, 
Sex at Dawn—FOF Cacilda Jetha and her husband Christopher Ryan challenge the idea that we’re meant to be with one sexual partner for life. Ryan and Jetha—a psychologist and a psychiatrist--take a look back at the origins of human sexuality in an attempt to explain why we struggle with monogamy today. They argue that for hundreds-of-thousands of years our ancestors had many sexual partners, and that monogamy is a relatively recent—and potentially destructive--social construct.

We spoke to Ryan about cheating, sex after fifty, and the future of marriage.

Why is monogamy so challenging long term?

We differentiate between sexual and social monogamy. Many species are socially monogamous—meaning they have long-term mates—but almost none are sexually monogamous. An example we site in the book is penguins. Many people think penguins are monogamous, but in fact, while they do pair off into “couples” socially, they continue to have sex with multiple partners. Sexual monogamy runs counter to our biology. Human beings have the behavior, the habits, the minds, and the bodies of promiscuous primates. Any social structure that denies that essential nature is going to lead to problems.

Is Tiger Woods an example of what happens when we go against our biology?

Yes, of course. Cases like Tiger and Elliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton come to our attention because they are so high profile. The level of opportunity these men have is also much higher than the average man. Chris Rock said, “A man is only as faithful as his opportunities.” Why don’t we see the same thing with high profile women? Do women cheat as much as men? Women probably aren’t cheating as much as men because many women need narrative, intimacy—a complex package—to feel sexually relaxed and free. You’re not going to get that from a one-night stand.

The other issue: Women have 10,000 years of accumulated sexual repression. Right now in Iran, they’re stoning women to death for adultery; clitorectomies are happening all over North Africa. As recently as 70 years ago, Western doctors were advocating applying acid to little girls’ clitorises if they masturbated.

The third reason: Women are just smarter than men about stuff like this. They’re better at keeping a secret. They have a greater social intelligence than most men do.

So, if we didn’t have the 10,000 years of social pressure, would women be seeking out multiple partners?

Yes—no question. Because if you look at present-day societies that don’t have that repression—as we do in Sex at Dawn—you find women engaging in multiple simultaneous relationships with every bit as much eagerness as men. In fact, with more eagerness than men as they age. A researcher named Thomas Gregor studied the Mehinaku people of Brazil, a tribe of hunter-gatherers that is very similar to our prehistoric ancestors. He found 88 ongoing affairs among the 37 adults in the village. Above age 45 or so, it was all the women who were having the affairs.

Wow! Why do you think that is?

We would argue that as women get into and past midlife, a lot of the things that were holding them back sexually, suddenly no longer apply. They’re more at peace with themselves, their bodies, their own sexual response and masturbation. Also, the relative level of testosterone in a woman’s blood gets higher as she ages, and testosterone is related to sexual satisfaction and libido.

You make it sound like a great time to be single in your 50s. There’s less pressure to get married, you don’t have to worry about raising a baby, you’re more sexually free.

Yes! My uncle is in his 60s, and he and my aunt divorced 10 years ago, he moved to Florida. He can’t say enough about how much fun he’s having down there. He says, “These women are just so free and willing to have fun and be happy. There are none of the hang-ups: ‘Do you love me? will you respect me in the morning?’

Could the younger generation take a lesson? Should they be dating like they’re in their 50s?

On one level that sounds great, but on another level, there are biological and economic realities that women have to face. You can’t minimize the difficulties of a woman in her late 20s who really wants to have kids and hasn’t found the man of her life. What women should be doing is agitating as much as possible for greater social support for motherhood, single-motherhood and for children.

So what’s the answer? Should we all just start sleeping around, even if we’re married?

It depends on you; your age, your relationship and your situation. First, recognize that desiring sexual variety is not a fatal flaw in your relationship or you. If your husband looks at another woman or if you fantasize about another man, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your marriage. It means you’re homo sapiens.

