Sex at Dawn

‘Sex At Dawn’ – shattering the monogamy myth, and more

As in most of the western world, marriage, monogamy and the nuclear family have been the social mainstay mostly because of religious, and especially Judaeo-Christian, values. We still automatically assume monogamy is “normal”, but this is contrary to our essential nature, says human sexual scientist Christopher Ryan, author of a groundbreaking book, “Sex At Dawn”. [You may rightly ask what this has to do with food? Read on!]

“First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then Mr and Mrs with a baby in a carriage.” The sing-song playground taunt children mockingly belt out to one another is very telling in terms of the expectations society has of relationships. If you’re in a serious courtship then the natural progression is towards the nuclear family where husband and wife are supposed to only have eyes for each other.

That’s not because it is what is best for you, but the progression is driven by what is best for capitalist society, say Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, who have written a book said to be the most influential tome on why we copulate since Kinsey put pen to paper.

“Sex At Dawn” hardly hit the bookstores when it featured on The New York Times bestseller list and had rave reviews from Dan Savage, the newspaper’s sex-advice columnist who called it: “the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948″.

In the book Ryan and his psychiatrist wife Jethá not only trash a lot of what Darwin had to say about sex, but posit that monogamy is in conflict with our very nature and that humans are libidinous, if not downright promiscuous.

“We are mistaken if we think that societies are meant to benefit us, and to make life wonderful. The way I look at societies is as a super-organism, it is a system that arises and follows its own norms and its own appetites and this could be in direct conflict with individuals in that society,” says Ryan, speaking to The Daily Maverick from the US. “Marriage is essentially an economic institution and the nuclear family is an economic institution. This is not about making us happy or satisfying our natural appetites.”

There was a time when men and women were equal, but that changed with the advent of agricultural societies says Ryan, who argues that egalitarianism is the natural human position and that male superiority is a perversion brought about by the introduction of ownership of property. “What we are dealing with now is a distortion of human nature brought about by economic interests. To get at it directly, men controlling female human sexuality is all about property.”

Ryan says that before the rise of agriculture some 10,000 years ago humans had no notion of property ownership. “Our ancestors moved in nomadic groups so they didn’t have land they considered their own. Because they were moving around a lot they didn’t have a lot of personal objects they carried around. Further, it wasn’t important what man was the father of which child, because there wasn’t a reason to care. People only started caring about this when they had farms and domesticated animals.”

The notion of property ownership became evident during the agricultural era, when it became important for men to be sure of paternity because they wanted to leave their property to their sons. “In order to know who my son is, to be sure of paternity, is to control the sexual life of my mate, or my wife. This was the birth and origin of male and female inequality which was driven by the need to be assured of paternity and the only way to do that was by controlling the female. Before this when paternity was not an issue there was no need to control a woman’s sexual needs.”

Inequality is cemented by capitalism, consumerist culture and advertising which uses woman’s sexuality to sell things. “We use women’s sexuality to sell everything. A beautiful women standing next a car is supposed to make you buy the car so you get the woman. Hollywood movies, it is all about the rich man and the beautiful woman, and she is trading her sexuality for these resources. Using women’s sexuality to sell things cements the notion of women as property, and women as products.”

In their book Ryan and Jethá rubbish the conventional Darwinian view of sexuality that argues that women are whores by nature. “Darwinian biology will have us understand that women trade sexual access for resources, but we argue in the book that this is not true. Until 10,000 years ago everyone had direct access to resources and only in recent times was society arranged in such a way that the only way a woman could get any resources would be through her father or through her husband.”….

The Daily Maverick: Read more