By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Allyson Johnson, Jonathan Davis, Christopher Ryan
Scholarship and objectivity are issues in “Sex at Dawn”; i.e. Christopher Ryan has several degrees from Saybrook University’; his most recent a Ph.D. in psychology. Saybrook is an accredited University but is not well-known. It was founded in 1971 as the “Humanistic Psychology Institute”. Saybrook offers advanced degrees for online study.
In 2007, Saybrook is noted to have had only 500 plus full-time students. As a graduate University, it is ranked near the academic bottom of a “United States National Research Council” report on American Doctorate Programs.
Cacilda Jetha, according to her website biography, is an MD and practicing psychiatrist in Barcelona, Spain; educated in Portugal. The authors are married in what they call an open-marriage which is a part of their hypothesis in “Sex at Dawn”. Having decided to have an open-marriage infers some bias in the author’s objectivity. Of course, bias may be equally suggested for one who writes a similar book about monogamy.
Despite reservation about scholarship and objectivity, “Sex at Dawn” is entertaining, if not rigorously scholastic. Parenthetically, one wonders if anyone can be rigorously scholastic in the social sciences.
A principle hypothesis by Ryan and Jetha is that prehistoric, hunter-gatherers were not monogamous; were happier than today’s humans and less stressed because they knew everyone in their social group. Ryan and Jetha speculate that early humans worked only a few hours a day, copulated with any consenting female in their tribe without male or female jealousy, and moved to other lands whenever food supply diminished; interesting thoughts, but so what? Even if Ryan and Jetha are correct, what 21st century difference does it make?
Can modern society reject urbanization to become smaller hunter-gathering communities rather than megalopolises? Is social group formation broadly possible; even with the World Wide Web, Facebook, and other social media? Will social cohesion and common interest improve with technological media improvements? One tends to think not–based on current events; e.g. Israeli/Palestinian conflicts, the so-called Arab Spring, and Russian annexation of Crimea. As for copulating between consenting adults, without male or female jealousy, there is ample evidence to the contrary; at least in respect to jealousy and societal acceptance.
Ryan and Jetha attack Steven Pinker’s suggestion that early humans were considerably more violent than today’s humans. Ryan and Jetha argue that Pinker’s tribe research is flawed. Ryan and Jetha suggest Pinker cited cultures that did not represent high levels of violence or ancient civilization. Presuming Ryan and Jetha’ analysis of Pinker’s scholarship is correct–it fails to either prove or disprove their own hypothesis about early humans.
The authors of “Sex at Dawn” also disagree with Thomas Hobbes’ beliefs in the “Leviathan”. Ryan and Jetha suggest Hobbes’ opinions about the nature of man are subjectively tied to the exigencies of his time rather than objective observations of all time. Ryan’s and Jetha’s inference is that man’s descent is as likely to be from Bonobos as Chimpanzees; their point being that Bonobos are pacific while Chimpanzees are competitive and violent.
Of course, male Bonobos live in sparsely populated areas and are neglectful of their parental responsibility. Ryan and Jetha infer that human civilization, through natural selection, will become less violent, less sexually exclusive, and more pacific to survive. Maybe, but evolution is a probabilistic adventure that is unpredictable. And, what about male parental investment in child-raising, something which Bonobos generally neglect?
Ryan and Jetha go on to explain how men’s balls are proportionately larger than other males in the animal kingdom; how humans evolved a ball sac that reduces temperature for better sperm production, and how penis size varies by race.
Ryan and Jetha note that early civilization likely survived because of multiple male coupling with females. They argue that multiple coupling reinforces fertilization success; not just success but Darwinian natural selection with one sperm donation dueling with another to insure survival of the most resilient and adaptive DNA. The inference from this hypothesis is that neither males nor females are naturally monogamous.
Ryan and Jetha touch on Richard Dawkins contribution to natural selection by noting that memes may be as inheritable as genes. (Memes are evolutionary habits adopted by future generations from previous generations based on ingrained traditions and superstitions.) The inference being that something like “open marriage” may become part of the lay of the land (pardon the pun) based on a meme, if not a gene.
Another interesting, but far from scholarly observation, is Ryan’s and Jetha’s use of mythology. An ancient Greek named Tiresias said women enjoy sex nine times more than men. Of course, Tiresias should know because, though born as a son, he became a woman for several years of his life. Ryan and Jetha note that men copulate “once and done” while women may orgasm several times–“ready for more”. Maybe there is a gene for female multiple orgasms. It might be genetic compensation for a female’s greater investment in offspring. One wonders if Tiresias’s number nine comes from the fact that a female’s enjoyment of copulation may demand a nine month pregnancy; and then a painful and arduous delivery.
It is hard to say one will not enjoy reading “Sex at Dawn”; however, in this critic’s opinion, “Sex at Dawn” leads as easily to male and female rationalization as truth. As Karl Popper notes, “Science must begin with myths and with the criticism of myths”. Herein lays this critic’s criticism; not with rancor but with skepticism.