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Sex at Dawn

How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships

By Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
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Sex at Dawn: How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

Sex At Dawn argues that the idealization of monogamy in Western societies is essentially incompatible with human nature. The book makes a compelling case for our innately promiscuous nature by exploring the history and evolution of human sexuality, with a strong focus on our primate ancestors and the invention of agriculture. Arguing that our distorted view of sexuality ruins our health and keeps us from being happy, Sex At Dawn explains how returning to a more casual approach to sex could benefit interpersonal relationships and societies in general.

This is a Blinkist staff pick

“The authors approach the concept of 'lust' and 'love' in a unique way–scientific yet surprisingly human. A profound, delightful read that will rid you of self-doubt.”

– Sira, Influencer Manager

“The blinks to Sex at Dawn blew my mind. They gave me a deeper understanding of human sexuality and how it has evolved until today. I look at human relationships with a whole new set of eyes.”

– Therese, Video Producer at Blinkist

Key idea 1 of 10

Humans evolved in small, hyper-sexual communities where casual sex was the norm.

How many people have you ever had sex with?

Can you count on one hand? Did you have to reach for a pen and paper?

Whatever the case, the likelihood is that the figure you came up with would fall several dozen short of the typical hunter-gatherer’s score. Indeed, in the tribes of our early ancestors, and even in certain indigenous communities today, sexual promiscuity was the rule.


Because sharing in prehistoric communities was mandatory – including sexual favors.

Prior to the invention of agriculture just a couple thousand years ago, humans lived in nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes. These societies were tiny, rarely exceeding 150 people. In these close-knit societies, the obligatory sharing of food, shelter and child-care responsibilities was essential to the survival of the group and its individual members.

Sex, too, was considered a community resource, and both males and females would engage in sexual intercourse with whomever they desired. In other words, it was a multi-male-multi-female mating system, and it was an effective way to keep people relaxed, amiable and cooperative.

Such societies faded long ago, for the most part. However, the legacy of their promiscuous behavior has been evident in human cultures ever since.

Since the invention of agriculture, many cultures and religions have attempted to diminish our desire for sex and promote monogamy, via strict codes of conduct and harsh punishments for promiscuity. Nevertheless, the human sex drive continues to express itself.

For example, the Romans considered monogamy – the life-long sexual pairing of individuals – to be unnatural, even in marriage. As a result, it was customary for the bride to take part in an orgy just before the wedding took place, attempting to appease Mother Nature for the unnatural (monogamous) life she’d chosen to live.

And today, there are still some tribes who engage in similar practices. For example, the Warao of Venezuela and Guyana participate in rituals that allow adults to temporarily suspend their ordinary relationships to have sex with whomever they like.

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