I am a 63 year old widow and I consider this to be
I am a 63 year old widow and I consider this to beone of the most important books I've ever read. I wish I could live my life over with this information. ~Sandra (a reader of Sex at Dawn)
Thank you Sex at Dawn. No therapist came close to healing our marriage the way your book did. ~Me
You know the Johnny Depp movie Don Juan DeMarco? The one where Johnny plays the fiery young man who believes he's the greatest lover of all time? Who awakens the souls of not only the women around him, but the men, too? Even his therapist—after ten days in DeMarco's presence—has a marital epiphany that casts a permanent shower of radiance into his comfy, old-slipper marriage.
Remember that one?
Well, almost a year ago today, Christopher Ryan kindly sent me a review copy of his and Cacilda Jethà's then brand new Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (bless you CPR, talk about resuscitation...). I say kindly because when Chris first heard from me, I was still full of bitter untruths, angst and confusion about what had happened to my husband and me.
But then their book wooed me like a lover I couldn't deny; filling universal gaps and wounds far bigger than those of my little life. Stroking with wit, tenderness, and humor (!) the rifts and ragged edges of souls living at odds with their own humanity. Penetrating cultural chasms I hadn't even known existed.
Reading their book was—and I don't say this lightly—akin to what it must have been like to first learn that the sun, not the earth, spins at the center of the solar system. Only way more personal...and way more relevant to human health, well-being, and yep, I'm gonna say it, joy.
Sex at Dawn is the Don Juan of our time. It's Sex at Dawn Juan...
In all seriousness, this accolade was a year in coming (ahem) because it took that long to assimilate; to talk afterwards about one of the most important books I've ever read. (Besides, the paperback version is just out, and now you really must go buy it and read it!) And speaking of serious, sex and sexual innuendo are about as serious to us humans as, say, breathing. But more on that in a minute.
First, lest you have misgivings, here is what the book is not:
• It is not an excuse to leave your spouse or family.
• It is not an invitation to serial monogamy.
• It is not a tract enamoring polygyny or polyandry or polyamory.
• It is not a charge against monogamy or marriage (the authors are a happily married couple, after all).
• And most critical, it is most definitely not a book to be missed by marriage or couples therapists, counselors, or psychologists. That would be a tragedy because it will help those folks serve their clients in profoundly beneficial ways. (NYT's best-selling Sex at Dawn, by the way, is the winner of the 2011 Society for Sex Therapy & Research Consumer Book Award, as well as a 2010 favorite book of NPR, and an Audible.com's Best Book of 2010. Dan Savage knew right away how crucial this book is, and I am hugely thankful to him for broadcasting its merit from the get-go.)
Rather, Sex at Dawn, is "science as a candle in the dark" at its finest. That phrase, originally coined by Carl Sagan, speaks to the urgent instances when science has helped us to better understand ourselves, our world, and our universe. Ryan and Jethà have taken the messy, chaotic (but tightly clung to) tapestry depicting our cultural understanding of human relationship—one that is riddled with holes and inconsistencies that some of us spend lifetimes trying to justify—and, with breathtaking reams of science and evidence from many lines of reasoning, rewoven it to far better reflect reality.
This new tapestry lays claim to myriad strands of evolutionary, anthropological, and biological warp and weave that, thus far, for all sorts of strange, sad, and erroneous reasons, got hung out to dry. But the new, emerging and heroically honest arras that Ryan and Jethà nimbly create in their book depicts a soft underbelly of human relationship that few of us have ever considered. One that is, perhaps, the very nexus of our humanity.
One that could, if we let it, change everything...in a very good way.
Further, the book is laden with bushwhacking, myth-busting, science-fueled bulldozers that neatly tip over all sorts of sacred cows (not to mention bulls) some of which are so taken for granted in our society that we don't even know to question them.
As one little example, I grew up believing certain things; like the sky is blue, rain falls from the sky, and humans are innately monogamous.
Well, guess what? The sky is blue, rain does fall from the sky, and humans are about as far from naturally monogamous as Mercury is from Uranus.
