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Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality - Comments

atltom's Avatar Comment 1 by atltom

I haven't read it either. I never even heard of it, but your description of what it covers sounds interesting enough for me to find find out more.

thanks

Wed, 07 Jul 2010 16:34:00 UTC | #487069

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 2 by Bonzai

Comment Removed by Author

Wed, 07 Jul 2010 16:42:18 UTC | #487071

sprite's Avatar Comment 3 by sprite

The book is very much anti-evolutionary psychology.

As much as I find certain aspects of Evolutionary Psychology crass and infuriating this book, from the bits I can read online, reviews etc, seems to be equallly wrong but in the opposite direction.

Just because true monogamy is not part of our biology does not alter the fact that monogamy has been important in our unique human highly dependent offspring survival.

Yes females as well as males are not monogamous and in humans have often been forced to be so. But I don't really think there is any robust evidence that our natural reproductive system is one of communal sex with no one knowing their biological father or caring about knowing fathers/fathers knowing offspring.

In other species the females have direct access to resources and human females are particularly constrained by that not being so. It will always be difficult to work out humans because of our unique problems regarding offspring survival.

What is true across mammal species is that females are more discriminating about mates than are males. This means that males have evolved traits to circumvent female mate choice and males want more matings than do females. In humans these traits in males include those that can 'persuade' females to mate more often than is in their own reproductive interest. And this type of book could perhaps be included as an example of such a trait attempting such 'persuasion'.

There is also much evidence across species of parental strategies where one parent benefits from the other parent doing the bulk of the investment. Avoiding potential parental investment is therefore a strategy that one needs to be wary of. Males are more often the sex that avoids parental responsibility in favour of further mating opportunities.

Sure human females are not monogamous but neither are they as potentially promiscuous as the human male and I would always be suspect of anyone putting forward that argument as being a manipulative male argument seeking far more 'easy' sex than is available in the interests of females.

Wed, 07 Jul 2010 22:17:24 UTC | #487153

spherical's Avatar Comment 4 by spherical

Actually there's a simple explanation without tracing evolution and history. The more successful you are in a society (in whatever ways), the more you will have a potential to be promiscuous.

The only limiting factor to your promiscuity is your social obligation, responsibility, etc. But, in the opposite case, where you're not "successful" as a person in a society, you will have a tendency to seek comfort, stability and a partner that you can depend on. If this partner is not your current partner, that could be misinterpreted as a promiscuous behavior. Which I disagree.

Updated: Thu, 08 Jul 2010 02:48:40 UTC | #487217

distiller's Avatar Comment 5 by distiller

Without having read "sex at dawn" it appears that the discussion / conclusion is similar to what Jared Diamond theorised in "the rise and fall of the third chimpanzee".

Thu, 08 Jul 2010 07:58:31 UTC | #487243

Glenn Smet's Avatar Comment 6 by Glenn Smet

Monogamy is just one of the many characteristics of human species that evolved through time. It came to be with the evolution of morality and civilization.

Just take a look at animals of any kind : the most of them don't know anything like monogamy. You could say that the idea originates in the emergence of 'love'.

Not at all is this pseudo-science : it relates to the comprehension of our world and uses evolution to underpin the theory.

Updated: Thu, 08 Jul 2010 15:07:54 UTC | #487300

Wuht2Ask's Avatar Comment 7 by Wuht2Ask

Comment Removed by Author

Thu, 08 Jul 2010 18:06:55 UTC | #487330

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 8 by ZenDruid

I don't think they have anything to offer other than speculation.

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 00:04:44 UTC | #487386

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 9 by KJinAsia

Some interesting reactions so far. I'm tempted to interpret some of them as being akin to some typical religious reactions to evolution in general where worldviews are threatened.

Evolutionary psychology is nascent, but certainly doesn't deserve scorn as a scientific enedeavor. And the findings of evolutionary psychology don't discount the validity or value of cultural overprinting. The grand effort of evolutionary biology is not to capitulate to our genetics, but to overcome the limitations imposed by it.