Recently a female friend told me that she had an urge to be with other men, and she spoke to her husband about it. He completely surprised her by saying, ‘Look, as long as you love me and you’re not going to leave me, then, okay, that’s cool.’ It blew her mind and made her love him more than she ever imagined before. And she said it completely took the pressure off. This was five years ago and she’s never actually acted on her desire or even wanted to. I think that by loosening the reigns, we often lose the desire to break free.

So, you’re saying, address the elephant in the living room and just admit to each other that you desire other people?

Exactly. I would only change that to the “elephant in the bedroom.”

Many FOF women have kids that are “marrying age,” but aren’t as interested in marriage as previous generations. They’re more open to living together long term or having kids without getting married. How should FOFs react to this trend in their children?

One of the few tangible advantages to marriage—and this varies from state to state--is the financial commitment that the husband takes on, so if they do get divorced he’ll have to pay alimony. If the woman in question is financially secure, then I don’t think it matters one way or the other whether they’re married or not.

Women are becoming much more prominent in virtually all the important parts of American society, from politics to corporations to media. A recent article in the Atlantic—entitled, The End of Men—argues that modern society is simply better suited to women. They’re better at what’s required these days: social emotional intelligence. If you look at grad school and medical school it’s almost all lopsided towards women.

And FOFs now are the women who started us on the course toward the trend.

Right, but those women were much more vulnerable financially when they were getting married. So it’s natural for a woman to worry about her daughter, whereas the daughter--given the new reality--will probably feel much more self-sufficient and protected. If this trend continues, which it seems it will, hopefully it will translate into greater social support for women and children so that will increase the freedom that women feel to have children without necessarily being dependent upon a particular man for that.

Somewhat ironically, you and Cacilda have been married for over 10 years. Do you practice what you preach?

Well, I don’t think we’re really “preaching” anything, but our relationship is informed by our research. That’s our stock answer.

more media mentions

Just Out: A look at the Ins and Outs of Modern Sexuality.

The Wall Street Journal: Marc Hauser and the Morality Check: When Fad Science is Bad Science, Evolutionary Psychology Takes a Hit.

The New York Times: E-Books Make Readers Less Isolated.

The Independent (London): Monogamy is not our natural state.

Scientific American: Polyamory chic, gay jealousy and the evolution of a broken heart.

The Philadelphia Inquirer: A costly date for Spitzer.

United Academics: Interview with Dutch journal (in English).

other languages

More coming soon, as foreign editions come out.

Epoca (braziL)

O sexo acaba com o casamento?

qui , 22/7/2010
Marcela Buscato

Christopher Ryan, de 48 anos, e Cacilda Jethá, de 50 anos, estão juntos há 11 anos. Resolveram unir suas especialidades – a dele, psicologia, a dela, medicina – para escrever o livro “Sex at Dawn” (Sexo ao Alvorecer), recém-lançado nos Estados Unidos. Nele, fazem uma defesa científica da impossibilidade de os casamentos serem duradouros. “Os humanos não são monogâmicos”, diz Ryan, que conversou com o Mulher 7×7 de Amsterdã, na Holanda, onde o casal passa férias.

Ryan e Cacilda afirmam que a voracidade sexual não é algo exclusivo dos homens. Segundo eles, as mulheres também sempre quiserem ter o maior número de parceiros possíveis. No contexto da evolução humana, era uma boa tática para conseguir o parceiro mais compatível biologicamente e ter um filho saudável, com boas chances de sobreviver.

Mas a estratégia não funcionaria tão bem no dias de hoje. Como os humanos estariam programados para olhar sempre para o lado, o casamento, segundo eles, é uma instituição fadada ao fracasso. No livro, ele escrevem que “metade dos casamentos está colapsando sob uma frustração sexual irrefreável, um tédio matador de libido, traições compulsivas, confusão, vergonha”. A receita deles para ficarem juntos por mais de uma década é ter consciência de que a atração sexual irá inevitavelmente acabar. “É preciso procurar mais do que química sexual, algo como paixão entre almas e não paixão entre corpos.”

Vocês também acham que não há atração sexual que resista ao casamento?

