Saturday, May 26, 2012

Add Some "Sex at Dawn" to Your Life

Two of the most dangerous word in the English language are "natural" and "traditional." Scientists, politicians, advice columnists and the rest of us frequently wield these words to characterize things that are actually the product of decades and centuries of distortion and repression from a variety of human inventions, ranging from agriculture to hierarchical society to religion to capitalism.

In the thorough and compelling "Sex at Dawn," Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha do an epic thrown-down of much of the common wisdom and faulty science around sex, desire, reproduction and family. They make a really strong case about the pretzel-twisting that biologists, evolutionary psychologists and many other "experts" have to do in order to make human sexual behavior patterns and anatomy fit neatly into a monogamous box, since as a culture we have decided monogamy is "natural." Some choice quotes:
"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." (p. 2)
"Rather than endless War Between the Sexes, or rigid adherence to a notion of the human family that was never true to begin with, we need to seek peace with the truths of human sexuality. Maybe this means improvising new familial configurations. Perhaps it will require more community assistance for [and less villainization of] single mothers and their children. Or maybe it just means we must learn to adjust our expectations concerning sexual fidelity." (p. 310)
Them's fighting words!

Not only is monogamy compellingly contested, all of the pop evolutionary psychology about how women desire men who can provide for them and men desire women who will bear their children and about how men are more "naturally" sexual and women are more "naturally" sexually reticent are trounced with research, story-telling and context (it turns out to be helpful to learn about Darwin's sex life when interpreting his research, for example).

As you may be able to tell, this book may elicit a variety of responses--defensiveness, intrigue, liberation, anger, or a combination. I highly recommend taking a look and seeing how it jives and conflicts with your own experience of sex and sexuality. At the very least it provides riveting dinner table conversation!

Warning: From afar it will look like you are reading a softcore prehistoric romance novel...and actually, it's got some of that, when the authors delve into specifics of our ancestors' practices. Enjoy!

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