Home > Man Law > Ask Christopher Ryan, Ph.D: “Is Monogamy Natural?” An interview with “Sex at Dawn” Author

Ask Christopher Ryan, Ph.D: “Is Monogamy Natural?” An interview with “Sex at Dawn” Author


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Every few years, decades, and centuries an idea is introduced into the world that challenges the socially acceptable beliefs of the time. In the 1500s, it was Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis. In the 1800s, Charles Darwin and his theory “On the Origin of the Species.” In 2010, Sex at Dawnis the book that the powers-that-be do not want you to read. No other book that I have read to date so fully encapsulates the belief system that The Unbreakable Man Laws is based upon. In other words, if there was a UML Graduate course offered at Harvard (and there should be…), “Sex at Dawn” would be the required textbook.

UML601 Required Reading.

In this interview, we speak with author Christopher Ryan, Ph.D about “Sex at Dawn” which he co-authored with his wife Cacilda Jethá, M.D. We take a brief look at open relationships, soul mates, and whether monogamy really exists and more.

As with previous UML interviews, we asked members of The Unbreakable Man Laws Fan Page questions they wanted to pose to the author. Before we jump into the interview,  check out the official Sex at Dawn website, Christopher Ryan’s blog on Psychology Today, the “Sex at Dawn” Facebook Fan Page, and finally twitter @SexAtDawn.

As a special limited time offer, be sure to type a question or comment that you have for the author below for a chance to win a free copy of “Sex at Dawn.” The winner will be selected by Friday, December 3rd!

Ethan Bishop: “Sex at Dawn” suggests that women may have historically been just as open to sex as men– a lot of women seem to have a tough time believing that’s true. What accounts for this skepticism? What ways are men and women really different?

CPR: Well, let’s not underestimate the effect of several millennia of witch burnings, beheadings, beatings, humiliations, and desert stonings-to-death. That kind of campaign can really put a kink into someone’s sexual adventurousness! Women in societies that don’t cast them into the street as whores if they happen to get pregnant while single or humiliate teenage girls as “sluts” for texting a topless photo to a boyfriend seem to have much less trouble believing their female ancestors enjoyed active sex lives.

Having said that, one of the major ways men and women differ is in their erotic plasticity. This refers to our ability to adapt our eroticism to changing conditions. Women have a lot more of this sort of flexibility than men do, in general. That’s why there are so many more nominally heterosexual women who’ve had sex with other women and why basing over 95% of published sex research on American undergrads is insane. A 20 year-old woman is a far cry from an accurate representation of “female sexuality.” This also explains why almost all paraphiliacs are men. Women have illicit impulses, but in general, they can control their impulses whereas men can get stuck with very inflexible erotic associations for life.

Ethan Bishop:  Your book indicates that human males are actually “well-endowed” compared to other members of the animal kingdom. Why is that?

CPR: Yes, what Dan Savage lovingly calls the “Plunger Penis” is  essentially an adaptation to sperm competition. Our long, thick penises feature a flared head that, when combined with the repeated thrusting that characterizes human intercourse, creates a suction effect that serves to pull back any sperm already en route to the ovum. See our book for juicy details, if you dare.

Authors and Husband/Wife Christopher Ryan Ph.D and Cacilda Jetha, M.D.

Ethan Bishop:  Does science hold up to the theory of “soul mates?” How do you think this idea came about?

CPR: Science doesn’t say much about it, but it stands to reason that with our highly social nature and advanced intelligence (at least compared to other animals), our ancestors would have had very intimate, spiritually-charged relationships. Science tends to focus on the brain states associated with infatuation (what anthropologist Helen Fisher calls “falling in love”). The sort of spiritual union that is implied by “soul mates” is, I think, beyond the explanatory capabilities of science.That soul-mateship would necessarily imply sexual monogamy is where we differ with the conventional wisdom. It seems to me (and a lot of other people) that you’d want your soul mate to have as much pleasure and intimacy as possible in life unless something cultural interfered with that impulse.

Ethan Bishop: Why are women louder during sex than men? Are they all “faking” or is there some evolutionary reason?

CPR: Scientists refer to this as female copulatory vocalization. Interestingly, it seems to occur mostly in primate species where female promiscuity (and thus sperm competition) is common. Some women may fake it, as it’s a good way to provoke orgasm (and ego inflation) in men. But clearly, a lot of the screaming and moaning is involuntary and thus serves as yet another indicator of our orgiastic origins.

The Truth Is Out There!

Ethan Bishop: Is monogamy a social construct imposed by government in order to maintain order and property rights? For instance, who owns Property A and whose responsibility is Child B?

CPR: That’s essentially what we argue in Sex at Dawn—and what Engels and others argued 150 years ago. The data indicate that monogamy probably arose around the same time our ancestors started worrying about property, and thus, paternity. Once property entered the picture, a  man wanted to pass his accumulated resources along to his sons, not someone else’s sons. The only way to assure that they WERE his sons was to control his wife’s sexual behavior. So we see indications of how obsession with property overlaps obsession with female fidelity: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. Nor his house. Nor his maidservant. Nor his manservant. Nor his ox. Nor his she-ass.” You know, this isn’t about sex, really; it’s about property. Thou shalt not covet thy (male) neighbor’s STUFF—and that stuff includes “his” woman. Throughout history, we see that virginity and female fidelity are especially important among the upper classes—who have the property to worry about.

