Neil Strauss On Sex at Dawn

Neil StraussNeil32 Comments

Sexuality, few subjects can leave even adults asking an orgy of question…

Is it just sex or is there more? Where does it stem from? What is it? Why is it? And is monogamy truly part of human nature?

To answer our questions, looking to the evolution of a thing is often the best way to understand it. It’s difficult to know where you are if you don’t know where you came from.

So take your time, do it slowly, let it caress your mind, and have your questions (if burning seek medical attention) answered by VT’s executive summary of…

Crowdsourced Reading Project #10

Sex At Dawn


­Motto: “The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.” (Honoré De Balzac)

Some of the questions answered in this summary:

  • What is jealousy?
  • What is it to be in love?
  • How to be a lot more fulfilled sexually?
  • Why men ejaculate prematurely and what is the natural way to handle this?
  • Are we meant to be monogamous?

What Sex at Dawn teaches the reader has huge implications on our everyday lives: It helps us better understand modern sexuality. It’s a long writing full of facts on the real inherent human nature that has shaped our society, and it’s all backed by thorough research.

The flaws of the Alpha Male Theory

The common description of our ancestors’ tribal lives is utterly wrong: There was no alpha male, and nobody could force the others into anything, as in that case they simply could ostracize the person and walk away. During most of our evolution, there was no scarcity of any kind of food (!), so nobody was indispensable for gathering or hunting it. The second reason that clarifies the error of the Alpha Male Theory is that almost no man has a strong enough will to keep to monogamy or celibacy, e.g. no matter how grave the consequences, presidents, priests and husbands get caught every day. (And women as well…) It’s evident, that we humans are social creatures; therefore we surely lived in tribes. There was absolutely no way to keep track of every person any given time, so they could have no way of knowing who is having sex with whom. Possessing each other sexually was impossible.

Therefore, it is wrong to look at women as ‘prostitutes’ and men as providers and guardians. Sex is great for everybody, and it had not much to do with sharing food and protection. Family planning was especially non-existent. In fact there was no family, but the whole tribe was like an ideal big family: rarely up to 150 people, sharing everything, bringing up the children together, everybody knew everybody, shared the same values and much more similar interests than today, nobody wanted to seriously compete with the others etc. We are not made to compete, but to cooperate! As perishable food couldn’t be cooled and because it took very little effort to acquire food, they happily shared it (which they expected from each other too). In these circumstances a high level of empathy and the will to give naturally develops in every member of the community and ill-will barely occurs if ever. As mostly they lived together happily and knew each other well, why would it? Also, someone guilty of acting against the welfare of who the person lived with, could have been found out easily in a small group of people. Humankind is not inherently wicked. We are the victims of our collective, self-made circumstances and cultures.

Paradise and the beginning of the new age

“We are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you any different.” (Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

We think we are lucky to live in these modern times, with all these gadgets, running water, online shopping, etc, but we are wrong!

  • Before agriculture began, our ancestors regularly roamed. This ensured a varied and plentiful diet with very little effort.
  • Sex only happened for the fun of it, and was not regulated needlessly, so it was abundant, and their lives didn’t revolve around it. Aggression rarely formed in people because there was no sex deprivation.
  • The whole tribe parented all the children so they were never a big burden on any mother; they grew up psychologically healthy, and didn’t have the disadvantage of growing up in a broken family.
  • According to fossil evidence, sickness was also very rare; and contrary to the common belief, people often lived to a ripe old age.
  • As they didn’t interact with as many people as we are in the present, they knew each other very well, and were a lot less different from each other. This allowed for joyful social interactions all day long.
  • Their pretty stress-free lives let them be playful all throughout their lives (different source).

Humans lived like this over millions of years up until the dawn of agriculture and husbandry, roughly 10 000 years ago. (And in some hidden parts of the world, even until today!)

Agriculture depends on the weather, the farmer’s expertise, the lack of pests, weeds and diseases; therefore famines became regular. This scarcity made selfishness became common and drove people into living in families and have private properties. The husband wanted to make sure, that he is working hard to provide food for his own children, and female coyness came to life. This process constructed monogamy, which had never existed before!

Women Are Malleable

Women’s attitudes towards sex and their sexual behaviors are very malleable, not ingrained in their instincts so deeply as men’s. These are formed by the culture they grow up in and by individuals who they feel close and look up to, such as their families, friends and boyfriends. Even if this is not what they feel (and some may be furious to hear it), there is ample proof supporting it: nuns’ actual celibacy, harems in the past, polygamy, polyamory (living in a sexually liberal community) in numerous societies.