Se o casamento é algo tão estranho à nossa natureza, por que é um dos costumes mais replicados em sociedades de todos os tempos?
Christopher Ryan – Isso aconteceu há cerca de 10 mil anos, quando os seres humanos deixaram de ser nômades e se tornaram sedentários. Ou seja, quando, em vez de caçar e coletar alimentos na natureza, passaram a desenvolver a agricultura e a se fixar em um terreno. As pessoas passaram a ter propriedades – animais domesticados, terras, casas – e queriam deixá-las para seus filhos quando morressem. Saber quem era o pai biológico de uma criança tornou-se ser muito importante. Foi quando a liberdade sexual da mulher diminuiu.

Isso significa que, na origem, não somos todas moças casadoiras, procurando por um bom partido?
A maior parte dos pesquisadores acredita que as mulheres são monogâmicas por natureza e que os homens são polígamos por natureza. Eles vêm isso como a fonte da “guerra dos sexos”. Homens e mulheres estariam sempre brigando entre si porque teriam esses planos diferentes. Nós achamos que não, que não há guerra entre os sexos. Há uma guerra entre a natureza humana e a sociedade contemporânea. Nós acreditamos que, antes da agricultura, as mulheres tinham vários parceiros.

É possível sustentar esse argumento do ponto de vista da teoria da evolução?
O corpo feminino é capaz de distinguir entre os espermatozóides de homens diferentes e, em um nível completamente inconsciente, escolher qual espermatozóide melhor se encaixa com seu perfil biológico. O homem mais alto e mais forte não é necessariamente a melhor escolha para uma mulher. É o homem cujo sistema imunológico é o mais compatível com o dela. Assim, os filhos terão uma imunidade melhor.

Se faz parte da natureza das mulheres ter vários parceiros, por que elas não mostram hoje tantos sinais desse comportamento quanto os homens?
Eu acho que as mulheres respondem ao sexo da mesma maneira que os homens. Mas é uma questão complicada para elas porque ainda há muita violência contra aquelas que são sexualmente liberadas. Há uma violência explícita – como o apedrejamento de mulheres que traem seus maridos em alguns países do Oriente Médio. E, sobretudo, uma violência mais sutil. Em inglês, há muitas maneiras de insultar uma mulher liberada sexualmente. Mas há poucas palavras para insultar os homens. Na verdade, acho que não há nenhum insulto. Em português, eu imagino que seja semelhante. São milhares de anos de opressão da sexualidade feminina acumulados na mente de cada mulher. Isso torna as mulheres muito hesitantes em falar abertamente desse assunto e até de entender sua sexualidade.

É por causa desse instinto sexual de homens e mulheres que o casamento está fadado ao fracasso?
É claro que alguns casamentos podem ser muito bem-sucedidos. Em agosto, meus pais celebrarão 50 anos juntos, anos muitos felizes. Nós não temos dúvidas de que o casamento pode ser uma instituição maravilhosa e nós não estamos fazendo campanha contra o casamento. Se nós estamos fazendo campanha por alguma coisa, é por uma abordagem de redução de danos.

Como é essa estratégia?
Muitas pessoas se casam naquela confusão da paixão e depois não estão preparadas para lidar com a realidade. Estamos tentando educar as pessoas para que elas possam tomar decisões melhores. Nossa grande ambição é encorajar os jovens a ter consciência de seu instinto sexual antes de assumir compromissos que não podem ser modificados depois sem causar grande dor.

Esse é o segredo de vocês para que o casamento dê certo?
Estamos juntos há quase 11 anos. É o meu primeiro casamento e o segundo da Cacilda. Eu também tive outros relacionamentos longos antes. Entendemos que as coisas mudam com o tempo. É preciso procurar mais do que química sexual, algo como paixão entre almas e não paixão entre corpos.


haaretz (israel)

מי קבע שמונוגמיה היא הדרך הכי טובה לחיו

מאת נעמי דרום


הטענה שגברים מתקשים להסתגל למונוגמיה אינה בגדר חדשה מרעישה. אבל מה עם זו שמוסד הנישואים סותר גם את נטייתן הטבעית של הנשים? מחקר אמריקאי חדש מפרק את המשפחה המסורתית ומציע להרכיב אותה מחדש על פי מודלים בלתי קונבנציונליים. כמו זה שבחרו כותביו, בני זוג כבר 11 שנה