Ethan Bishop: How should “Sex at Dawn” change the personal relationships we have?

CPR: There are very few “shoulds” in Sex at Dawn. Our book isn’t an indictment of monogamy or a call to open relationships. We say (and strongly believe) that monogamy can actually be a very honorable option. But it’s like vegetarianism. Just because you’ve decided to be a vegetarian, don’t expect bacon to stop smelling good. And maybe you can find a way to make exceptions for the occasional pepperoni pizza and still consider yourself (and your partner) essentially a vegetarian. All we really advocate in the book is tolerance, communication, and a more  realistic approach to these issues that incorporates a more accurate sense of what kind of creature Homo sapiens really is.

  1. ADD
    November 30, 2010 at 3:54 am

    Great interview with one of the authors of the best and most important book of the year, if not the century. As I’ve said elsewhere, Sex at Dawn is a must-read for anyone with genitals.

  2. November 30, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Best line ever:

    “[Monogamy is] like vegetarianism. Just because you’ve decided to be a vegetarian, don’t expect bacon to stop smelling good.”

  3. tsd
    November 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    To expand the analogy further, even though bacon may smell good to a vegetarian haven’t studies shown that a vegetarian diet is healthier in the long run than a diet filled with pork? i.e. is it possible that for more reasons than I can go into in this space, is it possible that monogamy offers more benefits for more people than other options.

    That’s not to say that an Adkins diet won’t work for some people, and some people might thrive on that for years, but for most people its not sustainable and will ultimately result in a broken heart.

  4. Zie
    November 30, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Great interview. Still looking forward to reading the book.

    I’ve met more vegan/vegetarians with malnutrition problems than you can shake a sausage at. But if someone wants to eat tofu, that’s their agenda. If that works for them, AND they have a healthy lifestyle doing so, even better. That just means there’s more steak for me, and we’re all happier that way.

    Just don’t expect me not to entice you with my meat. ;)

    • December 23, 2012 at 3:08 am

      We currently view sex as the final straw; the unavfgiorble sin. We get irritated if our significant other flirts or seems interested in someone else but it does not seem that this is because of the flirting itself that the real problem is the potential shagging!It seems to me that this is an arbitrary label and that what we are really afraid of is the loss of our partner. Don’t you think?

  5. Brother Roberts
    December 1, 2010 at 8:17 am

    This is by far my favorite interview. Bravo, good sir, bravo. Now… ladies, drop them panties!

  6. December 1, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Well, TSD, I’m sure you have a point. The interview also said “Look, you can have some bacon from time to time, and still be a vegetarian.” If you want to stretch the analogy, why not stretch it all the way?

  7. Foghorn
    December 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Initially this seemed like a good interview, but reading some of the comments I can now tell that some of the questions and responses were too abrupt to facilitate real understanding. Reading the book is definitely essential to anyone’s knowledge of this topic; this interview does not suffice as a tell-all. To the other comments, I think it’s important not to read too deeply beyond an analogy, and definitely not to use the extended analogy to argue over the original condition. I don’t think the vegetarian analogy was meant to illustrate anything beyond the fact that even if social conditions and DNA are fighting a war in your head, your sexual configuration is still your choice. I kind of wish the author had not used an analogy at all, because look at the frivolous arguments springing up already about food. As the authors said, the new information they present is non-prescriptive. It is NOT like a doctor telling you one diet is better than another. It’s up to all of us to integrate the information in the book into our own perspective and decide what fits for us. But as the author said, I think there is a lot to be gained in terms of tolerance and understanding of others’ lifestyle choices, given that we now know that there are several (conflicting) forces at work in our society. Hopefully this rings in a new era of human social/sexual experimentation. Somewhere in the future there may be a configuration blending our agrarian economy with polyamory (think the group and line marriages in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, without all the contextual fluff). I am tempted to send copies of this book to my congressmen/women, just to stir up some controversy. Does anyone know if Bill Clinton has read this yet?

  8. Han Solo
    December 1, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Interesting concepts. I wonder though if this guy is just trying to get his wife to try a threesome. Marriage/monogamy seems to work for him.

