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FUCK SEX AT DAWN: A Book Review www.fucksexatdawn.wordpress.

com Sex At Dawn claims to "illuminate the true origins and nature of human sexuality…[and to] question the deepest assumptions brought to contemporary views of marriage, family structure, and sexuality." As person in a long term open relationship, I was excited and onboard when I picked up this book because it's endorsed by Dan Savage and based on research of prehistoric cultures and animals. I was ready to learn about human sexuality free from harmful modern narratives. Instead, Sex At Dawn argues for non-monogamy with the very same cultural beliefs that got us trapped here in the first place. If modern monogamy is midnight on the human sexuality clock, Ryan and Jetha's argument takes us back to 10pm–nowhere near dawn. The book argues the base cause of harm to modern families and couples is monogamy. According to the authors, humans did not evolve to be monogamous and female biology is not limited to monogamy while male biology is in opposition to it. These generalizations lead to an argument that must concern itself with proving men are inherently, biologically, incapable of monogamy, yet the idea of evolution itself implies flexibility and no predetermined end goal. To make their claims, the authors must set hard lines between learned behavior and biological behavior. They even mold pop-culture science, observations of contacted primitive peoples, and research of ape anatomy to fit. Authors Ryan and Jetha don't convincingly draw these lines. Within the first 15 pages the concept of egalitarian prehistoric "multiple mating" is made equivalent to patriarchal modern multiple mating ("promiscuity"). While warning that "science all too often grovels at the feet of the dominant culture", they themselves create a picture of human sexuality that reinforces as natural existing cultural constructs foundational to the oppression of women and repression of men. They uncritically incorporate cultural assumptions like the separation of the sexes, the gender binary, and rigid definitions of sex. They too grovel at the feet of the dominant culture by giving flimsy scientific backing to the idea that men have evolved as a distinct gender entitled access to women's bodies. Monogamy itself isn't the problem, culturally enforced and expected monogamy is. In any case, a true evaluation of monogamy should not seek to prove that it's an impossibility for humans, but to investigate our flawed cultural beliefs about sexuality. If we can see monogamy as a construction and separation of sex roles, a better argument would include the deconstruction of sex and gender roles and the unification of human sexuality. Instead, almost all of the authors' arguments hinge on the idea that gender and sex differences are biologically based and that men are rigidly hyper-sexual in comparison to women and they therefore require women to accommodate them. A not crap argument for "promiscuity" should include non-exclusive emotional, in addition to, sexual needs. After all, the different styles of doing it between species of apes could be used as proof for one or all forms of sexual arrangement (monogamy, polygyny, or promiscuity). As Ryan and Jetha note, even groups of chimps seem to vary in the levels of emotional bonds created with sexual partners. All humans are capable of sex with multiple partners that involves a range of emotion–but this doesn't jibe with the whole men as hyper-sexual, women as emotional trope–so its left out. The book begins with an introduction by the male author, Ryan, and from there we really only get his privileged perspective. Female sexuality is seen as a mirror of male desire, constructed for men, rather than simply the sexuality of all humans and the property of individual autonomous women. Ryan sees female "continuous responsiveness" and "copulatory vocalizations" as proof that women should always be available sexual objects for men. This logic asserts that women's sexuality makes no sense without men, because it exists to serve them: "[female] function: provide plentiful sexual opportunities for males." This view is not new, nor outside of our culture, nor prehistoric. Ryan is quick to discuss "hysteria" because his argument is that women's sexuality has been repressed and when "liberated" will inherently be available to men. Women's sexuality has historically been repressed, but sex has also been used to oppress us and Ryan never mentions that. "Frigidity" was another disease created by 1920's male "sexologists" in response to the notion that women, specifically wives, were not liking sex enough. This sudden perception by men came after organized female opposition to prostitution, that, along with the spread of venereal disease, resulted in prostitution rates plummeting. Performed enthusiasm for male-centric sex had, until then, been required of prostitutes, not wives.1 Sex of the kind that leaves out women's sexuality because our bodies have been bought, owned or are being used is the problem, and leads to female sexual repression, not a