איור: רות גו

לפני שנתיים נתפס מושל מדינת ניו יורק, אליוט ספיצר, עם המכנסיים למטה: "ניו יורק טיימס" חשף שהזמין שירותי ליווי בסך של 80,000 דולר, והתקשורת האמריקאית געשה. הפרשנויות המקובלות למעידתו של ספיצר עסקו בתאוותם של גברים מסוימים לכוח ולכיבושים, ורק לקומיקאי ביל מאהר היתה שאלת תם. "כשגבר נשוי כבר 20 שנה, והוא לא רוצה לשכב עם אשתו, או שהיא לא רוצה לשכב איתו - מה שלא יהיה - מה הפתרון?" תהה בתוכניתו. "זה לא בסדר שהוא בגד, אבל מה האפשרות הנכונה? האם אתה אמור פשוט להשלים עם חיים חסרי תשוקה ולדמיין מישהי אחרת כשאתה שוכב עם אשתך, בשלושת הימים בשנה שבהם אתם כבר עושים את זה?" 

הפתרון של ספיצר לבעיית השעמום - נערות שגבו עבור שירותיהן כ-1,000 דולר לשעה - עלה לו בפיטורים בבושת פנים ובהפיכתו לפאנץ'-ליין הלאומי (אם כי לאחרונה זכה לרהביליטציה מסוימת כמנחה תוכניות אירוח בסי-אן-אן), אך שאלתו של מאהר נותרה רלוונטית לכל אדם נשוי, שהרגיש אי פעם שהשעמום והשגרה עלולים לדחוף אותו לחיפוש הרפתקאות מפוקפקות. 

שנתיים אחרי הפרשייה ההיא, ספר חדש ומדובר בשם "Sex at Dawn" (הוצאת הרפר קולינס) מנסה לשפוך אור חדש על שאלתו של מאהר. המחברים, בני הזוג כריסטופר ריאן וססילדה ג'טה, טוענים כי למצוקתו של ספיצר המתוסכל יש שורשים אבולוציוניים: במקום לצפות מעצמכם למונוגמיה אבסולוטית, הם כותבים, הכירו בעובדה שמוסד הנישואים המודרני הוא המצאה חברתית מלאכותית שאינה מתאימה לביולוגיה ולפסיכולוגיה האנושית. זו אולי לא טענה מקורית במיוחד, אך במקרה של ריאן וג'טה היא מוצגת בשפה שנונה ונתמכת בשלל הוכחות מדעיות, ועל כן עוררה דיון מחודש בנושא, עירני במיוחד. 

"Sex at Dawn" - המתבסס על עבודת הדוקטורט של ריאן מ-2003, שעסקה בהתנהגות מינית אנושית בתקופת הפלייסטוקן וביקשה להעמיד אלטרנטיבה להשקפה הדרוויניאנית על התפתחות המיניות האנושית - מחולל בימים אלה סערה בקרב מדענים, עיתונאים ונשואים מתוסכלים כאחד. הספר בילה את כל אוגוסט ברשימת רבי המכר של "ניו יורק טיימס", והגיע לרשימת 25 הכותרים הנמכרים באמזון. "טיים", "ניוזוויק", "וושינגטון פוסט", סי-אן-אן ועוד סיקרו את התזה הפרובוקטיבית שלו. אחת הקוראות כתבה למחברים: "כרגע גמרתי לקרוא את הספר. אני אלמנה בת 63 וזה אחד הספרים החשובים ביותר שקראתי אי פעם. הלוואי שיכולתי לחיות את חיי מחדש עם כל המידע הזה". הסופר ובעל טור עצות המין דן סאבאג' הצהיר כי "זהו הספר החשוב ביותר על מיניות האדם מאז שאלפרד קינסי פירסם את 'התנהגות מינית בזכר האדם' ב-1948". ההשוואה למחקר החלוצי של קינסי על מיניות האדם, שהבקיע את חומת השמרנות של שנות ה-50 ופילס את הדרך למהפכה המינית

