The Myth of Promiscuity

The Myth of Promiscuity (pdf) is a review of Lynn Saxon’s Sex at Dusk, which is itself a reply to the book Sex at Dawn. This review is a must-read for anyone interested in either evolutionary psychology or contemporary sex relations (or both). The review makes clear that the authors of Dawn are not only grossly mistaken, but wrote their book to further an ideological agenda. (Surprise.)

Where Sex at Dusk really shines is in Saxon‘s exposé of the subtler prescriptive
message of Dawn. Ryan and Jethá are not simply arguing for a revision of the scientific
view of ancestral human sexuality as more promiscuous than the ―standard narrative
would have it. Upon closer inspection, what they are actually up to is advocating for a
change in contemporary human female sexual behavior, or at least a change in how
everyone views women‘s sexuality; specifically, Dawn advocates a shift from women as
―whores, to women as ―sluts (e.g., pp. 64, 159)3. You see, according to Dawn, a whore is
a female who engages in sexual activity in exchange for resources or other benefits beyond the act itself. A slut is a female who engages in promiscuous sexual activity only for the
sake and pleasure of it. Ryan and Jetha attempt to convince the reader that whoredom is an
unnatural consequence of post-Pleistocene cultural systems (and a bad thing), while the slut
is a female‘s natural, primitive state (and a good thing). Au contraire, Saxon argues,
whores are the order of the day across the living world (p. 328). Even Dawn’s paragons of
promiscuity, female bonobos, are strategic about when and with whom they engage in
sexual behavior, as if to maximize returns on the effort (e.g., pp. 105, 108). The reason for widespread whoredom, Saxon explains, can be traced to the disparities between males and
females in parental investment. Reproduction involves a quite significant investment of
resources on the part of females, human females especially. Such a costly endeavor
explains why females are, in most species, the choosier, more discriminating sex when it
comes to mating; and the more costly reproduction is, the choosier females are. Thus, if
human females are in some way anomalous in this regard, as the characterization of
women‘s sexuality by Dawn makes them out to be, it must be explained why. I assume the
reader does not need to be told of Dawn’s success or failure at providing such an



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