April 10, 2011–
I just returned from the annual spring meeting of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research (SSTAR). The Society gathers leading sex clinicians and researchers from all over the country and the world, and features the most recent developments in sexual science and practice.
As a member of SSTAR’s Consumer Book Award committee, I had the privilege of helping present the award this year to Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, authors of the New York Times Bestseller Sex at Dawn. Readers of this blog may recall our discussion of Sex at Dawn on these pages, in ‘Will Sex at Dawn influence sex therapy?” and in our interview with Chris Ryan.
The following is excerpted from my remarks at the presentation ceremony at SSTAR this year:
Last summer on twitter, I started to hear about a new book, Sex at Dawn, that Dan Savage was calling the most significant new book on sex since Kinsey.
The authors of Sex at Dawn — American psychologist Chris Ryan and his wife, Portuguese psychiatrist Cacilda Jetha — were unknown to the American sex therapy and research community. Turns out they’d been living more or less under the radar screen — in Barcelona, of all places — while working for the past decade on Sex at Dawn. And now they’d sprung their book on the world.
When the Award Committee members got a chance to review the book, each working independently without consulting the others, Sex at Dawn was the unanimous choice for the Award this year.
What is it about Sex at Dawn that’s so important?
It turns out that in almost all our discussions about sexuality, there’s been an unspoken assumption: That sex is a scarce resource.
Modern evolutionary psychology, in what’s become more or less its standard narrative, is a theory of scarcity. Men competing for power and dominance, with the winner gaining access to the most desirable women.
And women competing to display signs of youth and fertility, with the winners gaining access to the most powerful men.
Sex at Dawn invites us to imagine an alternative. A time in the history of our species, when sex was not a scarce resource. When there was enough sex for everyone.
What time was that? Roughly the entire history of the human species, up to the dawn of agriculture about 10,000 years ago — which according to the authors wrecked everything.
Sex at Dawn argues that for most of human history, the concept of ownership hadn’t yet developed. Nomadic pre-agricultural men and women shared everything. They had to, to survive.
It wasn’t Fred and Wilma in their stone homestead, with Barney and Betty next door. It was Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty and the whole little tribe of 100 or so individuals — sharing all their resources, including their sexual ones.
According to Sex at Dawn, we might say, with apologies to Leonore Tiefer — Monogamy is Not a Natural Act.
This is obviously an important and timely message. A lot of people have been saying the same thing lately. But Sex at Dawn presents the argument in a new and powerful way that leaves very little room for doubt.
Although the book is receiving the Consumer Book Award, it’s essential reading for clinical sexuality professionals as well. At least so we know what our patients are reading. And more importantly, to enhance our empathy for individuals who are having trouble with monogamy — which, Sex at Dawn reminds us, is not a natural act.
The Consumer Book Award Committee had hoped that Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha would be able to travel to Palm Beach to the SSTAR Annual Meeting to accept their award.
Since they couldn’t make it to Florida, they did the next best thing. They recorded their acceptance speech on YouTube. You can see it there now — http://ow.ly/4wYag.
Two years from now in 2013, SSTAR will present its next Consumer Book Award. Hurry and get your manuscripts into publication!
© Stephen Snyder, MD 2011
New York City