Sex at Dawn

In several of my former posts and podcasts, I’ve referenced a book called Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. In a word: Brilliant. In ten, it should be required reading for anyone in a relationship.


As my readers know, I’m rather passionate about this subject. Because cultural denial about our inherent sexuality causes far too much pain and heartbreak. It turns otherwise good people into liars. It makes us betray those we love the most, all because we are taught to be ashamed of who we are and what we feel. We are forced, by societal or religious mandates, to betray our very biology as human beings. And it’s more than a shame. It’s a crime, really.

I first read this book late last year, and thanks to Professor Taboo, who asked me to write a blurb on it for a polyamory site, I re-read it this week. I’m so glad I did. It reminded me just what an important work it is for the happiness and well-being of every single adult on the planet. Yes, I do have a tendency to speak in hyperbole, and I’m the first to admit that I’m a serious drama queen, but I’m not exaggerating this time.

In a society rampant with infidelity, divorce, molestation, abusive relationships and more, this book could save so many couples from becoming another divorce statistic. It could save so many women (and men) from suffering broken hearts. It could stop certain kinds of abuse, and if nothing else, minimize it. All if we could find the courage to accept who we are. Biologically.

Most people in our culture practice something called “serial monogamy,” that is, many monogamous relationships over the course of a lifetime, back to back. Or some, far too many, practice non-monogamy in dishonest ways, i.e., affairs, prostitutes, pornography, etc., without their spouse or SO knowing, and certainly without their approval or understanding. From the book:

Serial monogamy stretches before (and behind) many of us like an archipelago of failure: isolated islands of transitory happiness in a cold, dark sea of disappointment. And how many of the couples who manage to stay together for the long haul have done so by resigning themselves to sacrificing their eroticism on the altar of three of life’s irreplaceable joys: family stability, companionship, and emotional, if not sexual, intimacy? Are those who innocently aspire to these joys cursed by nature to preside over the slow strangulation of their partner’s libido?

The authors continue to describe how “42 percent of American women suffer from sexual dysfunction, while Viagra breaks sales records year after year,” and how “pornography is reported to rake in anywhere from fifty-seven billion to a hundred billion dollars annually.” How it “generates more revenue than CBS, NBC, and ABC combined and more than all professional football, baseball, and basketball franchises.”

I’m a very lucky woman. I’m in touch with my sexuality, and I don’t stifle it. I’m even more fortunate because my husband doesn’t stifle it either. Nor do I stifle his. We are sexual beings, like all humans, and we recognize that our sexuality and attraction to other people does not jeopardize the love or the life we have built together. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all were free to express our desires and love for others openly without judgment? Without risking our security at home. In fact, for those brave enough to discuss this with their spouse or SO, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Opening one’s marriage/relationship usually serves to bring the primary couple closer together, so the love and the security and the intimacy deepen; they don’t fade.

But society and religion teach us differently.

The conflict between what we’re told we feel and what we really feel may be the richest source of confusion, dissatisfaction, and unnecessary suffering of our time. The answers normally proffered don’t answer the questions at the heart of our erotic lives: why are men and women so different in our desires, fantasies, responses, and sexual behavior? Why are we betraying each other at ever increasing rates when not opting out of marriage entirely? Why the pandemic spread of single-parent families? Why does the passion evaporate from so many marriages so quickly? What causes the death of desire?

Using the words of the authors, “We are at war with our eroticism.” And that is not hyperbole either. The authors explore origins of human sexuality and make a very strong biological case for non-monogamy. They answer these questions:

Why is long-term sexual fidelity so difficult for so many couples?

Why does sexual passion often fade, even as love deepens?

Why are women potentially multi-orgasmic, while men all too often reach orgasm frustratingly quickly and then lost interest?

Is sexual jealousy an unavoidable, uncontrollable part of human nature?

Can sexual frustration make us sick? How did a lack of orgasms cause one of the most common diseases in history, and how was it treated?

When will we embrace who we are and what we feel? When will we stop denying our most basic needs, sacrificing our libidos for ostensible safety, only to destroy that safety when biology trumps reason?

The authors take this a step further. It is actually unhealthy, both mentally and physically, for men to be monogamous. A lack of sex over time causes a decrease in testosterone, which can lead to profound, life-changing issues that will no doubt have an even greater impact on a relationship than non-monogamy would.

Researchers have found that men with lower levels of testosterone are more than four times as likely to suffer from clinical depression, fatal heart attacks, and cancer when compared to other men their age with higher testosterone levels. They are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia…

Must they choose between familial love and long-term sexual fulfillment? Most men don’t fully appreciate the conflict between the demands of society and those of their own biology until they’ve been married for years–plenty of time for life to have grown very complicated, with children, joint property, mutual friends, and the sort of love and friendship only history can bring. When they arrive at the crisis point, where domesticity and declining testosterone levels have drained the color from life, what to do?…

1. Lie and try not to get caught…you are going to get caught sooner or later (probably sooner)…

2. Give up on having sex with anyone other than your wife for the rest of your life. Maybe resort to porn and Prozac…sneaking off at night to look at porn on your computer…often leads to serious anger and resentment that can destroy a relationship…

3. Serial monogamy: divorce and start over. This option seems to be the “honest” approach recommended by most experts…Though often presented as the honorable response to the conundrum, the serial monogamy cop-out has led directly to the current epidemic of broken homes and single-parent families…Why does society consider it more moral for you to break up a marriage, go through a divorce, disrupt your children’s lives maybe forever, just to be able to fuck someone with whom the fucking is going to get just as boring as it was with the first person before long?

How absurd is it that we are forced between giving up our lives and families or denying our biological imperative. It would be like saying, “You can either eat or stay married. You can’t have both.” It’s literally that irrational. And this doesn’t just apply to men. The authors cover the suppression of female sexuality over the centuries and how that has affected women. Sexual frustration causes “anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasy, sensations of heaviness in the abdomen, lower pelvic edema, and vaginal lubrication,” the very symptoms of “Hysteria,” which in the Victorian era was treated by administering “vulvular massage” by doctors.

Polyamory and other types of “open” relationships are a loving, rational answer to this ever-growing problem. Polyamorous couples generally report being happier and closer and more in love than they were before they opened their marriage. And why not? They are loving each other for who they are, not who they’re pretending to be.

As Schopenhaur said, “One can choose what to do, but not what to want.”

But for so many of us, we can only choose what to do when we’re in our right mind, when reason is in control. Under the influence of sexual desire, with all those drug-like hormones clouding rational thought, can we really choose what to do? History and thousands of contemporary examples say no. We can’t control it.

Now, please, don’t swing on that clock pendulum in the total opposite direction. This is not a call for rampant promiscuity either. Even me, with my propensity toward black & white thinking can see the difference here.

Sex at Dawn takes the reader through a historical and anthropological journey of human sexuality, exploring why we feel the way we feel and how society and religions force us to go against our most basic instincts. The authors show readers a different way to live and offer what is quite possibly the recipe for long-lasting, happy, fulfilling relationships. As a biological case for non-monagamy that simply cannot be argued, this book should be required reading for every adult in a relationship.

Unfortunately the book has been removed from the Kindle due to issues with their publisher, hopefully that’s just temporary. The hardback and audio book are still available, and a new paperback with a slightly new title (Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships) will be released on July 5th.

BUY IT. READ IT. Talk to your spouse/SO about it.

I’m not saying you have to open up or even suggest that. Just talk about it.

Talk about your needs.
Talk about your love.
Talk about your future.

Please. Just talk.

The prerequisite for a good marriage, it seems to me, is the license to be unfaithful. ~Carl Jung, 1910.

~ by omgrey on June 15, 2011.

14 Responses to “Sex at Dawn”

  1. **Applause for Grey’s post & review!** Very well written Olivia! A friend of mine once mentioned to me during our mutually agreed upon perspectives on intimate relationships, that he can never grasp why today we still practice relational-propriety exactly as humans did back in the Dark and Middle Ages. What a precise summary of “self-projected insecurities & fears” onto contemporary human-2-human contracts, don’t you think? From a business standpoint, especially during the Dark/Middle Ages, I can appreciate the financial insurance/protection. But that is beyond devoid of emotional, physical & spiritual vigor! Yuk! 😦

    PLEASE never stop expressing your wonderfully refreshing perspectives! Write ON!!

