Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality

There's been a lot of discussion about the book Sex at Dawn across the internet. It's written by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá who are described as "renegade researchers" in the press release for the book. And what's the book about? It's evolutionary psychology at its finest, trying to explain modern behaviors with "just so" stories about what our ancestors did. It's largely concerned with polyamory and explaining how we're evolved for it and therefore it's a natural state.

They make frequent references to bonobos (AKA "sex chimps") as examples of how they think humans should behave, or at least how they think early hominids did behave. Many of the problems we suffer from today, they claim, are the result of moving away from this natural state.

I think it's pure, unadulterated bullshit.

Calling something natural in no way makes it legitimate. It doesn't matter if something is present in animals or not or if our early hominid ancestors did it or if everybody was doing it right up until 1921. Humans are gloriously capable of overcoming animal behaviors and altering ourselves based on culture.

Things which are present and therefore "natural" in populations of the family Hominidae consisting of chimpanzees, gorillas, humans and orangutans:

  • Killing and eating your offspring.
  • Rolling around in the dung of your prey.
  • Throwing your own feces at neighbors.
  • Rape.
  • Necrophilia.
  • Bestiality.
  • Hunting animals closely related to you.
  • Picking bugs out of the hair of your loved ones and eating them.
  • Having sexual relations with your own offspring, parents or siblings.
  • Murdering the offspring of a female to induce her to copulate with you.
  • Same sex activities.
  • And, oh yeah, polyamory.

When your opponents tell you what you're doing in the bedroom is unnatural, they're probably wrong. All sorts of stuff happens in nature. Dredging up evidence from animal behavior (or applying evolutionary psychology) does not strengthen your position, because you're arguing against something stupid to begin with.

People are people. We don't have to justify our choices by comparing ourselves to creatures that fling poop and try to get blowjobs from frogs.

Comments

You know, I got nothing against polyamory. Everybody's got to find their own path. And I like bonobos. But there's only so much we can learn from other primates who fill different ecological niches. (For an interesting book about language, not sex, but with some good points about how you have to look at the niche, see Adam's Tongue by Derek Bickerton.)


It would be great to learn more about how our own ancestors really lived, but I don't see there ever being much solid to go on.

I was wondering when the weekly zuul's sexual victims thread would show up.

Quote Originally posted by Rube E. Tewesday View post
It would be great to learn more about how our own ancestors really lived, but I don't see there ever being much solid to go on.
I think as time goes on we'll learn more and refine theories, but yeah; we're never going to know all the details. I love reading about the different theories people have, but every time somebody takes an idea about how people did things in the past (they were vegetarians! no, they ate lots of meat! they ate fermented foods! they practiced attachment parenting! no, they beat their children!) and tries to use that as proof that this is how we "should" live now I just have to roll my eyes.

Quote Originally posted by hatesfreedom View post
I was wondering when the weekly zuul's sexual victims thread would show up.
Sexual victims? You have a funny way of reading things.

Quote Originally posted by Zuul View post
I think as time goes on we'll learn more and refine theories, but yeah; we're never going to know all the details. I love reading about the different theories people have, but every time somebody takes an idea about how people did things in the past (they were vegetarians! no, they ate lots of meat! they ate fermented foods! they practiced attachment parenting! no, they beat their children!) and tries to use that as proof that this is how we "should" live now I just have to roll my eyes.
Yeah, especially given that there's not always a lot of evidence for these supposed natural practices, other than the idealism of the person who follows it.

I was thinking about reading this book, but I'm always skeptical of a theory that clearly seeks to set the status quo on it's ear. It's far too agenda-driven and not all that believable. I mean, it's not that I think the status quo doesn't sometimes need to be challenged, but it seems suspect to me that we would have to go back to primitive man in order to understand the true nature of human relationships. Seems like the last oh, I don't know, 10,000 years of culture ought to mean something, you know?



Sexual victims? You have a funny way of reading things.
Have to admit I'm baffled by that one.