I haven't read this book yet either, but it seems to me on first blush that we can learn much about the genetic underpinnings of our sexual behaviour in looking at how common chimps behave. Of course, we may have drifted genetically away from chimps in terms of sexual behaviour since our common ancestor, but considering how closely we resemble them in other behavioural norms (at the core level, before cultural influence) it seems unlikely that we have diverged very much in this aspect.

The notion that monogamy in humans is a cultural artifact rather than inate is not new, by the way, although I gather that it has always been controversial (no surprise there).

Fri, 09 Jul 2010 04:33:31 UTC | #487429

pfrankinstein's Avatar Comment 10 by pfrankinstein

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Updated: Fri, 09 Jul 2010 09:58:12 UTC | #487460

imokyrok's Avatar Comment 11 by imokyrok

Sounds like it covers similar territory to Jared Diamonds book "Why Sex Is Fun" which was an interesting read.

Sat, 10 Jul 2010 14:45:20 UTC | #487711

embeddedtech's Avatar Comment 12 by embeddedtech

If just a few 10's of 1000's of years ago nobody lived past their late 20's (I'm not actually sure of historical life expectancies), then maybe issues of middle aged infidelity just never came up.

So I guess living 50 years beyond what our ancestors lived to puts us in uncharted territory?

Tue, 13 Jul 2010 20:11:03 UTC | #488475

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 13 by KJinAsia

Comment 12 by embeddedtech :

If just a few 10's of 1000's of years ago nobody lived past their late 20's (I'm not actually sure of historical life expectancies), then maybe issues of middle aged infidelity just never came up. So I guess living 50 years beyond what our ancestors lived to puts us in uncharted territory?

Many people in our deep ancentral past lived into their 80s and even 90s. The average lifespan was much lower because of extremely high infant and childhood mortality.

I'm half way through the book now and I find it extremely convincing, although I admit to bias because I have always considered monogamy to be a purely cultural imposition (that's not a value statement, by the way).

Sat, 17 Jul 2010 07:33:08 UTC | #489471

eyore's Avatar Comment 14 by eyore

Sprite said "Just because true monogamy is not part of our biology does not alter the fact that monogamy has been important in our unique human highly dependent offspring survival." Didn't you catch the chapters discussing how multiple fathers and mothers plus the much closer bonding between members of the group meant that all children in these groups tended to be loved and cherished. Certainly far more than in many civilised societies ( Rome, Victorian Britain, some current catholic countries who shall remain nameless to avoid me being flamed) I realise the standard response to any challenge of the nuclear family is "THINK OF THE CHILDREN...." but the book went to considerable lengths pointing out how poorly children are served on a family basis by family breakdown, and on a society basis in classic single family against the world.

Thu, 26 Aug 2010 04:35:50 UTC | #505650

TheSuna's Avatar Comment 15 by TheSuna

I finished the book a couple of days ago - it is very good. It could use a bit of work stylistically, I thought, but that doesn't diminish it's content.

I really couldn't speak on the scientific specifics of it - not a trained biologist here; however, the other supporting evidence I found more than convincing, and the biological arguments as they laid them out seemed convincing. I wont lay any of it out here, but I will say buy the book. It is quite a good first step at modernizing and refining the pre-history of our species.

And I may be biased, in that even as a layperson when it comes to the science, everything else I'd observed - about other cultures (industrialized and "old school", if I may), about modern couples, about dating and romance, as well as what I noticed in the relationships playing out around me - was leading me to believe someone somewhere had gotten this monogamous history thing dead wrong.

All of this being said, the book is not directly arguing that monogamy is bad, but more like "if you're gonna be monogamous, then fine - but don't distort the research and science and say that's nature". It's a bit like when some of us say "be religious all you'd like, but don't claim to know the truth because of it, and don't impose it one me or the public sphere".