אולי מעט מוגזמת, אך הפסטיבל התקשורתי שסבב סביב הזוגיות של כוכבי "מחוברים" דנה ספקטור ורן שריג, עשוי להמחיש עד כמה הדיון שעורר הספר רלוונטי גם כאן ועכשיו. לא תעמולה מיזוגנית כריסטופר ריאן (48) וססילדה ג'טה (50) פסיכולוג ופסיכיאטרית שהם גם זוג נשוי, יוצאים נגד מה שהם מכנים, "הנראטיב המקובל של המונוגמיה": האמונה שמונוגמיה ארוכת טווח היא האופציה הטבעית ביותר עבור בני האדם, הדרך הטובה ביותר לגדל ילדים ודפוס משותף לכלל החברות האנושיות. זהו הנראטיב הנפוץ ביותר בקרב חוקרי הפסיכולוגיה האבולוציונית - אלה המחפשים את השורשים הקדומים של התנהגויות אנושיות; וכן, בקרב אנתרופולוגים, אנשי דת, עורכי מגזיני נשים ותסריטאי קומדיות רומנטיות. אלא שלטענתם של ריאן וג'טה, אותו נראטיב הוא האחראי לאומללותם של המוני אנשים נשואים ברחבי העולם כולו, ולשיעורי הגירושים מרקיעי השחקים בחברה המערבית. "נישואים קונבנציונליים, עד שהמוות (או השעמום, או בגידה) יפרידו בינינו, הם כישלון", הם כותבים בספרם. "מבחינה רגשית, כלכלית, פסיכולוגית ומינית, זה פשוט לא עובד עבור יותר מדי זוגות". את ההצהרות הם מגבים בסטטיסטיקות. למשל, זו הידועה בדבר כישלון הנישואים, שכמחצית מהם מסתיימים בגירושים. דוגמה אחרת היא סקר שנערך ברוסיה ב-96' ומצא שמחצית מהגברים והנשים במדינה בוגדים; אפשר להניח שבמקומות אחרים בעולם המצב דומה. ומי שלא מעז, מפנטז: תעשיית הפורנוגרפיה, לפי הספר, גורפת בין 57 ל-100 מיליארד דולר לשנה, כאשר בארצות הברית לבדה, פורנוגרפיה מכניסה יותר מסך ההכנסות מכדורסל, כדורגל, פוטבול ובייסבול גם יחד. בהתאמה, אמריקאים מוציאים במועדוני חשפנות יותר כסף מאשר בברודוויי, אוף-ברודוויי, תיאטרון, אופרה, בלט והופעות ג'אז ומוזיקה קלאסית ביחד. "הספר איננו תעמולה נגד נישואים, אלא נגד הונאה עצמית והונאת האחרים", מסביר ריאן בראיון טלפוני מביתו בברצלונה, שם הוא חי עם ג'טה, "שאיפתנו הגדולה ביותר היא לגרום לאנשים להעריך מחדש את הטבע המיני שלהם. אפשר לקרוא לזה, חינוך מיני למבוגרים". את הטענה שלפיה אנחנו לא אמורים להיות מונוגמיים כבר שמענו לא פעם. "נכון, אבל היא בדרך כלל נאמרת בהקשר של הטייגר וודס-ים (שחקן הגולף הגדול בהיסטוריה, שנתפס השנה בוגד באשתו ועורר סערה ציבורית) והאליוט ספיצר-ים - קרי, הגברים. אף פעם לא על נשים. נשים לא אמורות לרצות להיות פוליגמיות, זו העמדה המקובלת בכל אופן. ויכול להיות שגם הטענה שבכל בני האדם, גברים ונשים, קיימת נטייה פוליגמית אינה חדשה לגמרי, אבל כיום פשוט יש לנו הרבה יותר ראיות לתמוך בה". הכשל הרכושני בהיווצרותו של "נראטיב המונוגמיה" מאשימים ריאן וג'טה לא אחר מאשר את צ'רלס דרווין, מחבר "מוצא המינים", שתורתו המדעית עוצבה לטענתם