As Mating Complexity Increases, Do Reproductive Returns Diminish? | Girls Chase

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Chase Amante's picture


Glad you liked it! I try to do some here and there... without taking the site too far off topic.

I took a look at Sex at Dawn. Interesting premise. It seems the authors drew heavily from inferences based on modern-day hunter-gatherer tribes... I tend to be skeptical of these. There's a lot of good evidence that much of the theory about hunter-gatherers we have is likely off the mark (and just in general, hunter-gatherer discussions tend to consist of a bunch of people arguing with each other about things that might possibly maybe have happened hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, with little to no actual evidence). Most hunter-gatherer theories are ad hoc or unfalsifiable... among research on hunter-gatherer sexual lifestyles, our misinformation seems to partly be due to academics painting idealistic views of tribes they lived with, and partly due to tribe members themselves lying to academics because they thought it was funny. There's also a great deal of debate about whether modern hunter-gatherers are much representative of past hunter-gatherers.

It looks like the authors subscribe to the belief that female orgasmic vocalizations are to attract sperm competitors. I view this as both flying in the face of the research on the phenomenon, and in the face of logic. This Wikipedia excerpt gives some good research on the matter:

[A woman's female copulatory vocalizations are] especially frequent when her orgasm occurs during penile-vaginal intercourse. By exciting her partner with her vocalizations and bringing about his orgasm at that point, she helps ensure that the seminal pool is available for her cervix to dip into as her vagina relaxes after her orgasm. Copulatory vocalizations may also be a type of mate retention behaviour. One study found that women who perceived a high risk of infidelity in their relationship were more likely to utilize copulatory vocalizations in order to fake an orgasm, along with other mate retention behaviours.

From a logical point of view, if women's vocalizations are to call competitor males, they should occur at the beginning of sex, the same as in other animals that use these calls to summon competitors, so the stronger male can beat out the weaker before he's able to inseminate her; they should not occur at the end of a sexually exciting/satisfying encounter just as the male partner is about to ejaculate. The timing of female vocalizations are all wrong for this function; on the other hand, they're perfect for prompting the sex-giving male to ejaculate. (there's more to it just than this, too; women tend to cum hardest and yell loudest with men they're most attracted to, and cum weakest and moan quietest with men they aren't much into... if the point is to attract competitors, they should do the reverse)

The authors also cite concealed ovulation as a possible rationale for their premise. There are much more convincing theories for the function this serves in human females than the ones these authors use.

In general, while the book was a big hit with the media (which in my experience is typically a sign a publication is probably best avoided), the reviews among the academic community seem to be universally scathing:

The book was criticized for its alleged "biased reporting of data, theoretical and evidentiary shortcomings, and problematic assumptions" in a pair of book reviews by anthropologist Ryan Ellsworth[3][20] at the University of Missouri. Writing in the peer-reviewed journal Evolutionary Psychology, Ellsworth argues that the book misrepresents the state of current research on sexual behavior. Ellsworth argues that while promiscuity has certainly been part of human behavior, it is "doubtful that this is because we are promiscuous at heart (this may apply to the behavior of most women more than the desire of most men), shackled by the trappings of a post-agricultural dilemma of our own devices, unable to return to the ancestral days of sexual communism." Noting that he could find no previous academic reviews of Sex at Dawn, Ellsworth suggests that the book's positive reception in popular media will project "a distorted portrayal of current theory and evidence on evolved human sexuality" to the general public.[2][3] Ellsworth and colleagues also note that contrary to what is argued in Sex at Dawn, "the existence of partible paternity in some societies does not prove that humans are naturally promiscuous any more so than the existence of monogamy in some societies proves that humans are naturally monogamous".[21]

Ryan argues that although Ellsworth makes some valid points, he misunderstood his and Jethá's central argument. According to Ryan, they did not argue that human sexuality was the same as bonobo sexuality; but rather that coitus was more frequent than is generally acknowledged, and that a typical human being would have had multiple partners within relatively short periods of time (i.e. each estrus cycle of a female). He argues that the main point of the book is to discredit "the standard narrative." He thinks reviewers read too much into the book, which merely seeks to challenge monogamy, rather than categorically reject it in favor of an alternative relationship model.[15]

Sexuality scholar Emily Nagoski agreed with many of the book's criticisms of evolutionary psychology and the book's thesis "that monogamy is not the innate sociosexual system of humans" but concluded that "they come to the wrong conclusion about the nature of human sexuality" due to errors of reasoning and understanding of evolutionary science.[22] Nagoski ultimately concluded the book was "sloppily reasoned, contemptuous, and ignorant."

Lynn Saxon's rebuttal, Sex at Dusk, itemized misrepresented citations and research errors found throughout Sex at Dawn.[citation needed] In an approving Chronicle of Higher Education review of Sex at Dusk,

David Barash, co-author of The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People wrote that Ryan and Jethá "ignore and/or misrepresent reams of anthropology and biology in their eagerness to make a brief for some sort of Rousseau-ian sexual idyll that exists—and/or existed—only in their overheated libidinous imaginations."[1] Barash favorably quotes Saxon's criticism of Sex at Dawn for being "almost all about sex and not much about children ... [even though evolution] is very much about reproduction—variation in reproductive success is evolution" and endorses Saxon's characterization of the book as an "intellectually myopic, ideologically driven, pseudo-scientific fraud."[1]

Herbert Gintis, economist and evolutionary scholar, wrote that although the authors' conclusions are "usually not far from the truth," "Ryan and Jethá justify their position mostly by deploying anecdotal and unsystematic anthropological evidence, and the authors have no anthropological credentials" in a book review on Gintis critiques the idea that human males were unconcerned with parentage, "which would make us unlike any other species I can think of" and suggests that their characterization of prehistoric human warfare is incorrect.[23]

Some reviews argue that Ryan and Jethá set up a strawman argument with the "standard narrative." Both Gintis and Nagoski argue there is no "standard narrative" in modern scientific literature.[23] Nagoski says, "At no point does the book even attempt to convince me that this is the narrative; it simply asserts that it is so and moves on. As a person who has read a great deal of the science they cite, I can tell you that among scientists, S@D's narrative is not remotely 'standard.' I could buy the argument that it is a CULTURAL narrative, and if that were the claim the authors were making, a great deal of my struggles with the book would be resolved."[22]

Evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker called the book "pseudoscience" in a tweet.[24]

Alan Dixson, professor of biological sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, also "took issue" with key arguments about monogamy in Sex at Dawn.[25]

Evolutionary psychologists Peter K. Jonason and Rhonda Nicole Balzarini criticize the book for committing the naturalistic fallacy, getting the evolutionary history of humans wrong, ignoring selection occurring at the level of individuals/genes and instead assuming group selection.[26]

Evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman has critiqued the book for inaccurately portraying evolutionary history.[27]

Psychologist and social theory author William von Hippel characterized the central argument of the book as "bullshit" and later as questionable among him and his peers.[28]

So yeah.

I saw on Amazon it was a highly reviewed and popular book.

I remember the name vaguely when it was being heavily promoted in the MSM.

In general, anything seeking to upend a strongly supported theory like evolution and replace it with something else needs to make a super solid, incredibly convincing case. It doesn't seem like this book manages to do this... I wouldn't write Darwin off just yet!