The closing chapter of Sex at Dawn does have the authors admit that despite having written this book, they really don't know what to do with it. Which, I must say, is probably the safest thing to have said there. (Oh, and may I add, the authors are married).

Wed, 13 Apr 2011 19:47:33 UTC | #615076

sprite's Avatar Comment 16 by sprite

There is actually a lot in this book which is incorrect. I've actually had some discussion with the author and a couple of his errors about chimpanzees are due to be changed in the forthcoming paparback edition due to me having pointed them out.

Personally I think the book is dreadful.

Wed, 13 Apr 2011 20:32:34 UTC | #615096

InYourFaceNewYorker's Avatar Comment 17 by InYourFaceNewYorker

I just stumbled upon this thread. What does everybody think of the claims that our ancestors were egalitarian and that territoriality did not come around until after the agricultural revolution?

Wed, 04 Apr 2012 06:48:39 UTC | #932255

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 18 by phil rimmer

Comment 13 by KJinAsia

The average lifespan was much lower because of extremely high infant and childhood mortality.

This is a misleading or at least incomplete statement. The archeological record shows (Caspari and Lee 2003 fig.1) a sudden and quite dramatic increase (400%) in "grandparents" during the early Upper Paleolithic (40,000BCE). The phenomenon of old folks as a common feature around the camp fire appears to occur around that period of great cultural and artistic blossoming, that period when we might surmise sophisticated language first occurred. Food swapped for knowledge or stories allowed the otherwise physically infirm to sing for their supper, perhaps? The implication is that there were plenty of potential old folk, just that they were too costly keep once there were unable to feed themselves.

Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:16:00 UTC | #932258

mmurray's Avatar Comment 19 by mmurray

Comment 18 by phil rimmer :

Comment 13 by KJinAsia

The average lifespan was much lower because of extremely high infant and childhood mortality.

This is a misleading or at least incomplete statement. The archeological record shows (Caspari and Lee 2003 fig.1) a sudden and quite dramatic increase (400%) in "grandparents" during the early Upper Paleolithic (40,000BCE). The phenomenon of old folks as a common feature around the camp fire appears to occur around that period of great cultural and artistic blossoming, that period when we might surmise sophisticated language first occurred. Food swapped for knowledge or stories allowed the otherwise physically infirm to sing for their supper, perhaps? The implication is that there were plenty of potential old folk, just that they were too costly keep once there were unable to feed themselves.

That's really interesting Phil. So the Great Leap Forward in human evolution might have been powered by the grandparents.

Michael

PS: No archeological evidence of camper vans evolving about that time I assume ?

Wed, 04 Apr 2012 08:27:50 UTC | #932261

phil rimmer's Avatar Comment 20 by phil rimmer

Comment 19 by mmurray

Its fun to imagine how modern culture might have rolled out from this alignment of language and grandparents (if the two are indeed coupled). I periodically dust off my extension to the theory that sophisticated language created the possibility of trade-able knowledge and that the aged (and best placed to know stuff) could indeed trade this for food.

The problem comes when you are old and have said all that you truly know and you are still hungry. What then? Well, why stop? When asked a question keep answering. Make it up. Thus nascent science (true stuff) splits from (made up stuff) the arts and religion. The latter two split later on with the arts being open-handed, made-up stuff, earning an honest penny whilst religion wheedles its way into a symbiotic power grab with the alpha male, and morphs into Art with Menaces.

This could have been part of the early trek north.

Wed, 04 Apr 2012 10:02:30 UTC | #932294

sprite's Avatar Comment 21 by sprite

A rebuttal to "Sex at Dawn" has recently been published:

"Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn"

http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Dusk-Lifting-Shiny-Wrapping/dp/1477697284/ref=pd_ybh_1

"Dusk" is backed by Steven Pinker, David Barash ("Myth of Monogamy"), and primate sexuality expert Alan Dixson (referenced a number of times in "Dawn")

Mon, 27 Aug 2012 15:07:20 UTC | #951171