על פי ערכיו הוויקטוריאניים. באותה תקופה היתה נהוגה הפרדה בין האשה החוקית, הקדושה והטהורה - "המלאך בבית" - לבין זונות, שעמן סיפק הבעל את תשוקותיו הארציות (כ-80,000 מהן פעלו בלונדון בסוף המאה ה-19); על כן קשה היה לדרווין לדמיין שגברים ונשים יכלו לחיות אי פעם בחופש מיני מאושר. מאז, התזה שקיבעה את המונוגמיה הזוגית כנורמה אוניברסלית הפכה לעובדה ונתמכה בשנים של מחקר אקדמי (בין היתר על ידי חוקרים חשובים כהלן פישר וסטיבן פינקר) ואינספור סרטים הוליוודיים המסתיימים בחתונה. כעת ריאן וג'טה טוענים כי דרווין, כמו חוקרים רבים אחריו, השליך על האדם הקדמון את ערכיו הבורגניים - מנהג שהם מכנים "פלינסטוניזציה". בפרק שכותרתו "דרוין מעליב את אמא שלך" הם מציגים את עיקריו של סיפור המונוגמיה כפי שנוסח במהלך שנים של מחקר. תמציתו: היות שלגברים חשוב לדעת כי הם האבות של ילדיהם, הם צריכים לשלוט על מיניותה של האשה; היות שהנשים ניחנו בדחף מין חלש יותר, הן מעוניינות בעיקר למצוא גבר חזק ובעל משאבים (קרי, כסף) שידאג לפרי בטנן. ובשלב הבא: כיוון שהגבר מעוניין להפיץ את זרעו לכל עבר, הוא יינשא לאם פוטנציאלית ואז יבגוד בה; כיוון שהאשה מעוניינת לשפר את המאגר הגנטי של צאצאיה, היא תצא למצוא לה בני זוג מזדמנים, חסונים וגבריים, מחוץ לנישואים. נישואים במונחי שוק ההון. לא כך הוא, טוענים ריאן וג'טה. לא בכל החברות האנושיות, אבהות - או סקס - קשורים בטבורם לרכושנות, וקנאה מינית, שמטרתה לשמור על ה"רכוש" מפני זרים המאיימים לקחתו, אינה אלא המצאה חברתית שמטרתה לשמר את מערכת הנישואים המבוססת על מונוגמיה. כמו כן הם טוענים שהדחף המיני של נשים חזק לא פחות מזה של בני זוגן, והן מסוגלות לחיות בפוליגמיה ממש כמו גברים; ושההנחה כי אפשר ליישם תיאוריות כלכליות על יחסים אנושיים אינה רק שגויה מבחינה מדעית, אלא גם די מעליבה. כדי להוכיח את טענותיהם אלו, מסתמכים ריאן וג'טה על שלל ראיות - החל בחיי המין של קופי הבונובו הקרובים אלינו מבחינה אבולוציונית, דרך סיפורים על חברות אנושיות שחיות עד היום אחרת, ועד לבחינה פיזיולוגית של גוף האדם והסיפור שהוא מספר על האבולוציה. כך למשל, גודלו הנכבד של איבר המין האנושי - כמעט כפול מזה של הבונובו והשימפנזה, כפי שהם מדגימים בדיאגרמה מאירת עיניים - מוכיח לדבריהם את קיומה של תחרות בין זרעים של גברים שונים במירוץ אל הביצית. קדמון וטוב לו כדי להבין מה מאמלל אותנו היום, ריאן וג'טה מרחיקים עד העבר הרחוק, שם הם מוצאים מעין גן עדן של ערב האכילה מעץ הדעת. האדם הקדמון, הם טוענים, חלק פרטנרים מיניים באותה טבעיות שבה חלק את המזון שליקט וצד, והוא ואשתו הרבו לקיים יחסי מין



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