When we think of the first swinger parties most of us imagine 1970s counter-culture, we don’t picture Top Gun fighter pilots in World War II. Yet, according to researchers Joan and Dwight Dixon, it was on military bases that “partner swapping” first originated in the United States. As the group with the highest casualty rate during the war, these elite pilots and their wives “shared each other as a kind of tribal bonding ritual” and had an unspoken agreement to care for one another if a woman’s husband didn’t make it back home. Like the sexy apes known as bonobos, this kind of open sexuality served a social function that provided a way to relieve stress and form long-lasting bonds.The article is filled with strange facts presumably from the book under review. The problem with an article like this: how can you tell what the truth is?
For example, I find this factoid completely unbelievable:
As an example they detail how in 1902 the first home-use vibrator was patented and approved for domestic use in the United States. Fifteen years later there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes.Sorry, that doesn't fit my knowledge of that era. Sure there were groups and cults of "free love" but the majority of people were living under a Victorian view of sexuality and vibrators just didn't fit that mind set.
Assuming I ever get my hands on the book I would expect it to be heavily document to back up its claims. But my prejudice is that it isn't or that the references are obscure and not credible.
While I'm for removing the heavy hand of repressive sex laws, I this this is over the top:
Among apes the only monogamous species are the gibbons whose infrequent, reproduction-only copulations make them much better adherents of the Vatican’s guidelines than we are. In this way, Ryan and Jethá argue, repressing our sexuality should not be confused with reining in an “animal” nature; rather, it is denying one of the most unique aspects of what it means to be human.I think sex researchers need to get out into the broader community. I do know that Alfred Kinsey had a problem with signing up over-enthusiastic sex fanatics as the "subjects" of his supposedly scientific study of human sex. So his data is skewed. It strikes me that this couple suffer the same problem with their data. Simply put: humans don't behave like Bonobos. We don't behave like Chimpanzees either. My judgement: We are mostly monogamous with some extra-marital copulations and with a significant subset of the population (single digit percent) who are hyper-sexual.
I simply don't think there is real data to back up this claim:
However, by looking at modern indigenous societies and comparing the findings of anthropologists with the latest results in behavioral psychology and biology, Ryan and Jethá piece together a remarkably coherent pattern from an otherwise fractured understanding of human sexuality. From societies that believe that multiple men are necessary for a successful pregnancy (what researchers refer to as “partible paternity”) to those where not having an extra-marital tryst will cause a man to be labeled “stingy of one’s genitals” by his female suitors, the authors conclude that marriage may be an established social arrangement among many hunter-gatherers but it’s one in which sexuality is decidedly fluid.This reminds me of the claims that Margaret Mead made in her "study" of "primitives". Her claims have since been debunked. She "found" the answers that matched her prejudice (and her wish to find "exciting" new human relationship styles). It wasn't science. But it made popular reading. I suspect this book is more "popular reading" and not much real science.
This is one book I would be especially skeptical about its claims. It is too easy to publish sensationalistic "material" to boost sales (or to boost a career).
I find this conclusion by the reviewer to be telling:
While the authors’ conclusion that healthy relationships can be both committed and open may come as a shock to some readers, others will likely find it refreshingly honest.In short, the reviewer sounds more like a propagandist for a point of view expressed in this book that an objective scientist. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
Update 2010aug11: Here is a bit from a quickie review of the book Sex at Dawn on the Gizmodo blog site:
In Sex at Dawn, Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá put to lie the notion of sexual monogamy as something intrinsically human, arguing we gave up sexual novelty for agriculture. "Agriculture" probably means "beer". We gave up orgies for beer?The "review" is a bit light hearted, but it takes this book seriously and at face value. It doesn't question the claim that at heart we are sexy Bonobos who got side-tracked by agriculture into an over-zealous commitment to monogamy. Here's how Gizmodo distills the message:
Our genes, still tuned toward sexual novelty, cause us to really hate being monogamous, but societal pressures—including centralized codified religion—force men and women into an arrangement that brings with it just as many problems as it solves. Men cheat, women wither in sexual shackles (or, you know, cheat), wars erupt over resources or sexual exclusivity, cats and dogs almost start sleeping together except they're afraid the neighbors might find out—Old Testament, real wrath of God-type stuff.I don't buy it. We are basically monogamous with an alpha male hierarchy which gives a dash of polygamy to our "nature" since dominant males can cut corners and redefine rules to their favour.
Update 2010aug15: Here is a bit from an article by Carl Zimmer that establishes that humans have less "wild sex" than chimpanzees. This goes contrary to the thesis that Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá are advocating in their book:
Scientists have noted for a long time that the Y chromosome has been shrinking for hundreds of millions of years. Its decline has to do with how it is copied each generation. Out of the 23 pairs of our chromosomes, 22 have the same structure, and as a result they swap some genes as they are put into sperm or egg cells. Y chromosomes do not, because their counterpart, the X, is almost completely incompatible. My Y chromosome is thus a nearly perfect clone of my father’s. Mutations can spread faster when genes are cloned than when they get mixed together during recombination. As a result, many pieces of the Y chromosome have disappeared over time, and many Y genes that once worked no longer do.You can add to this the fact that there is less dimorphism between males and females in the human species which is another indicator that we are a fairly strongly monogamous species.
Scientists have discovered that Clint and his fellow chimpanzee males have taken a bigger hit on the Y than humans have. In the human lineage, males with mutations to the Y chromosome have tended to produce less offspring than those without them. (This is a process known as purifying selection, because it strips out variations.) But the scientists found several broken versions of these genes on the chimpanzee Y chromosome.
Why are chimpanzees suffering more genetic damage? The authors of the study suggest that it has to do with their sex life. A chimpanzee female may mate with several males when she is in oestrus, and so mutations that give one male’s sperm an edge over other males are ben strongly favored by selection. If there are harmful mutations elsewhere on that male’s Y chromosome, they may hitchhike along. We humans are not so promiscuous, and the evidence is in our Y chromosome.
As far as I know, male genitalia size is not an indicator of much of anything. The only "fact" that I know is that gorillas have a small penis because the males control a harem so there isn't much sperm competition. Human genitalia indicates that there is some limited sperm competition, but we all know this "fact" already from stories about marital infidelity. But infidelity isn't rampant. For all the claims that humans are a "sexy" species, I don't see the evidence of that. You don't trip over humans copulating in the hallways or behind the door of every closet. Copulations are pretty rare.