lack of sex itself. Sexually liberated women are not biologically bound to be available to men. Real freedom is the ability to say no as well as yes. Sex At Dawn fails in its stated goal, "to question the deepest assumptions brought to contemporary views of … sexuality" when it doesn't discuss sex itself as a male-centric cultural construction. There is a lack of respect for women's myriad oppressions under patriarchy. The authors use terms such as "emasculating," "virginity" and "slutty" as if they are neutral, and even make a rape joke. Yes, that's right, in a book that asks women to make themselves more sexually available, the dude makes a rape joke. This comes during Ryan's discussion of the infamous medical condition "hysteria." He describes doctors who used their power to sexually assault women who feared for their health by routinely masturbating them. Ryan presents this simply as quaint science, even implying that the women enjoyed abuse. Not satisfied, he slips in a bona fide rape joke saying, "This arrangement might strike some readers as the very definition of 'good work if you can get it.'" But don't worry, he can 'prove' the doctors didn't enjoy such predatory practices. How? Doctors' invented industrial masturbating machines in the late 19th century that involved chains, steam, pistons and high pressure water to do the work for them. It would all be laughable, if only it weren't part of a pattern of men minimizing and covering up other men's violence against women and its effects for hundreds of years. Half baked science isn't left to history, though. Ryan argues that testosterone directly controls many masculine behaviors, elevating it to a determining factor in behavior, despite the fact that brain chemistry is one of the newest and least understood sciences of modern times. What the fields of brain science continue to misunderstand is that correlation is not causation. This goes on in Ryan's argument with testosterone, but is also rife in pharmacology. For example sugar cubes work equally as well as Prozac, according to recent studies.2 Ryan fails to account for the fact that all humans have testosterone and estrogen in their bodies. Individual women can even have higher levels of testosterone than individual men, with no correlation to supposed male behavior. The idea that women's sexuality belongs to men, and the attempt to shore up this point with a combination of violence and science is not a "new view," it is a driver of history and current beliefs about sexuality. Ryan even has the gall to offer up the disproportionate existence of "gang bang" porn (multiple men– one woman) to "reverse-gang bang" (multiple women–one man) porn as evidence of male biological resistance to the status quo. This is absurd! The gender disparity in porn consumption has to do with violence, not evolution. Sex involving multiple women and one man is a male fantasy so common as to be cliche and the subject of a lot of porn, I'm sure. But the term "gang bang" itself is a thinly veiled euphemism for rape in which power over someone is sexualized. It makes sense then, that women don't enjoy any form of "gang bang" porn and men don't enjoy seeing the roles reversed. I'm sure if Ryan had asked Jetha she could have told him that women don't consume "gang bang" porn because they don't get off on violence. For women its not a fantasy, its reality. 1 in 4 women will be raped in the US, while in Cambodia, 61% of male university students admit to having participated in the gang bang rape of vulnerable women who transgress traditional female roles.3 Porn itself has extremely negatively transformed the sexual practices of traditional societies, like Australian aboriginal and Papau New Guinea cultures. In Papau New Guniea since the introduction of porn, 65% of women report having been raped, and 50% of those rapes are gang bangs. 4 Could learned behavior also debunk Ryan's assertions that women are biologically determined to vocalize, apparently louder than men, during sex? In a culture that fetishizes violence it makes sense that men might have a stake in, and enjoy, the blurring of the lines between sounds of pleasure and pain. It follows that we might socialize women to make noises that approximate screaming and/or glorify men. In addition, pornified sex has probably added to the perception that it is normal for women to vocalize excessively, and in the modern world of mass media and global economy this phenomena might be found in many industrialized countries (Ryan cites the US and Japan among others). Ryan even mentions anecdotal evidence telling us that in same sex couples that have a "feminine" partner, that person is the louder one. Ryan fails to see this clearly points to the fact that these vocalizations are socialized behavior, not biological. Underlying Ryan's theory of "copulatory vocalizations" is the idea of "sperm competition." Supposedly, females evolved to display "copulatory vocalizations" in order to call other males to the scene so that their sperm can compete. Never mind that females vocalize/orgasm more often than not when there is no penis in their vagina and

