Monday, February 14, 2011

Sex at Dawn: the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality

by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

This is a very interesting and highly readable book with important things to say. It is not, however, an important book. I was disappointed, even when entertained, by the authors' flippancy. I'm sure the joshing tone was meant to make science more palatable to the masses, and it probably succeeds in that respect, but it has the unfortunate side-effect of providing fodder to their critics — those in the same field, as well as those who mistrust the whole enterprise of evolutionary psychology.

I don't want to get bogged down in that debate, so with as little judgement as I can manage, I'll tell you: this book uses comparative biology, cultural anthropology and other disciplines to speculate about the socio-sexual behavior of primitive (but, evolutionarily speaking, relatively recent) nomadic hunter-gatherer humans, and then shows how the behaviors for which we are evolutionarily suited are at odds with contemporary social and sexual mores and traditions. Chief among their conclusions, perhaps, is that humans are not evolved for monogamy, which might have some bearing on the number of marriages that end in divorce.

I'll leave it at that. If you want to know how and why they came to that conclusion, read the book.

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