The Culture of Sex

ID_BS_CRISP_DAWN_AP_001 Jessa Crispin reviews Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, in The Smart Set:

I largely agree with the thesis that we have built our relationships around ideas that are actually toxic — that lifelong monogamy is not only an achievable goal but the absolute ideal, that infidelity must be met with swift divorce or else you are a doormat, that deviation from this template means there is something wrong with you. Yet while reading Sex at Dawn I was angry, frustrated, and bored, not to mention bewildered that grown adults striving to be taken seriously would write in a never ending torrent of puns — the names of the chapters alone (from “Who’s Your Daddies?” to “Mommies Dearest”) are a table of contents of horrors. Their simplistic ideas, their denial of the dark side of sexuality, seemed no better than my junior high belief in the brutal force of male sexuality. The truth lies somewhere between “men oppress women with their uncontrollable needs” and “women oppress men with their socially constructed monogamous love.”

Ryan and Jethá are not just writing a book of anthropology — they want to change modern marriage. They are not researchers, but a psychologist and a psychiatrist, respectively. Their idea of real world application, then, will say a lot about the book as a whole, as it reveals their agenda. Men need sex. Lots of it. With lots of different women. And this final chapter of the book tilts the balance heavily. Young men, newly charged with hormones, need sex in order to keep from becoming violent. As an example, they mention a society in which a special house is established so adolescent boys and girls can engage in sex freely. (Never mind the studies that report that early sexualization of girls is harmful to them, such as Harold Leitenberg’s study that showed the younger girls started having sex, the more likely they were to engage in drug and alcohol use and suffer from depression. Ryan and Jethá don’t mention those.) And for women who are not comfortable with the idea of allowing their husbands to fool around on the side, the authors have some guilt for them:

Monogamy itself seems to drain away a man’s testosterone… 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 continue, “We know that many female readers aren’t going to be happy reading this, and some will be enraged by it, but for most men, sexual monogamy leads inexorably to monotony.” And death, apparently. Despite their evidence that women’s orgasms and sexual needs are fulfilled by multiple partners, one after the other, there is no corresponding “Men aren’t going to like hearing this, but your wives are going to need to bang the entire German World Cup team — this is what she needs it to be fully orgasmic.”