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Sex at Dawn

In terms of evolution, what we do know is that humans are primates and share a branch on the tree of life with chimpanzees and bonobos. What we are still trying to discover is, how we lived and interacted with one another thousands of years ago.

Dr Christopher Ryan (Psychologist): 'For 95% of our existence as a species, at least, we lived as hunter gatherers, foraging over the landscape, eating all sorts of different things, moving around a lot, in small intimate groups of people that would have known each other for ever basically.'

Dr Christopher Ryan is a psychologist and wrote his doctoral thesis on human sexuality in pre-history. He believes that sexual interaction was a shared resource much like food, child care and self defence, and that most mature adults would have several ongoing relationships at any one time.

Dr Ryan: 'The children belonged to everyone. Whatever property there was, was shared among everyone... because it doesn't make sense for everyone to be carrying around all their cooking pots and spears and all the different things that they needed... it makes much more sense to share these things among the group. But with the advent of agriculture, suddenly paternity became a big issue because suddenly there was property to leave to one's descendents.'

Devi Sankaree Govender (Carte Blanche presenter): "The modern human race is about 200 000 years old. The agricultural era began about 8 000 years ago, which means that monogamy [argues Dr Ryan] has only been around for 5% of the time that we've spent here on earth."

Dr Marlene Wasserman is a well respected sexologist.

Devi: 'Are humans meant to be monogamous?"

Dr Marlene Wasserman (Sexologist): "We are meant to be as socially constructed, but are we naturally monogamous? No, I don't think that we are naturally monogamous at all."

Devi: "Why?"

Dr Wasserman: "Because, from an evolutionary point of view, we have to populate the world. So therefore an instinctive drive in men is to be able to spread sperm as far and wide as possible to ensure that there will be children. And, as far as women go, they have to make sure that they collect as much semen and sperm as possible to ensure that there will be pregnancies. They can't just rely on man for a pregnancy.'

Dr Ryan: 'No, monogamy is not in our nature any more than a sedentary lifestyle is in our nature. The fact that we have lived a certain way for a period of time doesn't change our essential nature.'

Dr Christopher Ryan has co-authored a book called "Sex at Dawn". It has become a best seller and debunks almost everything 'we think we know about sex'. He believes that we are not meant to be monogamous but are genetically programmed to be as promiscuous as our primate cousins.

Dr Ryan: 'These religious, political, economic forces insist on telling us that by our nature we should be only attracted to one person, to one type of experience. And, so that sets up this conflict within us that leads to untold suffering.'

Prof Robert Thornton is an anthropologist at Wits University.

Prof Robert Thornton (Anthropologist): 'The idea that Ryan puts forward, or many others writing in this genre, is that there is one reason and that this is to acquire resources or to pass on your genetic material... there's one reason and one reason alone that we must trace to this pure truth. This is simply not possible in human cultural relations... it is much more complex; inevitably more complex.'

Dr Christopher Ryan agrees that human sexuality is complex, but that we cannot distance ourselves from our hyper-sexual heritage. Although we may be gifted with "higher" thought, our base animal natures are still at play.

Dr Ryan: 'Think about how many times you have had sex - not you personally! - but the average person has had sex, and then think about how many children they've had. The ratio is 1000:1 or more. Chimps and banobos approach that same ratio and bonobos actually may beat that ratio depending on how you calculate. That's extremely unusual in the animal world.'

According to Ryan, in order to fall pregnant most mammals will have sex less than 20 times.

And he believes that humans have evolved anatomically to deal with sperm competition from other rival males.

Dr Ryan: 'Human beings have the longest, thickest penis of any of the apes, including gorillas by far, and bonobos and chimpanzees as well.'

Devi: "Given that we share a similar same genetic makeup as our hyper-sexual primal cousins - bonobos and chimpanzees - the authors say that monogamy is not in our nature."

Dr Ryan: 'The number of social primate species living in multi-male groups that are monogamous is zero.'

Prof Thornton: 'But these are chimpanzees - they're not our direct ancestors, they're simply... and this is where the book makes a confusion... they're simply our closest genetic relatives, which means they evolved in this way [one path] and we evolved in this way [another path] and we have a genetic ancestor in common, and that's the closest genetic ancestor. So it doesn't mean that we evolved from them, which is one core argument in the book: the idea that because these chimps are extremely sexual, humans are therefore also extremely sexual.'

"Sex at Dawn" says that one just has to look at human behaviour to know that fidelity is far- fetched.

Divorcee Alex Leitsch knows all too well that it is not easy for men in general to remain faithful.

Alex Leitsch (Divorcee): 'In my past there are some instances where I haven't managed to be monogamous in that relationship, which has led to a break-up every single time. You know, it hasn't happened to me once, it's happened to me probably more than 10 times.'

Over 30 000 people get divorced in South Africa every year, and it seems the one man for one woman model is just not working.

Devi: "The authors believe that, given our high divorce rate and obsession with pornography, deep conflicts rage at the heart of modern human sexuality.'

Devi: 'What evidence is there that monogamy does not work?"

