Sex at Dawn unfortunately is not available in german yet but becomes better known now, so i wrote this article which is one of the first german articles about Sex at Dawn. It was first published in german on: [...]
The translated english version below was first published on: http://viktor-leberecht.com/sex-at-dawn-right-on-the-mark-or-dead-wrong-an-essay/
Sex at Dawn – right on the mark or dead wrong? An Essay
When a book like Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan (PhD) and his wife Cacilda Jethá (MD), becomes a New York Times bestseller, gets praised as “most important book about human sexuality since Kinsey” and is showered with awards around the world, that is already some indication that it might be worth reading.
If that same book earns some downright hateful rejection including some meritorious scientists like David P. Barash and an otherwise unknown author named Lynn Saxon writes an entire book to reject it, things become even more interesting.
From these completely differing reactions, one gets the impression that Ryan and Jethá must be either right on the mark or dead wrong. In any case, they have raised an issue that evokes strong emotions. To be exact, THE topic of all topics: Sex.
Is Sex really that important?
Oh my god, Sex again, you might groan? Is it really that important? What about the financial crisis, global warming, the threat of war in the Middle East, famines and so on and so forth?
You’re right, all that is very important and urgent. But oddly enough humans spend a lot of time with sex, both doing it and fantasizing about it. This despite and sometimes even inspite of times when we have many serious problems distracting us.
The sex industry is making billions and sex is used even to promote products that are not specifically sex-products. Sex sells and this is true for men and women alike. Just take a look around at how advertising is done. And don’t forget, through sex we procreate, experience great pleasure and unfortunately, often also suffer.
If you keep all this in mind, you may not be so surprised anymore by the claim made by Ryan and Jethá in Sex at Dawn that humans are the most sexualized creatures in the world.
Sex at Dawn puts fundamental beliefs of our society, economy and science in question
Taken alone that claim would not serve to make Sex at Dawn so interesting and controversial. But Sex at Dawn challenges some of the most basic beliefs of many people, cultures and religions, particularly the assumption that human beings are monogamous by nature.
Western culture, so influential in so many aspects of life throughout the world, is based on this very assumption – at least officially. The reality is different, as is shown by statistics on adultery, marriage and divorce, and demonstrated as well by the number of children born to adulterous women, whose partners have no idea they have been cuckolded.
Enforced monogamy is also a fundamental part of Christianity. With about 2.2 billion followers – over seven hundred million more than Islam – Christianity is by far the largest religion in the world. It influences many cultures, even non-Christian ones.
So if someone challenges the conviction that the nature of man is monogamous, as Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá do in Sex at Dawn, it is clear from the start, that it will cause much controversy and even enmity.
The most important book about sex since Kinsey
In spite of all this, Sex at Dawn, published in 2010, received enthusiastic welcome in numerous reviews by journalists and scientists.
Even the leading primatologist Frans de Waal, whose findings were partly criticized by Ryan and Jethá, praised the book. And the most widely read sex columnist of the USA, Dan Savage, called it “The single most important book on human sexuality since Kinsey”. It has been only recently that some of the critics mentioned at the beginning of this article have appeared on the scene, trying to bring about something of a backlash.
The subject of sex is certainly fascinating, but it is not the reason Sex at Dawn is a bestseller. Attacking the core beliefs of a society is also attention-grabbing, but has not made the book so popular. Sex at Dawn sells itself by presenting its theme in an entertaining and easy to understand way in addition to giving abundant new or little-known information, all while remaining scientifically sound.
And last not least, it challenges scientifically, but at times intentionally provocatively, social beliefs as well as scientific authorities such as Jane Goodall and Steven Pinker.
How did early humans live? … And why should I care?
According to Ryan and Jethá, some of the basic assumptions about prehistoric humans – living in poverty and continually fighting for survival – are most probably wrong. But these possibly false assumptions continue to shape science and particularly our ideas of society.
Also the assumption that – as with some other primates – the human males competed for the females and controlled them in harems which they defended jealously is, according to Ryan and Jethá, equally wrong.
The psychologists Christopher Ryan, active in research, and Cacilda Jethá, a physician and therapist with years of experience, have traced the foundations of these beliefs and tried to explain their origin. They consider all of these beliefs to be part of a set of ideas for which they coined the term “standard narrative”. According to this ideology, humans are monogamous by nature and are driven by competition to transmit their genes to their offspring.
At the latest by this point in the book, it becomes obvious that Sex at Dawn is not only about the debate surrounding human sexuality. It goes right to the core of the debate about the driving forces of evolution, the development and shape of our societies and economies – competition or cooperation – and all the many issues related to this. So, ultimately, Sex at Dawn is about the very nature of humans and posits that it might be quite different from what so many authorities have told us so often and for so long and what some are still telling us today.
Why Sex at Dawn is debated so fiercely.
Looking at it this way, it becomes clear why it is not only some of the scientists whom Ryan and Jethá have criticized in their book who have sharply attacked it. Sex at Dawn calls into question social structures, power structures, and of course also some scientific reputations.
If that’s not reason enough to attack Ryan and Jethá, I could also imagine some scientists feeling challenged by Christopher Ryan’s unusual course of life. Ryan's academic career has not been traditional. He worked in all kinds of jobs that had nothing to do with science and only earned his doctorate degree rather late.
And now this outsider comes along and dares to challenge the results and convictions of some of the biggest names in science of past and present times. He even claims to be able to prove they are in error. To some scientists, who worked their way up in the traditional manner, without ever becoming known worldwide or selling books in heaps, this might feel like hearing a loud command: Fire at will!
Sex at Dawn is written in an entertaining way, but with serious and well-documented claims
Although I am an historian and philosopher with an honestly acquired master’s degree – “honestly” meaning: using none of the plagiarism techniques reported in the press lately in connection with degrees issued by German universities – I am not an expert in the scientific fields from which Ryan and Jethá have drawn their conclusions.
I’m also a bit biased on the subject of their book as I have been living in what nowadays is called a polyamorous relationship with a married woman since 2003 – nine years at publication of this article, which means we have been together four years longer than the average duration of a marriage in Germany and some other western societies.
I am also an activist for the inclusion of multiple relationships in our society and for the legalization of polygamous marriages.
Nonetheless, I believe I have enough practice in scientific work and critical review of different kinds of subjects in order to say that Sex at Dawn impresses me as being very well documented. Ryan and Jethá are often even critical of their own ideas and point out uncertainties themselves. Before publication, Ryan and Jethá had their book reviewed by numerous people, among them other scientists, including several whose findings they criticize or interpret in new ways. All this gives the impression that Ryan and Jethá worked hard to ensure accuracy and scientific integrity.
The “alternative-model” to the monogamous nature of man: promiscuous sex as a means for genetic diversity and social bonding
It seems to me that Ryan and Jethá have a well-founded basis for their “alternative-model” to the “humans are monogamous by nature” model. In short, Ryan and Jethá don't believe our ancestors were locked in a constant struggle for survival, control of a harem and warfare with other groups.
Instead, they lived in small groups of peaceful nomads who would find abundant resources of food growing everywhere around them. Their lives were focused on their group. Sharing of all food and resources and intense social interaction were the backbone of their society.
According to this model, an essential part of that social interaction was frequent, promiscuous sex, which served to strengthen social bonds within the group. Lesen Sie weiter... ›