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Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One)

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 11, 2010

You say, “Don’t talk about Sex, God or Politics”. I say, “Why not? Let’s face it, we’re all interested in them”. Books I’ve dipped into recently include:

Sex At Dawn

“The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality”
Authors Ryan and Jetha say humans evolved in egalitarian groups that shared food, child care and often sexual partners. Apparently this is against the mainstream scientific opinion. They use primatology, anthropology and other fields to argue that humans are not naturally monogamous and thus we should ease up a little in our sexual mores.

Despite centuries of religious and scientific propaganda, the basic illusions underpinning the supposed “naturalness” of the conventional nuclear family are clearly exhausted. … We need to seek peace with the truths of human sexuality. Maybe this means improvising new familial configurations. Perhaps it will require more community assistance for single mothers and their children. Or maybe it just means we must learn to adjust our expectations concerning sexual fidelity.
~ p 308

Bonobo monkey and friend

Bonobo monkey. Apparently we’re related. The Bonobo is the hairy one.

I’d like to mention that in New Zealand we have pretty good welfare for single parents which has led to big social changes, and I would argue, good changes.

Sex At Dawn‘s approach also seems fairly propagandist to me, but the book finishes abruptly and the authors acknowledge they don’t offer many solutions. They do have a far-too-brief look at open marriages, swinging and similar. In my admittedly tiny sample size of people I know who’ve tried “polyamory” as it’s now called, all three couples found it too hard, and even damaging to the primary relationship. Ryan and Jetha suggest that the positive evidence of successful polyamorous couples is hidden, as we like to be private about that sort of thing.

Some of the book’s use of the evidence has been criticised too:

As a primatology/anthropology graduate student, I’m SO glad to see this review! Just reading through this book annoys me because of the vast amount of inaccuracies and flaws. The positive reviews genuinely confuse me so it’s good to see a more critical reader. ” (Sarah Soffer)


I’ve studied primatology, evolution, and especially evolution of sex, so this book infuriates me too.

I nearly did not buy it as it is so ‘wrong’ but seeing how so many people have been uncritically accepting all these weak arguments I felt I had to read as much as I could stomach and try to at least make people think more critically and hopefully look to the literature themselves.” (L. Saxon)

Even if they’ve over-interpreted the research, it’s still possible some of their conclusions may be true, they aren’t the first to suggest we should just loosen up and relax our ideas around sexual fidelity. But as for how to include that in my own life? That’s a hard one, and I’m not sure I want to include them. Regardless, it’s a well-written, entertaining and interesting read. What are your thoughts?

Thanks to HappyGirl for lending me great books relevant to my research, or just plain interesting. Hey! What about the science and music? Check out Part Two.


Non-monogamy. What do you think?
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24 Responses to “Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One)”

  1. Lydia said

    I really liked Sex at Dawn even as I acknowledge that it cherry-picked its evidence. (I can’t speak to whether or to what extent it was inaccurate in it’s descriptions of the evolution of sex or primatology, though. I don’t know enough about either topic to know. 🙂 )

    To be fair, though, many books only talk about the evidence that (seems to?) support their claims. I’ve read many a self-help book that insists that _all_ men act or think one way and women act or think another, to give one example.

    I do wish that Sex at Dawn had spent more time actually talking about what we should do with all of the information they shared. Even as someone in a (theoretically) polyamorous relationship I agree that many people’s relationships could not handle being openly non-monogamous for the following reasons:

    1) Most people seem to be monogamously wired (at least when they’re in a serious relationship)
    2) Historically speaking, it has been if not acceptable then at least something that everyone turns a blind eye to when a husband takes another sexual partner. These attitudes continue today…just watch a few music videos. 😉
    3) Speaking in a broad generalization here, men seem to be _much_ more interested in casual sex than are women. The question of why this is would probably fill up a post in and of itself!?!
    4) Polyamory requires more work. One has to make sure your existing relationship(s) is/are healthy before even beginning to pursue something new. If you don’t you could end up _seriously_ damaging your current relationship. I don’t think most people have the energy to keep 2 or more relationships going (although of course there are exceptions to this rule!)