Dr Ryan: "You know, look around you... look at the relationships that have buckled under the weight of life-long monogamy. Look at the fact that pornography consumption on the Internet is still the number one use of the Internet - I believe, at least in monetary terms. We don't take to life-long sexual monogamy naturally at all. In fact, we find it excruciatingly difficult as a species.'

"Annie" agrees with this sentiment and has chosen not to be monogamous, but to be a polyamorist - which means to have more than one romantic partnership at one time.

'Annie': 'Cheating was just anathema - I could not wrap my mind around lying and abusing the trust of someone I loved. So, throughout my teens and early adulthood I was monogamous by default because I didn't know there were any other options."

Devi: "You describe yourself as a polyamorist, but what does that mean?"

'Annie': "What it means is that I'm open to the idea of having multiple, intimate relationships with different people and... but I need to do it within a focus on honesty, on communication."

Sharing a partner does not come easy for most.

So how do we deal with the jealousy?

Cacilda Jatha is Ryan's partner and co-authored the book with him.

Cacilda Jatha: 'So jealousy is a selfish behaviour because of insecurity. The [pre-historic] society couldn't be selfish; they had to live in an altruistic way, not because they were 'good', but they had to share what they have.'

"Annie" has been happily married for eight years and during that time both she and her husband have had other relationships and have worked through their jealousy.

'Annie': 'You know, when we were children and were jealous and our parents said that's unacceptable and you have to learn to share? Now, as adults, we think jealousy is completely acceptable. We use jealousy as a tool: if he felt jealous or I felt jealous it was usually a sign that something else was wrong.'

But for most, dealing with infidelity is devastating.

Alex: 'You live with the guilt and you've got to go home to your partner... your wife, your fiancée, your wife, or whatever it is, and keep quiet and hold it in yourself. And that's where the stress comes in, because you sit there and you think: how do I deal with this without hurting that person?"

Dr Wasserman: "We live in a society where we live with too many things, too many possibilities, and I think that one of the things that causes enormous pain is when there has been a betrayal, especially a sexual or emotional betrayal. That breaks the vase, it destroys people's lives. So I don't think this is a permission giving people the right to be unfaithful."

Dr Ryan: "This isn't a book about arguing aging monogamy at all, but we say that choosing to be monogamous is like choosing to be vegetarian: it can be a very intelligent, healthy decision, but just because you've decided to be a vegetarian don't expect bacon to stop smelling good.'

While every attempt has been made to ensure this transcript or summary is accurate, Carte Blanche or its agents cannot be held liable for any claims arising out of inaccuracies caused by human error or electronic fault. This transcript was typed from a transcription recording unit and not from an original script, so due to the possibility of mishearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, errors cannot be ruled out.
Anonymous 20:35 - 12 Jun 11
Well, from an evolutionary point of view, maybe we have become more monogamous or tried to from a practical point of view. we are highly overpopulated as it stands, So we are just monogamous via evltn
Anonymous 08:31 - 13 Jun 11
I'd rather read my Bible that gives me the TRUTH of my origin and how I should live my life!!! I ain't no monkey & don't have any need to be or behave like one!!!!!
Anonymous 08:54 - 13 Jun 11
Sleep with many..... die with many!!!!
Anonymous 10:20 - 13 Jun 11
Look what the skypeman has as a playmate, course he'll long for better! The fat monster who had chosen to be a polyamorist, it is the only way she'll get s*x, no man will touch her twice!
Anonymous 15:08 - 13 Jun 11
It is due to evolutions mechanism of Natural Selection that we are not permitted to be polygamous. The spreading of STD's function as inhibatory mechanisms to prevent overpopulation destructive group.
Anonymous 15:22 - 13 Jun 11
Do any of these people have kids - imagine father's day! If we want to start acting like apes again,we'd better start writing off everything else we've acomplished since becoming more civilised too.
Anonymous 15:53 - 13 Jun 11
This book seems very short-sighted. It sees human s_exuality merely as an reproductive drive for species survival. What about the diverse range of non-reproductive s_exualities?
Anonymous 15:56 - 13 Jun 11
By the way, why does Mnet not want me using the word "s_exuality"? (I had to add the punctuation mark in the middle of the word to post this)
Anonymous 19:27 - 13 Jun 11
Leave kids out of this - no evidence consensual non-monogamy affects children negatively and neither book nor programme mentioned polygamy. It's funny how threatening some people find certain ideas..
Anonymous 19:45 - 13 Jun 11
The book debunks the notion of human s_x being primarily reproductive, emphasizing instead its function in creating and maintaining social bonds. Non-reproductive s_x is core, as well as frequency.
Anonymous 12:10 - 15 Jun 11
Lees julle Bybel en leef volgens dit dan sal daar geen grys gebiede wees nie. Ek was en sal nooit 'n aap wees nie. God het my geskape en ek is trots daar op. Meskien moet julle dit ook begin doen.
Anonymous 10:33 - 16 Jun 11
what a bunch of nonsense. these people should go live with the monkeys and sleep with them. totally ridiculous
Anonymous 06:31 - 17 Jun 11
Its nice to see mention of ethical, consensual, egalitarian alternatives to monogamy, like polyamory, in local media. Well done, Carte Blanche.

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