Remember how I'd mentioned that sex and sexual innuendo are as serious to humans as breathing?
• Ryan and Jethà show that human beings evolved as intensely social/sexual high-capacity bonders who help each other, enjoy compassion and empathy, share families, and love many and varied people; including often sustaining multiple long-term sexual bonds at the same time that also coincide with simultaneous casual hanky-panky (all of which appear to have been critical to the evolutionary success of our supremely social species).
• They show that, through natural selection in the tribal hunter-gatherer society exemplified by the first 99.9% (give or take) of humanity's time on Earth, we evolved an overriding coherence tactic that proved of such dominant value to human success that our brains, bodies, and minds are unequivocally coded and primed for employing said tactic.
• And they explain that this tactic is something other animals utilize, but that which human beings evolved to such a formidable degree that very few other creatures even come close to the human capacity and drive for it. For humans it goes way beyond procreation.
Yep, it's sex. And the sexual bonding that leads to love. Sex—and sexual attachment—is very likely the social glue that ensured human success for most of human history prior to agriculture (that's another story... read the book!) What's more, most of the so-called negative manifestations of this show up today in our culture as things like pornography, infidelity, affairs, cheating, cuckoldry, you name it; it may well be a result of this central—yet overlooked, masked, vilified, and repressed—component of humanity.
Could it be that these "negative" indices are evidence that we keep trying to drive a round peg into a square hole? What if, as I've asked before, it's more like eating than cheating?
Could sexual/social bonding and attachment be the keystone buttressing what it means to be human? And are we now, as one tribal woman put in Sex at Dawn, "stingy with our genitals" compared to how we evolved?
One academic researcher writes in classic understatement: The authors of Sex at Dawn are "saying that we have overlooked the fact that we have a long history as hypersexual animals, and that this is salient to modern relationships."
While I was reading The Longevity Project (part of which I reviewed at A Connection Between Parental Divorce and Death?) what I kept coming back to was Sex at Dawn and the life-or-death drive for human attachment (consider the legacy of John Bolby and Harry Harlow). I wondered—given the intriguing results of the LP and other examples that show impacts on human health that come from the stress of fracture and dis-attachment (say divorce, for instance)—is there a cohesion linking many of the LP's results for longer life? Could there be an underlayment? The overarching drive for "hypersexual"/social attachment and bonding—and the trust and security those can generate—that may help explain the very core of human mental and physical health and well-being?
If so, are we living in honor of that?
It's all enough to make a girl consider going back to graduate school to study the science of human attachment with a whole new Sex at Dawn perspective.
Unmasked and dancing...
Now, when Bryan Adams sings the theme song from Don Juan DeMarco, Have you ever really loved a woman? I, for one, am thinking about the huge capacity for relationship-driven, well-being and joy that is a human birthright. And I'm thinking about the fulfillment and sanctuary of being together again with my once-ex-husband and family.
And I'm imagining hugging Ryan's mother, shown here reading his book on an Alaska cruise to celebrate her and her husband's 50 years of marriage. Sex at Dawn, you see, reminded me that long-term attachment to others can be, if we let it, the majestic end result of all that sexual/social bonding. With that kind of support—the kind that confirms for us that we matter and belong—humans can do most anything.
If you love a woman (or a man or a child...) tell her that she's really wanted....If you love a woman tell her that she's the one.
Because most important of all, it reminded me that such long-term bonding can, if we let it, foster the honesty, respect, trust and security on which healthy, and dare I say it sustainable and reliable families, communities, and cultures are built...Not to mention books like this.
And we humans (and the planet) could all do with a bit more of that.
[Click thru to see this beautuful seranade directly on YouTube]
Oh, and one more thing: thank you—thank you—Chris and Cassie for changing the way I see the world. No therapist came close to healing our marriage the way your book did.
If you are a professional counselor or psychologist, or a blogger here at Psychology Today and you would like a review copy of Sex at Dawn for professional use or to write a review in conjunction with its paperback release, please contact me or Christopher Ryan directly through the forms on our bio pages.
For additional insights, here are pointers to a few of the book's reviews: