Why we are lusty libertines
The West Australian September 16, 2010
If you think fidelity is the fibre that's holding your fraying relationship together, think again. It could in fact be that nagging little hang thread that caused it to unravel in the first place. Humans, you see, have evolved to be "shamelessly, undeniably, inescapably sexual".
We are, according to authors and partners Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, "Lusty libertines. Rakes, rogues and roues. Tomcats and sex kittens. Horndogs. Bitches in heat." And monogamy, this controversial pair says, is a shackle many of us choose to wear - a socially acceptable form of self-sabotage that in many cases destroys marriages rather than enhances them.
Sex at Dawn is a fascinating, funny and unflinching look at the history and evolution of human sexuality. It sets about debunking a whole range of sexual myths and challenges some of the central themes of modern-day relationships.
And it ponders some carnal curiosities, too. Like why, compared to our more hirsute relatives, we humans are so ridiculously sexually well-endowed, why women have "pendulous" breasts and indulge in "copulatory vocalisation".
Why, with the advent of agriculture - which author Jared Diamond said was "a catastrophe from which we've never recovered" - we've evolved from a species that enjoyed free and friendly love to a patriarchal society that views woman as child-bearing chattels who have sex because they have to (not, God forbid, because they might want to).
Ryan, a research psychologist, reckons we take sex way too seriously. Even the word on a page might cause a casual reader to recoil involuntarily. SEX. See? Because of the sensitive nature of the topic, Ryan and Jetha knew they needed to approach it with humour - a concept their publishers initially struggled with.
"As first-time authors everyone expected us to do as we were told but we had a very clear sense of what we wanted to write and I've taught quite a bit and in my experience the best way to hold someone's attention is to keep them laughing," Ryan says. "The other reason we thought it important to keep it light was because a lot of people feel emotionally threatened by the material, so if we could charm them a little bit maybe they would listen to us - at least long enough to see that it's not as threatening as maybe they thought."
The couple's playful approach works well in what could have been a rather confronting chapter discussing why females are such noisy lovemakers. We have sprung, they say, from thousands of generations of "multiple maters" and the "copulation call" is an ancient tool used to incite other potential suitors and provoke "sperm competition". Men, on the other hand, don't need to bother.
"If you're one of the 10 or 15 people alive who have never seen Meg Ryan's fake orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally, go watch it now (it's easily accessible online)," they write.
"It's one of the best-known scenes in all of modern cinema but if the roles were reversed, the scene wouldn't be funny - it wouldn't even make sense. Imagine: Billy Crystal sits at the restaurant table, he starts breathing harder, maybe his eyes bug out a bit, he grunts a few times, takes a few bites of his sandwich, and falls asleep. No big laughs. Nobody in the deli even notices."
Despite the playful language, the proposition is serious: Sex at Dawn turns on its head the very foundation and definition of relationships in modern society - monogamy isn't part of our programming and we're constantly ruining things by confusing love and lust.
And while their theory on monogamy is not new, it's got a new audience in the increasing number of couples struggling with failing marriages.
"Once you understand that the terms of success are completely stacked against you, you know, lots of people are in potentially perfectly wonderful relationships but they're destroying them because they're disappointed and angry that it's not what they saw on some movie 20 years ago and that's really hurting a lot of people," Ryan says. "Obviously we're really focused on couples but the people we're really concerned about are kids, they've got nothing to do with any of this and, 'oh, daddy and mummy aren't going to live together because they're not getting laid enough'. Are you kidding? That's ridiculous!”
And the couple has anticipated the inevitable questions about their own relationship. Do they indulge their primal urges to "multiple mate"?
"Cacilda and I worked out a stock answer to those questions which is that our relationship is informed by our research. We don't discuss details publicly and we encourage other people not to as well."
- Sex at Dawn
- Reader Responses
- Sex Therapists' Take
- Carnal Nation
- New Zealand Listener
- The West Australian
- Austin Examiner
- NY Post
- Washington Post
- Washington Post 2
- Toronto Globe & Mail
- Sydney Herald
- The Humanist
- Times of London
- Scotland Herald
- Marie Claire
- Science & Religion
- Fab Over Fifty
- More Media Mentions
- Other Languages
- The Authors/FAQ
- NSFW Reader Photos