This has three very important results:

  • They can adept to monogamy to a lot higher extent than men. (And they don’t understand why men cannot.)
  • As nowadays people’s sets of values are very diverse, women develop different and different preferences in choosing partners. For this reason, if a guy wants to attract a certain girl, physical attraction often doesn’t amount to much. The key is to understand what makes her tick, and to act accordingly.
  • Women’s conscious and subconscious judgments of sexual events are proven to be almost entirely independent from each other. Their conscious choices often don’t correspond to what arouse them.

Men are not this adaptable: “To avoid the genetic stagnation that would have dragged our ancestors into extinction long ago, males evolved a strong appetite for sexual novelty and a robust aversion to the overly familiar.” Women also tend to be instinctually more attracted to the ‘mystical stranger’ over an old friend, and often over the long term partner as well. This appetite for novelty is really important to avoid incest.

Sex at Dawn

“Is sex dirty? Only when it’s being done right.” (Woody Allen)

While foragers, humans’ sex lives were not only entirely free, but even more different: orgies were the common form!


  • Women groan very loudly during sex. The function of this was to call other males to have sex with her too. Such loud vocalizations are less common among monogamous species.
  • Women need a lot more time to reach orgasm than men. Multiple men can make her reach that point effortlessly. Men were not encouraged to try and prolong the intercourse. Surely women enjoyed sex more back in those days, which made them keener on having sex and also more often.
  • Sex between only two people would have made female multiple orgasms superfluous.
  • It arouses people, but perhaps men even more, to see others having sex. If you think about it, it’s not that obvious. If we had been monogamous, wouldn’t it be much more logical if the same sight made a guy instinctively aggressive?
  • Human testicles are much larger and human semen also contain a lot more sperm cells then monogamous species’ ones.
  • Monogamy definitely doesn’t allow for the necessary sexual fulfillment. Even if one has a partner, after a while they have less and less sex. This insufficiency makes people become irritable, aggressive, negative, stressed and depressed, and this works against social cohesion. The biggest advantage our species had, that allowed us to survive for millions of years, was “our endlessly complex interactions with each other”. The advantage gained from the complexity of these interactions would be pointless without unity.
  • The above deprivation has also been proven to cause and exacerbate an array of illnesses.

Sex with multiple members is still common today in remote forager societies.

You might ask how it is possible, that our ancestors didn’t end up having too many children and didn’t have trouble with overpopulation. These days, people eat way much more carbohydrates than what our bodies are prepared for. This causes women’s (well, everybody’s) body-fat levels to be much higher than normal, which affects when they start ovulating (this is the age, from when they can have babies): As it can be observed in the modern age too, women in forager societies “don’t start ovulating until their late teens, resulting in a shorter reproductive life”. Also, “women rarely conceive while breastfeeding, and without milk from domesticated animals, hunter-gatherer women typically breastfeed each child for five or six years.”


Jealousy stems from the fear of (temporarily) losing necessary intimate physical and non-physical interactions and sex. Men who are honest to themselves would admit that most women would be able to tempt them behaving the right way if the circumstances allowed. If our conscious thinking and our instincts weren’t subdued by our present culture, women also would feel attracted to most men. This was essential to keep the integrity of the tribe and avoid people being aggressive, negative and destructive. Imagine that: virtually any woman you lust, you can have. All you can eat! As plentiful sex kept everybody satisfied and entertained, and harmony allowed for the full spectrum of intimacy at all times, jealousy was rare, not the norm! Don’t get me wrong, there were strong sexual and intimate relationships between individuals back in those days as well, but exclusivity wasn’t in the ‘terms and conditions’. After all, the love a person can give is not finite, only his or her time is. We could live in a much better and happier world if love between two people didn’t affect the love between one of them and another person.

Being in love is enthusiasm attached to love and attraction in case of men, though many women have the adaptability to actually feel it, and make it real in themselves.

Possible solutions – Sometimes sex is just sex

“(…) this perspective of us as humans to look at our world through the lens of ‘normal’ is one of the forces that stop us developing real solutions.” (Justin Hall-Tipping on the problems of the world)

The book doesn’t advocate one single solution to replace the failing monogamy, but I see two fundamental ways:

  1. Open relationship, though it’s tough to base a family on it;
  2. Polyamory: Living in a sexually liberal community. This may involve any number of people with an arbitrary proportion of men and women; and is increasingly common: The estimate is around 500 000 people living in polyamorous families in the US. However, bear in mind, that sexual and intimate fulfillment of all parties involved is necessary to make these work! It’s worth mentioning though, that if you are already in a monogamous relationship, it’s probably hard to shift to open relationship, because 1) almost certainly neither of you have other people floating around that both of you can gain fulfillment from (intimacy as well!), 2) opening the relationship would feel like losing each other.

