Sex at Dawn | Christopher Ryan

Summary of: Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
By: Christopher Ryan

Introduction

In ‘Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality’, Christopher Ryan takes us on a journey into the past to explore the hunter-gatherer tribes of our ancestors and the idea that sexual sharing was an essential aspect of human survival. The book reveals how monogamy may not be a natural human inclination, but a consequence of the agricultural revolution that brought about significant changes in human society. Tapping into fascinating anthropological and biological research, Ryan challenges common cultural beliefs about love, relationships, and our sexual nature.

Sexual Promiscuity in Hunter-Gatherer Communities

In prehistoric communities, sexual promiscuity was a rule, as sex was considered a community resource. These societies were based on sharing, including sexual favors. Since the invention of agriculture, many cultures have tried to diminish the human desire for sex and promote monogamy. Despite this, the legacy of promiscuous behavior is still evident in human cultures today.

The Evolution of Fatherhood and Sex in Tribal Societies

In some South American tribes, the concept of paternity is shared among many men. Casual sex and shared parenthood are encouraged as they are believed to benefit the social structure. This was also practiced by our ancestors, where every male cared for each child, resulting in better survival chances for everyone. Casual sex also stimulates the release of oxytocin, creating feelings of happiness and bonding. Furthermore, socio-erotic exchanges are not limited to opposite sexes but also among members of the same sex. However, the development of agriculture led to the demonization of promiscuity and the rise of monogamous relationships.

The Dark Side of Agriculture

Agriculture led to a decline in human health, social well-being, and sexual equality, as per the beliefs of modern scientists. Nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles kept possession and greed at bay, but agriculture created possibilities for sedentary life, ownership, and prosperity, causing wealth gaps, hunger, and wars. With the rise of possessiveness came the idea of paternity and property. It was important for male farmers to ensure which children would inherit, and women’s fidelity became subject to public shaming, physical force, and marriage. As a result, women’s roles were limited to raising children, and the idea of the weaker female libido emerged, which is entirely false. Overall, agriculture paved the way for negative consequences that affected our health, social structure, and sexual equality, challenging the traditional narrative that agriculture was always a major breakthrough for humanity.

Women’s Sexual Desire

Women have just as much sexual desire as men. A recent study showed that men and women were equally physically excited while watching erotic films. Women were even aroused by a greater variety of images than men. However, social pressure can circumscribe female desire, making them suppress their sexuality more easily. Female desire is also more fluid than male desire, i.e., women are turned on by a greater variety of things. This study shows that both men and women are promiscuous creatures, which may lead to a possible examination of our evolutionary history. By studying our closest primate ancestors, chimps and bonobos, we could reveal the probable social/sexual structure of our prehistoric communities.

The Surprising Similarities Between Human and Primate Sexual Behaviors

Humans share a close genetic ancestry with primates, particularly the chimpanzees and bonobos whose DNA differs from ours by just 1.6%. Therefore, studying these primates can help us understand the basis for our own behavior. They both have active and promiscuous sex lives, live in tight-knit communities with complex social relations, and use sex to mediate conflicts. Females have higher social status, and sex encourages equal, peaceful, and female-oriented social groups, particularly in bonobo communities. These behaviors have similarities with the early hunter-gatherer lifestyles in which sex was shared among all community members. Therefore, the traditional belief that humans are best suited for monogamous lifestyles is myopic. In addition to behavior, anatomical similarities between humans and these primates include relatively large male genitalia, evolved to serve and support a promiscuous lifestyle.

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