    • December 20, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      I just got done reading your post’s about fobaotll and I have tears in my eyes. I know exactly what you mean. When Clint was done with fobaotll after 12 years I think I took it harder than he did. I love fobaotll I grew up watching it with my Dad and Mom who was a big fan too. We went to Stanford games and stayed home to cheer on the 49 ers and the Bronco’s too because John Elway from Stanford went to Denver. Clint could not wait to play pop warner fobaotll. He only played soccer until he was old enough for fobaotll and then never looked back. I took him to every practice and stayed the whole time. Partly because we lived so far away and partly because I loved watching him. In about the 5th grade my Dad introduced him to Mike Glines, he had heard all the stories about him from Kirk and Dad and wanted to play for him very badly. We started going to Mikes first sunday clinics at some gym in modesto. When he started at Central he was in heaven and we began a 7 year journey that would be some of the best times of our lives. I won’t lie it was great being a parent of one of the star players. He rarely was off the field and made us very proud. To this day people I don’t even know when they find out I am Clint’s mom tell me stories about how much they loved to watch him play. He wanted to go to a good fobaotll college very badly. But as you know with his size he didn’t get many looks and settled for a junior college. He had two more great seasons but it was never the same as at Central. He told me soon after he started It’s sure not a WE thing here . Easton was never as passionate about fobaotll as Clint but loved playing at Central too. I’ll never forget when we went back to the first game the year after Easton graduated. It was very strange you feel like you don’t belong. There was someone else sitting in the seats I had been in for 7 years. I hate to tell you this but once your son graduates it’s pretty much over, it is never the same.It sounds like Steel took the MC loss pretty hard. Nobody wants to lose their last game, but really only one team in every league wins their last game. It’s nice Steel let you share his grief with you. I remember Steve’s Dad died in the middle of the night on a friday night in Sept. When the boys woke up on Sat am we had to tell them. They had no idea he was even sick and Easton had seen him the day before. Of course Saturday was Falcon Football day and Clint still wanted to play. During the pledge they acknowledged that Don had died and dedicated the game to him. I don’t remember if we won or lost but after the game in the team huddle with the parents gathered around the Coach said some really nice things about Don and gave Clint the game ball. My very strong and proud boy turned to me and cried in my arms for about five minutes. It was a feeling I will never forget and I don’t think I have seen him cry since. Thanks again for your posts I try to keep up with them and thanks for letting me ramble on. And remember life does go on without fobaotll (at least untill we have grandkids hopefully).

  9. December 3, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Great interview. Regarding the first question, I think it’s been society’s norm for women not to be as open as men sexually and, although they are just as sexual, they don’t get a chance to show it. We have it drilled into us as kids, especially Christian kids, that sex is bad and that we shouldn’t touch ourselves or each other which leads to doing everything behind a veil instead of talking about it. Thanks for sharing.

  10. poocky.doll@yahoo.com
    December 3, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    I really can’t wait to read the book. Sex holds the world and the world keeps discussing it.

    Living, breathing, sexually active female.

    p.s. I love the fact that women can actually be proud of it these days and talk openly about their desires.

    • December 23, 2012 at 6:15 am

      I don’t know exactly what you mean, but try this ***********************************************//Connect to DB$result=mysql_query( SELECT * FROM __table__ );while($row=mysql_fetch_array($result)){//Store your text as a vaarbile$text = $row[“name”];//For every result you get display a link Double Quotes are very important in echo!!!echo $text ;}*****************************************************

  11. Phillip Andreason
    December 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    I think the title of the interview is misleading. Dr. Ryan and Dr. Jetha do mean to say that monogamy is unnatural. Infact they believe that it was a necessary social adaptation to support human civilization as it has evolved through time, but that monogamy is not instinctual to any animal. I don’t mean to say that all social animals need monogamy to succeed as a species, but that monogamy as an idea, not neccessarily a practice, was necessary to aid in the development of the complex civilization we live in today.

    As we all know, even during sexually conservative eras, monogamy was, and still is today, just an idea which we use to measure the morals of others. There are very few examples of true monogamy (i.e. those who wait for mairrage and never have more than one sexual partner in thier lifetime). The fact that monogamy is nothing more than a goal many of us try to aspire to, and fail at is what is at issue. Though the majority of us fail, and without regret I might add, but choose to still believe that we are monogamous instinctually is unnatural.

    • December 6, 2010 at 10:57 pm

      Congratulations Phillip. You were the raffle WINNER of the Free copy of “Sex at Dawn.” Enjoy the book!

  12. Ariel steinberg
    December 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    Great interview. I’ve always argued
    the reason for marriage is government and society driven. I was excited to see my theory backedup. I understand the need still today to protect ones stuff but I’ve started to think, couldn’t a couple just write up their own “contract” because essentially that’s what marriage is. Also, when people got married back in the day when marriages came about, they didn’t live as long so the confinements of marriage didn’t last as long as they do now. We need to take a serious look at out our societies marriages and make changes

  13. DJ Long
    December 3, 2010 at 5:17 pm

    Great interview and if I’m not a lucky recipient, I plan to go out and purchase this book to see more and learn more of the world about me. However, I do ask those who’ve not yet read the book, what their view/definition of society is and how that “society” is effected by monogamy. Because their are numerous indigenous tribes with minimal “western”/”judeo-christian influence that practice marriages and partnerships of the monogamous kind.

  14. December 4, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Thanks for an interesting interview, Ethan. Keep up the good work on the Man Laws.

  1. December 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm
  2. December 16, 2012 at 6:24 pm
  3. February 9, 2013 at 4:29 pm
  4. March 11, 2014 at 12:01 am

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