thus no likelihood of pregnancy or sperm competition. All humans vocalize as a way to communicate with their sex partners without words. Only a rapist would think that hearing someone orgasm is equal to an invitation to put their dick in that person's body. Pre-historic women controlled their fertility in a way that we can't imagine today because our culture has constructed the very definition of sex as 'putting a penis in a vagina' and virtually made it mandatory. Sex can be anything form mutual masturbation to dry humping. With this realization sperm competition theory really doesn't hold water because the assumption that all sexually active women will "eventually" become pregnant–part of Ryan's argument for it–is patently false. It relies on our modern notion of sex as only a penis in a vagina. Even though the oppressive nature of marriage and the nuclear family are clear to Ryan, he's not arguing for the dissolution of those institutions–just monogamy. Despite cultural tropes around marriage as “emasculating,” it is actually an institution created by men for men to consolidate wealth (read: property and women). What is "emasculating" about the institution of marriage is modern women's new power to choose partners, and then, as equals, make vows of love and monogamy. This real expectation by women that men keep their word is an extremely small concession of power, yet is in and of itself offensive to the male mind, as evidenced in Ryan. The 'secret' of marriage is that it was never really about monogamy for men, but about control over women. Essentially, the argument in Sex at Dawn, is for a reclamation of power for men, a step back towards this 'simpler time'. Ryan loyalty to the concept of the gender binary shows when he argues for a separation of emotion from sex. He patronizingly explains to women that men need to have novel physical intimacy without emotional intimacy, "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." This comes off as an apology for men who lie to and risk the health of women, "squander[ing] family and fortune for a woman whose principal attraction was her novelty." Sticking up for men who do such things, Ryan argues for "promiscuous" male hetero sex that does not involve empathy for the women who participate. He even argues that men who feel an emotional attachment to the women they cheat with are confusing a biological need for novelty with love. Overlooking the idea that emotional attachment to sex partners can take many forms and strengths, not just monogamous love Ryan reveals his true view of women as "virgin/whores." He also seems to be operating under a very modern 'starvation model' of emotion and love–that they are scarce resources reserved for wives or spouses. Yet "multiple-mating" prehistoric people show us that it is possible to have sex with multiple partners who are an integral part of your community and quite emotionally close. These people aren't novel in the same way that Ryan describes a novel woman. The internal logic of his argument expects biologically, irrevocably, emotionally-sexual woman to have emotionless sex with uncontrollably hypersexual men. Ryan barely modifies the existing cultural trope that claims men need to annihilate women in order to fully express their sexuality. Taking emotion out of human interaction is dehumanizing. Prostitutes are paid, after all, to disassociate emotionally from their bodies while they are having sex. A desire for unemotional sex is actually a desire for human interaction without the burden of empathy–of seeing someone as human. Which brings us to one reason modern men might experience this need for novelty. An ex-prostitute and radical working class woman, Toby Summer, describes quite well what men actually search for, "men as a class find it exciting to use force and coercion… That is, the more we like each other and the more actual respect we have, the less dominance and submission is left, and therefore sexual feelings are not aroused as easily."5 Some monotony in marriage may occur because over time men see their partners as more and more human and no longer feel the thrill of conquest. All humans might biologically prefer sexual novelty. But the only biological difference between men and women when it comes to sexual promiscuity and novelty is that women aren't afflicted by cultural teachings that tell us we are entitled to bodies for sex. The weight falls on men to reform their ideas. Many men in polyamorous6 relationships explicitly say that it is emotional intimacy with multiple partners that they desire first and foremost, not sex.7 Polyamorous men care about all their partners, often in differing degrees, and in partnerships lasting different lengths of time. The polyamorous community advocates open communication and negotiation so that you never put the people you love or have sex with at risk for STD's without their consent. This seems closer to egalitarian "multiple mating," yet its only mentioned once, briefly and abstractly, by Ryan. He comes up short in the first chapter trying to find a word to describe what modern multiple mating might look like. "Non-monongamy" or "polyamory" would