Aren’t these options a lot better than people constantly ending up in broken families and women struggling to bring up children on their own? The reason for the majority of the divorces all over the world is cheating! Aren’t these nonconformist relationships also much better than a large proportion of women barely having orgasms, if at all, as it is the case nowadays?

Think about this next time you are calling a girl easy: If women weren’t praised for being bashful, but encouraged to enjoy sex (and intimacy) the way they feel like, more people would be fulfilled. More content people means less aggression and crimes, better general atmosphere, and less money, effort and time wasted on trying to be cool and fashionable. I know that this sounds idealistic, but on the long run and if the word spreads…

Until then, I would rather oppose public opinion than nature…

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships by Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha (2010)

Forum and additional information can be found here: Sex at Dawn


32 Comments on “Neil Strauss On Sex at Dawn”

  1. That explains sooo much, however it does not fix a damn thing lol What I mean by that is I’m in a monogamous relationship and want to screw every attractive thing walking around. Now let’s say that my GF say’s that’s fine, provided it’s good both ways, now I’m jealous and resentful thinking about what she’s doing lol. So the only solution now is to cheat and my morals don’t allow that. So I guess I just need to figure out how make her bi-sexual. That doesn’t so hard 🙂

      1. I guess the one important detail I left out was that I love my girlfriend cause my little rant could be interpreted like I don’t. And I guess I was being open cause I’m wondering if other people find themselves frustrated by a similar situation?

        1. Yeah ManofKyle, very similar situation with me, my ex was actually fine with me seeing other girls, because she didin’t want me to get bored and lose interest in her.
          What ended up happening is that I ‘resented’ her for the possibility that she is doing the same thing with other guys!
          i loved her very much, and now the relationship is over.

    1. It does offer a solution, though not a quick and easy one: If you open your relationship and try and make sure you both get the sex and intimacy either of you need, then jealousy can be overcome. It does need a paradigm shift though. One way to carry this out is if you both start looking for potential new partners, but neither of you have sex (and make outs, spending a lot of time with them, etc.) until both of you have found at least one more potential partner. Unfortunately, it still carries the risk of losing each other however.

  2. This explains so much in such a short summary. This is why I’m so hesitant on the word ‘marriage.’ who says I won’t get sick of my wife and want to go out and slay every girl I’m attracted to? But on the other hand I feel that people marry way too young and never really enjoy their youth and are always wondering what would have been, leading them to rash decisions. So before I decide (if I ever do) to get married I’ll make sure I’ve had my fun and I’ve done what I’ve wanted to do or who I’ve wanted to do for that matter

    1. It’s not easy to work it out in advance from which point on you will ALWAYS be ok with monogamy. There is no way to feel what you will feel later on. Perhaps it’s a question of sex drive, so statistics on this may help (to some extent).

  3. Interesting theories, but I still find more convincing explanations of human sexuality that can be found, for example, in “The Red Queen”.
    I really don’t think that reaction like jealousy are a relatively modern fruit of society and all the explanations about sexual arousal in presence of other people’s sexual intercourse seem to be convincing as long as the girl is not your girl or beloved wife.
    We are “survival machines”, as correctly Richard Dawknis pointed out, and when it’s about paternity, we want to be sure that the genes are ours, and we are willing to fight with other males if necessary (and this will not certainly preserve the social bonds of the community).
    Cheating exists, again, for evolutionary reason and our desire to cheat is not the cause, but the mean for achieving that evolutionary goal.
    Times are surely changing and probably the new abundance of resources and possibilities would cause a shift from a monogamous concept of relationship to a “poliamorous” one…but right now, in this field, we continue to act as a gorilla.

    1. “The truth is extreme. To make it moderate is to lie.” (Quote from: This writing and the content of the book radically opposes the common belief. Please do keep an open mind, and don’t dismiss it altogether without reading the reasoning. Of course, this is just a summary. The book is 395 pages longer than my writing, so that it can go in depth into the evidence. Please, trust me enough to read the book, as the proof IS there.

      You don’t need to BELIEVE that jealousy came with agriculture. There are forager societies even today that might not even know what jealousy is! Check out the references in the book.

      If there are other potential males around, then there is no way to ensure your paternity.

