Neil Strauss On Sex at Dawn

Neil StraussNeil

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