have been good choices, even "swinging"8 would have been more descriptive. His choice to use the word "promiscuity" belies his true agenda. Unveiling that agenda, Ryan goes on to say, "greater female sexual availability could increase sharing, cooperation and peaceful stability." This is an idiotic idea. Ryan doesn't make any effort to remind us that patriarchy has historically created an underclass of sexually available women that still exists today by systematically committing violence and oppression against them. The only context in which simply increasing female sexual availability might have positive effects is in an egalitarian society–as seen in prehistory. And it would be the choice of autonomous women, not the idea of men or an argument based on biological determinism. Egalitarianism must come first, otherwise we exacerbate the existing problem in which the sexual availability of women means rape, prostitution, slavery and women who do not have a space to safely explore their sexuality. We live in a world where men feel it is OK to purchase access to women's bodies rather than earning it by treating women like humans. Where the average age of a prostitute in NYC is 14 years old. Where the most sexually available women are the least safe and the most likely to get pregnant. That's what modern female sexual availability looks like. As long as sex in our culture is under patriarchy's thumb, unwanted pregnancies and overpopulation will continue. These are problems not faced by many prehistoric societies, who lived in balance with their environment. This necessitated female autonomy, and women carefully and easily controlled their fertility. The idea that prehistoric population was controlled by a brutal environment or lack of medicine is antiquated–even Ryan admits this. This call for female sexual availability in a modern context (without mentioning that it requires men to first give up political and social power) is asking women for an endorsement of further oppression. Ryan has come full circle back to "the standard narrative…[in which] men and women have evolved to trick one another while selfishly pursuing zero-sum, mutually antagonistic agendas–even though this demands the betrayal of the people we claim to love most sincerely." Except that this suggestion–that men require novel female sexual availability and that women should provide it at their peril–isn't mutually antagonistic, it's just antagonistic to women. It's clear: oppressed women, neglected children, overpopulation and homophobia are still at the core of Ryan's supposedly evolution based "solution" to modern sexual and familial ills. Lessening divorce rates seems to be part of the agenda. However, according to Sarah Carter, a specialist in Canadian Indigenous history, "the relative ease with which divorce can be acquired today reach[es] back to those [aboriginal] traditions." 9 Flexible divorce, and thus higher divorce rates, can be seen as a gain for women, a more equal redistribution of power within marriage. Unsurprisingly, Ryan would like to keep his hetero male wealth and privilege consolidated, thank you. He'd also like his partner's permission to take advantage of the female underclass while she, perhaps, fulfills her feminine function by providing "plentiful sexual opportunities for males." Female desire, apart from males and for its own sake, is conspicuously and tragically missing throughout the whole book. It's almost as if Jetha's name is on the spine only to add cred in the minds of female readers. I'm not buying it. Even in public interviews, like on The Savage Love Podcast, only Ryan's voice is heard and it only says one thing clearly, 'you must let men pursue multiple sexual partners under whatever conditions we specify.' Why does Ryan waste his effort trying to prove that this is natural? So that women, including his co-author and partner, will see it as liberating theory and willingly sign their names to it. That way nothing much has to actually change.

1 Stephanie Coontz. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York: Basic Books, 1992). 2 Begley, Sharon."The Depressing News About Antidepressants", Newsweek, January 29, 2010. Accessed at http:// www.newsweek.com/2010/01/28/the-depressing-news-about-antidepressants.html 3 Shireen J. Jejeebhoy, Iqbal Shah and Shyam Thapa, eds., Sex Without Consent. Young People in Developing Countries, (London: Zed Press, 2005).

4 Sheila Jeffreys, The Industrial Vagina and The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade (New York:Routelage, 2009), 84-5. 5 Toby Summer, "Women, Lesbians and Prostitution: A Workingclass Dyke Speaks Out Against Buying Women for Sex" in Julia Penelope and Susan Wolfe, eds., Lesbian Culture Anthology (Crossing Press, 1993). Accessed at http://www.feministreprise.org/docs/summer.htm

6 A polyamorous relationship is a romantic relationship that involves more than two people. "The individual relationships within a polyamorous group may be very complex, as well. In many cases, there may be one 'primary' couple--a husband and wife, for example. Either or both of those people may have outside lovers, but those relationships are 'secondary' in the sense that they involve less involvement in the partners' day-to-day lives than, say, a marriage does...Or, the polyamorous relationship may be such that each individual relationship is as important as all the others, and no single couple is 'primary.'"Accessed at http://www.xeromag.com 7 "Polyamory isn't free love. All these different flavors of polyamory have their own dynamic, but ultimately, they are all about building relationships, not about sex. Okay, so they are about sex as well… But the point is, it isn't just the sex." Accessed at http:// www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html 8 Swingers focus on recreational sex that involves little emotional attachment. Within the swinging community women dominate and call the shots. Often the sex is somewhat public so that the community can police each other and maintain an environment is very low pressure to ensure women's ability to consent or say no. In these ways men have actually given up power in that space so that women can feel safe to participate. Otherwise it would be like every other sleazy pick up bar, where women don't feel safe and men just sit around staring at each other, wondering where all the women are. 9 Sarah Carter, The Importance of Being Monogamous: Marriage and Nation Building In Western Canada to 1915, (Edmonton: AU Press, 2008).