    Speaking as a woman here, there are also things that I have to think about before pursuing someone new that a man doesn’t have to (or at least not in the same way). To name a few: if the other person is male, you have to think about the possibility of pregnancy, of being left alone to raise a kid for the next 18 years. Many STDS also tend to affect women more severely due to certain anatomical differences. Socially speaking, women tend to be much more harshly judged for having sex at the “wrong” time or with the “wrong” person.

    • Yay, someone who’s read it 🙂 That alone makes me happy. I might respond again once I’ve read the rest of your reply 😀

      • Lydia said

        In the meantime, I have a book recommendation for you about jealousy in non-monogamous relationships: “Lesbian Polyfidelity” by Celeste West. I highly recommend reading at least the chapters on jealousy. They have some very practical, solid advice for people who are jealous _and_ for people who are in a relationship with a jealous significant other.

    • Yeah, I really liked it too. Very readable and entertaining.

      > To be fair, though, many books only talk about the evidence that (seems to?) support their claims.

      I agree, but I hope that any book that says “this is how it is” considers all the evidence, and doesn’t misrepresent the information. Like you, I can’t say that they HAVE done that, only that I want to be cautious in accepting everything they say. I haven’t made time to research more, so I don’t know if the problems are minor quibbles that only an academic would care about, or whether their fundamental position is flawed, according to the best in the field. (Who may also have self-interest in preserving their own theories.)

      Science does advance by “revisions” like this, so I guess time will tell? Shame that i want answers NOW! 😉

      You’ve raised some good points.
      I thought the question about why men want casual sex was talked about in Sex at Dawn? My impression was they say that women want lots of sex too, but maybe “casual uncommitted” sex as opposed to “sex in some kind of relationship” is the important difference? I will have to read again.

      Another question I have is: OK, so our ancestors did *this*, and we’ve inherited *that*. Does that mean we should just follow our tendencies?
      I think their answer to that would be “No, that’s not what we’re saying, we just think people should lighten up a little as monogamy isn’t working.”

      I don’t have all the answers, and I appreciate your honesty 🙂

      • Lydia said

        “My impression was they say that women want lots of sex too, but maybe “casual uncommitted” sex as opposed to “sex in some kind of relationship” is the important difference? ”

        That was the impression I came away with as well. Maybe I didn’t communicate that clearly earlier. 🙂

        I hope there’s a sequel to this book one day. I finished it not quite sure what they were recommending that we do (although I don’t think they had figured it out themselves yet either.)

        People are complicated. I don’t think there’s going to be one solution that works for everyone, but it would sure be nice to have more books that talk about the different methods that have worked for different people.

        • I agree totally.

          Funnily enough I was talking to HappyGirl this morning about how I’m hoping they do a sequel where they go into “what do we do now?” and “what’s worked for other people?” in detail.

          I’d like to read some studies on poly couples and find out how many are “successful” and so forth.

  2. […] Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One) […]

  3. Lord, I can’t imagine having an open marriage. I’d be way too jealous. However, I watch the TV series ‘Big Love’ about polygamy and I’m ok with that…hmmm…

    • Yup. The idea of being sexual outside your primary relationship is sometimes appealing, but then I think about the reality and it’s not so appealing for me. I read some of “The Ethical Slut”, which is the current Bible of polyamory. (I’m interested that on Amazon they’ve paired this book with “Sex at Dawn” in a sale.)

      My main interest was its chapter titled “When You Get Jealous”. Not “if”, “when”. 🙂

  4. Nicole said

    I have thought about this. I’m in a long distance relationship and in some ways it would be really easy to have other sexual partners. We discussed this in the beginning and decided that it would be better not to commit too strongly, but as our love grew the thought of it became kind of icky, we both realised that neither of us wanted that. I don’t want too, and hope she does not want to either.

    I think some people are better wired for it. I do think it is quite different thing having a bit on the side vs polyamory vs polygamy vs polyandry

    • Thanks Nicky

      I’ve experienced the same thing, not only with long distance partners, that growing commitment means a desire to not sleep with someone else. I do think we’re all wired differently. It’s certainly complex. The authors say we should all “come out” about our sexuality, and I guess this would make people feel less “abnormal”?

