Review: Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha

Literature, Nature, Science

Rating: 5 out of 5

Sex. What a loaded concept in this modern world… And, no matter where one looks, one is made to think it has ever been so divisive. Or, at least, that is what would be termed the “standard narrative”. I use this here not in the sense of the authors (who do like that terminology), but rather as the generic cultural framework in which we exist — and in which our existence, in many a way, has been made very difficult (though primarily for half of the population only).

The authors use a wide range of prehistoric evidence and modern tribal existence in order to support their statements, the most common of which would be, to paraphrase it by my understanding, that sex, sexuality and sexual preferences should not be used to ostracise or exclude. I enjoyed the evidential background to the work, and some of the statements were convincing enough to make me want to investigate them and their framework in more detail, especially where concerned with the lifestyle of the prehistoric man and how this survived and changed with the evolution of man into a property holder.

A number of counter-arguments are brought in throughout the entire work, and this is quite enjoyable as obviously one who tries to refute their opponent by the use of facts and statistics is made to sound more convincing than one who doesn’t. What I missed, perhaps, was a bit more solid statistical basis for some of the statements (say numbers of extant tribes do ‘X’, has declined/increased/etc), but I don’t have any knowledge whether such datasets even exist.

What the book does achieve, therefore, is bringing the debate about sexuality to a more approachable baseline. However, with this activity comes a bit of an interesting thought exercise and that concerns itself with the mainstream arguments: “In whose interests is it?” This is not a question I am going to answer here, but it is something I would recommend the intrepid reader to ask themselves when reading this work (and other ones!) and noting interesting facts.

I’ll just add that it is entirely possible all the arguments herein are absolute bollocks. Either way, it’s an interesting concept to think about and I would encourage people to give it a try.

Lastly, I cannot leave unmentioned that one of the chapter introductions was a quote of Kahlil Gibran. Well chosen!