Quote Originally posted by Sarahfeena View post
I was thinking about reading this book, but I'm always skeptical of a theory that clearly seeks to set the status quo on it's ear. It's far too agenda-driven and not all that believable. I mean, it's not that I think the status quo doesn't sometimes need to be challenged, but it seems suspect to me that we would have to go back to primitive man in order to understand the true nature of human relationships. Seems like the last oh, I don't know, 10,000 years of culture ought to mean something, you know?
It's a well-written, entertaining book. Don't get me wrong. It's just really ridiculously poor science and they make wild leaps all over the place. For example, the fact that men's testes are large in comparison to the testes of gorillas is used as evidence for "sperm competition" within the bodies of women, who would have had sex with so many men in a short span of time that men would have to produce larger and larger quantities of sperm to out-compete the others.

While there is evidence of sperm competition of some sort in our evolutionary history, the fact that males competed sexually as opposed to physically (they aren't drastically larger than women, as the males of species with "harems" usually are) does not necessarily mean they were all boning the same lady at the same time. Bonobos and chimps have large testes as well and it's likely that this trait developed before we all split up. Regardless of how often a woman changes partners, the male who produces more sperm has an advantage as far as breeding goes and so there'd be no reason to drop the adaptation.

Quote Originally posted by Zuul View post
It's evolutionary psychology at its finest
Yep, that's enough to condemn it.

When people cite the behavior of bonobos as some sort of ideal for human behavior, you can dismiss them immediately, because they're retards or liars. Bonobos (Pan paniscus) are adorable brachiating whores, it's true, but their sexual behavior is vastly different from that of common chimps (P. troglodytes), and we're just as closely related to P. troglodytes.


Quote Originally posted by Zuul
every time somebody takes an idea about how people did things in the past (they were vegetarians! no, they ate lots of meat! they ate fermented foods! they practiced attachment parenting! no, they beat their children!) and tries to use that as proof that this is how we "should" live now I just have to roll my eyes.
Ha, exactly. And they can always come up with just as much evidence for whichever of the two opposites they like better.


Anyway, the best evolutionary sexual trait of humans is our enormous penises. They're way bigger than those of chimps, gorillas, or orangutans.

It's natural to lose your teeth before 40. Of course it's natural to have a life expectancy of about 35 years. It's natural to face serious hazard from what we consider normal cuts. It's natural to excrete in the same place you nest. It's natural to kill members of your species that are sufficiently different from the norm. It's natural to live in a state of near-starvation. It's natural to have an infant/child mortality rate approaching 20%*. It's natural to die from things that we consider trivial medical concerns: Appendicitis, infected teeth, gangrenous wounds, tonsillitis... the list goes on and on. It's natural to worry about smallpox.

Simply because something is natural (Which I am not prepared to claim that this book accurately describes.) doesn't mean that it's a good idea. Or a bad idea, for that matter.

We've changed what is normal for our culture, and many other cultures on this planet by ignoring what is natural. And with all the complications we're facing from the consequences of technological society, I am not prepared to go back to pure natural existence.



*Number pulled out of my arse. I have no clear figures for what infant and child mortality would be in a purely natural state. I do think it would horrify any modern person looking at the numbers honestly.

Absolutely, Loki.

Quote Originally posted by OtakuLoki View post
*Number pulled out of my arse. I have no clear figures for what infant and child mortality would be in a purely natural state. I do think it would horrify any modern person looking at the numbers honestly.
Infant mortality alone was 15% in America between 1950-55. What's been suggested for earlier humans is much worse.

http://johnhawks.net/weblog/reviews/...mortality.html
Quote Originally posted by John Hawks
Among pre-1960 Hiwi males, 57 percent could expect to survive to age 15, and 43 percent to age 30, with an average young adult mortality rate of around 2 percent annually. So it is not anything like as high as has been suggested for Neandertals and earlier humans (with annual mortality rates as high as 6 percent).
Everything new, shiny and processed is not necessarily better, but there's no general superiority about how things were done in the past either. People get this idea that because something was done in the past we're "evolved" for it, but that isn't how it worked. If you look at the surface it might appear an animal is comfortable in its niche, but you're missing the myriad of "good enough" adaptations. Anybody who's ever suffered a back ache should be able to grasp that just because we evolved an upright posture doesn't mean our spine is perfect in this position!

Quote Originally posted by Zuul View post
Murdering the offspring of a female to induce her to copulate with you.


Actually that doesn't usually wor.....never mind.

You're not supposed to tell them it was you, Cluricaun.