Book Report: Sex at Dawn

Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern SexualitySex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This anthropological review of human sexuality theory and history is neatly argued, but still flawed. The basic argument is that we are not evolved for monogamy, a point illustrated by many rebuttals of contradictory “research” throughout recent history, as well as evaluations of sexual practices in the communities of our evolutionary siblings — bonobo monkeys, in particular.

The central flaw in arguing that we should not, according to the authors, expect ourselves to adhere to monogamy, lies in the pure fact that monogamy ideals have grown and flourished in our agricultural, large-scale western societies. (The case is different in isolated tribes in the rest of the world.) Our bodies may not be evolutionarily suited to monogamy, but our emotions and our societal conditioning seem to be. Indeed, this is why so many people in first-world Western countries still have emotional difficulty with cheating partners or, in more liberal circles, the practice of polyamory. The authors of Sex at Dawn seem to recommend the latter, but even professional sex and relationship guru Dan Savage has to counsel polyamorous wannabes to go slow and take baby steps to re-condition their monogamous hearts.

All in all, this book was very thought-provoking, a must-read for any sociology nerd. However, a huge takeaway from it is my new conviction that human beings really need to stop trying to understand why we act the way we do, and just take it a day at a time. Anthropology and psychology are well and good, but at the end of the day, it’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to — or, more accurately, we’ll be monogamous or polygamous if we want to.

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