      Great to have you drop in again 🙂

  5. Cristine said

    I think it is definitely how you are wired. I am a woman and I think casual sex is wonderful and I am not naturally monogamous. BUT that said, I have to monogamous because I need to raise two children with their father and he is very monogamous and expects completely fidelity.

    Raising children here (in the USA) seems to mean either being financially dependent on their father which puts someone else is in ‘control’ of you or working so hard that you don’t get to actually raise your children. (we don’t have the same paid maternity leave, reasonable childcare, social medicine, etc etc that a lot of other countries have..not to mention I just learned some countries actually PAY you to have children)

    • Hi Cristine

      I guess your comment illustrates that it’s gotta be a consensual and mutual thing. I’d love to be in a country that paid you to have children. Some people argue that our NZ welfare system does that, but I think they’re wrong. Either way, I’m happy to not deal with the US health/welfare system, which seems way too harsh to this outsider. eg, to escape a violent marriage it seems a woman will be financially crippled.

      • Cristine said

        I don’t know what the answer is. If you “pay” women to have children, there will be rampant abuse of that and I don’t think anyone should have anything handed to them for nothing. But you should be able to find things like affordable child care, health care, reasonable work hours, etc…ya know?!

  6. SugarPop said

    I was in a *open* relationship for eight and a half years although extra-relational sex was not a day-to-day occurence. My de facto did so a handful of occassions, while I did so with one other person over a six month period during the entire eight and a half year period. I learnt a lot about others and myself from the experience, some of it quite painful; some of it extremely edifying (edification was mostly through hindsight for me).

    I think the most important thing that I learned was that everyone is wired slightly differently and understands and approaches the world, sex and relating to others differently. Every relationship you have with another is, by inference, equally unique.

    Now, rather than having expectations of how my relationships, particularly my primary relationship, *should* be in terms of sexual practice, I’m of the mind that between the two of us, we get to jointly define and live our relationship in the way that best suits us and supports the relationship overall. Further, I accept and expect that those things will change over time and therefore am always up for safe discussion and exploration of what are often sensitive and difficult topics. To me the most important things for intimate relationships are honesty, a willingness to be open to new ideas, and a commitment to figure out what is best for us both individually and collectively.

    Whether that means monogamy or not almost becomes secondary – it’s the quality of the relationship that counts most for me.

    BTW – I’m about a third of the way through “Sex at Dawn” – a thoroughly interesting read, and although I concur that some of the conclusions and hypotheses offered could be more robust, I absolutely appreciate the questions that arise in me in response to the material presented – to me, so far, that is the greatest value of this book.

    • Lydia said

      “Whether that means monogamy or not almost becomes secondary – it’s the quality of the relationship that counts most for me.”

      This really resonated with me. It’s so true.

      • SugarPop said

        Thanks Lydia 🙂

        This is a really difficult and sensitive topic, and it is so easy confuse lust and love. Personally, I strive for both to occur concurrently and between the two people in question at the same time. I also acknowledge that humans are *messy* as we seldom fit nice-n-tidy into socially defined boxes.

        My preference and my goal is long term commitment with one other. But I refuse to accept and demand this without knowing and understanding the other, and also the collective of me and my man – the mere event of combining the wants and needs of two individuals can sometimes result in the most surprising of outcomes.

        And I’d like to thank you for your frank and open sharing with this post 🙂

    • If a relationship isn’t passionate, all consuming and special why on earth bother?

      • SugarPop said

        Hi Romy – I never said or meant that my intimate relationships (past and present) are not passionate, all consuming or special – far from it. It is precisely because they ARE passionate, consuming and special that I believe they require, through open dialogue with each other, particular thought, consideration, openness, honesty and above all, love. Of all the places where we need to examine our baggage, assumptions and personal biases, intimate relationships are it – IMHO.

  7. […] Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One) […]

  8. […] Sex, God, Science and Music (Part One) […]

  9. […] and I read Sex at Dawn a while back. I’m now quite sceptical of some of the research behind it, nevertheless I do […]

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