Sex at Dawn: The Book That Claims The Evolution Of Monogamy Was Not A Natural Progression
February 16, 2018|Andrea Mejía
So, it seems monogamy isn't as "natural" as you'd think.
Today I’m going to share with you a great piece of advice a teacher gave me in college. She told me, “Never defend your arguments saying ‘X thing is natural’ because nature is so strange it will find a way to prove you wrong.” What she meant was that we don’t have the absolute truth of the universe because there are so many things about it that we don’t know or haven’t discovered yet. Therefore, new discoveries or research end up proving wrong what we believed was true or “natural” for years, if not centuries. I mean, that’s basically what happened to Galileo Galilei when he stated that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not the other way around. I mention my teacher’s words because they came to my mind when I first heard of the book I’m going to tell you about. The thing with this book is that it shatters centuries, if not millennia, of beliefs stating that monogamy is the “natural” way for humanity to love and have sex.
The book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality is a thorough study that focuses on a question that has haunted many for thousands of years: is humanity naturally monogamous? According to the book’s authors, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, not really. This isn’t a mere scientific study stating that because our brain has X features it will react in a particular way. Instead this is a sociological study to understand the evolution of monogamy and our perception of the “natural” way for humanity to act. Contrary to some species of penguins and swans, who mate for life, Ryan and Jethá state that humanity recurred to monogamy as societies were more established.
One of the main arguments people used to explain the “naturality” of monogamy was the fact that sex, besides its reproductive purposes, also worked as an exchange: a woman decides to have sex with one man, and the man, knowing the woman is only bearing his children, will take care of her and her children. I know, this sounds like the type of theory that also encourages women to stay home, take care of children, and only have sex to be pregnant because that’s the role that nature gave them. But guess what? Mother Nature is a badass and granted us something that not every living creature has: the ability to enjoy sex, so it isn’t just a simply reproductive act we do to continue our species.
This last feature, according to Ryan and Jethá, is what disproves the theory that monogamy was humanity’s obvious path to reproduce and survive. On the contrary, they sustain that the role of sex in humanity’s evolution is much more complex. Besides reproduction, the pleasure factor of sex can also turn this action into a way to bond. Therefore, they say it was more likely that in the first human groups sex was used as a means to form non-monogamous communities where everyone would help raise each others’ progeny. It didn’t really matter who fathered the children because, in the end, the offspring would be from fertile men and women in the community that would inherit those traits in the following generation, and so on. In evolutionary terms, it makes more sense that men and women would try to have children with different people from the same community so the following generation will be stronger and possess more abilities to survive rather than remaining with the same partner for a lifetime.
The book isn’t meant to say monogamy is “unnatural,” but it opens our eyes to the fact that it is actually a product of society, not based on evolutionary needs but on the rules that started shaping civilization as we know it nowadays. Also, this book doesn’t intend to defend cheating, but rather it invites people to stops judging polyamorous or open relationships by saying they go against nature. On the contrary, as I said at the beginning, nature keeps revealing new discoveries that prove we’re far from really understanding it. So, in the end, the main message of Sex at Dawn is, instead of judging, just let others be and live their sex lives as they want because that’s actually what nature gave us, the possibility to have a pleasurable and fulfilling sex life.
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Photos by Lukasz Wierzbowski