I read Sex at Dawn a few months ago, amidst the general hoopla the book was getting among the sex-positive, poly-positive world. It’s an easy read, well written, engaging, entertaining. It’s one of those books that can pretty well be summarized in a sentence, but that nonetheless goes on for several hundred pages. In this case, the summary is, “Humans aren’t, and aren’t meant to be, monogamous, and that’s especially true of women.”
Now I can’t evaluate the veracity of that claim, either normatively or historically. It certainly appeals to me for a variety of reasons, both self-serving and otherwise. But the chorus of huzzahs offered by people I generally like (Dan Savage, e.g.) made me expect something really spectacular. What I found was truly disappointing. Or rather, it was exactly as fulfilling as going to a political rally for a cause I support, being surrounded by a (small) number of people who agree with me, and applauding in unison as a speaker who agrees with me says things I believe: it felt good to read, but didn’t give me anything other than a bit of garden-variety validation.
It troubled me that I couldn’t find a single academic review of the book, and that the book really seemed to go to great lengths both to avoid being compared to academic treatises and at the same time to appear to be one. I listened to a number of interviews with Christopher Ryan, one of the book’s two authors, and he came across (to me) as a bit smug and self-satisfied, and ultimately, a skilled rhetorician rather than a skilled researcher or thinker.
This is too bad: rather than make me a more articulate or thoughtful proponent of my views, it filled my head with what I fear may well be dubious claims or selectively chosen examples. Because the authors didn’t tackle any criticism there may be of their claims and arguments head on, because they didn’t present the views of their intelligent detractors and rebut or refute them, they left me unable to evaluate the claims being made in the book.
I’d love to read a thoughtful, intelligent book on the subject that would give me confidence in its arguments and claims. Got any suggestions?