Sex at Dawn – The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
This was really a fun book. While it certainly does hold true to it’s billing – talking about how our sexual behavior may have developed as we’ve evolved as a modern creature – it’s really about more than sex.
I suspect that if a reader has really rigid ideas about what human nature is, and how people can, do, and should relate to one another, they will be troubled by the book. The ideas in the book really did cause me to re-think quite a bit about what I thought was “general and accepted wisdom”.
Here’s the author’s (or publicist’s) description of the book:
“In the tradition of the best historical and scientific writing, SEX AT DAWN unapologetically upends unwarranted assumptions and unfounded conclusions while offering a revolutionary understanding of why we live and love as we do. A controversial, idea-driven book that challenges everything you know about sex, marriage, family, and society.”
The book uses our adaptations and development of sexual behavior to explore the notions of ownership and control in our modern cultures, and how this may differ dramatically from the deeper “human nature” that developed as we evolved. The book develops a heck of an interesting argument about the “nature of human nature” with regard to how we “own” and “hoard” assets, taking and controlling as much as we can.
We’ve taught ourselves for many generations that this is the nature of the human – to conquer, take, and control assets. Our stated sexual expectations reflect our insistence on making sex reflect these values of selfishness, even when the actual behavior of the vast majority of humans makes it clear that meeting these expectations is not part of the true nature we developed over our evolution prior to recent times.
But is this conquering, taking, and controlling really part of our most basic nature? The authors make a heck of an interesting argument that it’s only since the agricultural age began that we’ve developed these traits of ownership and control – that prior to this the bulk of the evidence suggests that we lived in very cooperative and egalitarian groups. They argue that the group survived and thrived because of this tendency to share openly and to help one-another. Hoarding and selfishness were likely among the worst of “sins” an individual could commit. The very antithesis of our values today.
Of course, the authors spend a great deal of time discussing how sex likely played a role in this sort of culture, and present some pretty convincing evidence to back up their ideas. But to me, the more important ideas were the more broad ideas about how cultures likely operated.
I’m no anthropologist, so maybe these ideas have been out there for a long time, and nobody has brought them into mainstream thinking. If so, what a shame that we continue to reinforce and convince ourselves that the selfish and warlike tendencies that get us into so much trouble are simply part of our “nature”, when there’s pretty convincing evidence that this simply isn’t the truth. By nature, we’re more likely to be very cooperative, selfless, and egalitarian. We’ve just done a great job of teaching ourselves to operate against our nature.
I’d really recommend this book. It’s not at all an “academic” book, and it reads quickly and easily. I can only imagine the changes we might be able to make within our culture if we were able to get folks to stop and think a bit about how we got to this selfish and warlike state that defines our “nature” today.