  4. I still don’t get why we are trying to get all human beings into one big sack. It’s not efficient. People who have a monogamous relationship, after a long time want to have a polygamous. And polygamous people, after a while, desire the intimacy of a monogamous. Why don’t make big societies instead, polygamous, bigamous, monogamous, etc… and then letting each person choose. Imagine that; you live 10 years in one, get bored live five in the other, then go live 20 in your favorite, then you die happy

    1. That’s awesome! I used to jokingly say the same sort of thing about marriage. Why not make it a 5 year commitment. at the end if you’re happy stay and sign up for another 5, if not you can leave saying you had a successful marriage lol

      1. There was a Scifi TV show back in the early 90’s that had this marriage as a legal agreement in it. Basic plot of the TV show was ship crashed on a uncharted planet time to survive or something like that. One of the bigger drama parts was when the hottest girl on the planet marriage contract was about to expire. She wanted to renew but for 25yrs and her player-wanbe/goofball husband was like “why?” until he realised women were the scarce resource on the planet then he renewed for a lifetime. About two episodes worth of jokes/drama.

  5. I haven’t read the book yet, just the review. I have put a hold on it at the library & when it shows up, I’ll read it eagerly. Thanks for the review, once I read it, I’ll post more.

  6. Just about got everything totally wrong. Just because it is written down doesn’t make it right guys. On reflection, maybe it is all a joke this book.

    1. You are right the theory is completely wrong! All you need to do is to observe how the world is constructed to believe that for millions of years humans had evolved in tribes directed by a leader; the alpha male. Today we see all type of leaders, presidents of nations, dictators like Hugo Chavez, musicians, millionaires, billionaires, naturals, etc.. Certainly the world is changing and one day there weren’t such leaders but we still got a very long way to see that!

      1. Do you really not understand that if you have everything you need and you don’t grow up in a world that psychologically twists you, then there is no need to be the coolest guy around?

  7. Great Summary! I read this book a while ago and found it thought-provoking. The book is most definitely a polemic but they establish their conclusions with plenty of research.
    One early part not summarized was the authors’ theory that humans are closer to bonobos genetically and culturally rather than chimpanzees. Bonobos in general have more matriarchal societies that are open sexually while chimps have more patriarchal and aggressive ones. Of course humans screwed things up a bit by moving to agriculturally based societies. The main takeaway I got was that while humans kind of screwed the pooch 10000 years, there’s hope that modern societies with more liberated sexual attitudes can undo some of the damage. I think that deep scientific knowledge of psychology, neurology, and human sexuality will go a long way. Technology could also be important in creating ‘tribes’ within larger wholes as well as providing abundant resources.

  8. This had some really interesting points and coming from a woman who actually does think that sex is just sex it actually, for once, validates that my opinions and feelings are not just me being a “slut” or as he says “easy”. I think people tend to get too caught up in what other people are doing and to whom they are doing it to. Perhaps people should work on their own sexual repressions rather than projecting them onto others then maybe we wouldn’t feel the need to label and judge as much as we do. To each their own and all that jazz. Life is too short to have bad sex..

  9. Opening a marriage isn’t as impossible as one might think. I first heard about this book on a podcast done by some swingers called Life on the Swingset, that talks about their journey into the swinging lifestyle:
    The people that do this podcast prove that not all swingers are nutjobs like the media would have us believe.

    I’m pretty sure that this book is quite popular within the sex-positive movement as I’ve seen references to it in a few blogs, podcasts, etc. I highly recommend everyone get into it starting with early episodes of the Sex is Fun podcast (like I did):
    Their accepting personalities are highly infection and I guarantee just listening to this podcast will make you a better person. Easiest form of self improvement that you will find.

  10. Wow! This book looks like it rocks! Look forward to learning more about why Human sexuality is so “unusual” when compared to animal sexuality.

    Trace Loft

  11. I don’t know about all of this. I’ve been taking anthropology classes, including evolutionary psychology at my university and this conflicts. I looked up the author and saw he studied psychology for his doctoral studies. I feel as though this perspective is too idealist and some of the ideas are based in the SSSM.

  12. Great summary and well organised.
    I think the next step (and what I plan to do) is to connect the theories to situations in real life. Looking forward to hearing some stories from you…

  13. I am a firm believer in karma.
    If you don’t want her to sleep around, don’t sleep around.

  14. Neil
    How about my book title ” big game”! Urgent game only query – not now fool! It’s a whole other level””””” but every guys the same, so don’t show up? Later ps this book sounds naff!

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