  2. I do want to read this book, but it seems to me the historical issue isn’t decisive at all about whether or not poly relationships are good or desirable or acceptable. That is, for a lot the reasons you’ve mentioned – such as more love, happiness, or testosterone – we could still see open or poly relationships as completely sensible even if they had never been part of the lives of earlier humans. And I suppose that even if some practice had been part of an early human lifestyle it wouldn’t necessarily mean we’d be happier doing it today.

    I think it’s interesting to explore that kind of evidence but wouldn’t want to be limited by whatever the story turned out to be about human ancestors.

    • Of course. It’s rational. It makes sense. I didn’t need a biological explanation to show me that, but it does serve as a great validator, if that’s what someone needs.

      The point being that our personal opinions on the subject are irrelevant. It comes down to accepting human nature or denying it.

  3. Hmmm. Maybe this is right, but I have a lot of polyamorous friends, and have seen quite a few of them be unhappy. It was kind of a flipside of what you describe: their partner would convince them that they should accept the open relationship situation in order to be happy, when in reality it was obvious they would have preferred monogamy and were unhappy about his other partners. So I guess I’m saying the problem can go both ways……

    • You mention “…in reality it was obvious they would have preferred monogamy…unhappy about other partners.” I think that admission points out inner confusion of self and needs & wants, and not open/poly relationships. The source of conflict or confusion is all too often projected onto others or systems rather than needed raw introspection and reflection on self. It is easier to do, but in the long run doomed for future repeat…no matter WHAT lifestyle the ‘lost’ person might be involved with. Peace. 🙂

      • I agree, but I think that’s what I’m trying to say: I’m in the unusual situation that in the community of friends I’m involved in, the majority are poly as opposed to monogamous, and I don’t see them as being much happier somehow than monogamous couples. I think some will be happy, some unhappy, regardless of what the system is.

      • Exactly.

    • Here you’re talking about coercion, not a mutual decision. As for whether or not people are “happy” or “unhappy,” the terms are relative. It’s more about what works and what doesn’t work for a couple. There are plenty of poly couples that engage in deception, which is rather against the essence of polyamory, but then it’s against the essence of monogamy, too. There are still imperfect people in these relationships, whether monogamous or polyamorous, and the relationships are only as good as they make them through honesty and communication.

      • I think that what makes a good polyamorous relationship work is what you put in to it to make it work. Not necessarily that you are getting to have sex with other people. It’s the freedom of being able to say, look… I fancy this person. I am comfortable enough with you, who I love and cherish to show you that part of me rather than hide it. Then, once that cat is out of the proverbial bag… you talk about how that makes you both feel. In the end, I never believe that the sex part is what makes poly seem so great, it’s the communication between two people who know they can show their warts to each other and be secure in the knowledge that in the end, they are secure, supported loved and appreciated. The people who say they are poly because one person cheated so they decided to open the relationship up to get “even” frustrates me to no end. There are a lot of reasons people have open relationships… not many of those reasons are right. We are open because we are absolutely secure in one another and very sexual little creatures. I am very curious and like to explore. He encourages it and likes to explore as well. Sometimes together, sometimes apart, but in the end, we come together and talk about everything. It’s the sharing and exploring that makes it special and even erotic sometimes.

        I want to read this book you recommend, but I do have to say that the reasons for women being open and the reasons for men needing to be open are rather one sided, but I might be taking that out of context. Anyway, a pleasure to read as always, darling. Looking forward to the podcast! -T

      • I agree with everything you said. It is about the openness & communication. It’s about sharing together & knowing each other intimately. I actually emphasized this in a podcast I recoded this morning. It’s something that people don’t seem to get at first.

        This book isn’t about Polyamory, really. It’s about the biological and anthropological need for sexual variety, etc. Excellent book. But it doesn’t speak to the essence of Polyamory, mire just about us as sexual beings.

  4. I’m curious as to whether the book mentions asexuality. We asexuals and grey-asexuals are kind of an exception to what biology says, and some of us need that physical relief and many would like some form of companionship. As a grey-asexual, I definitely want to read this book to better understand the needs of my partner, who is heterosexual. I have this tendency to forget that most people probably aren’t as okay with monogamous because sexual attraction happens more than once in a blue moon.

    • I don’t think they did cover asexuals, but you make a very interesting point. I’d love to hear what you think of the book when you’re finished.

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