James W. Prescott, Ph.D.
Institute of Humanistic Science

In Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, an examination of prehistoric sex (pre-agriculture where earliest evidence of agriculture dated to about 8000 BCE) where hunter gatherers/foragers dominated this planet revealed a pattern of sharing and egalitarianism that included multiple sexual relationships. For perspective, the authors observed, “the amount of time our species has spent living in settled agricultural societies represents just 5 percent of our collective experience, at most”. They cited Jared Diamond: “The shift to agriculture is a ‘catastrophe from which we have never recovered’ ”.

It is the intent of this Blog to summarize the statistical cross-cultural data on pre-industrial, tribal cultures that support the theses of Sex At Dawn that sexual monogamy (premarital and extramarital sexuality are punished) is destructive to humanity and that multiple sexual relationships are highly associated with peaceful, non-violent and egalitarian behaviors (which have their roots in high infant/child affectional bonding that begins in the mother-infant child relationship), are necessary for the survival of homo sapiens.

The statistical data source is derived from R.B. Textor (1967), A Cross-Cultural Summary, which describes a 400-culture sample taken from the Ethnographic Atlas of George P Murdoch and other sources, published by the Human Relations Area Files. These data have been reported more extensively in Prescott (1975,1977,1990).

In an attempt to provide more substantive data that would link deprivation of parental physical affection to adult physical violence and impaired sexuality, cross-cultural studies were conducted on preindustrial cultures. I am indebted to Professor John Whiting for bringing my attention to the resources of the Hunan Relations Area Files and to R.B. Textor (1967) A Cross-Cultural Summary, which was the principal source for the cross-cultural studies. From Textor the relationships among the following coded scales were examined: 1. Infant physical affection provided by Barry et al. (1967); 2. Repressive sexuality provided by John T. Westbrooke (1963) and Ford and Beach (1951); and 3. Adult physical violence provided by Philip E. Slater (1964).

Prescott (1990) provides a summary of statistically significant social and behavioral characteristics of cultures that are punitive toward premarital coitus. These cultures are characterized as violent, criminal, sexually dysfunctional, dehumanizing (slavery), narcissistic, "pornographic" (exhibitionistic dancing) with a religious belief structure that has a High God involved in human morality.

Significantly, these cultures are patrilineal and not matrilineal cultures. When premarital coitus is punished, sex disability is present; castration anxiety is high and sex anxiety is high. This sexually dysfunctional profile is linked to high personal crime, where 71% of the cultures are correctly classified (high sexual dysfunction with high personal crime and low sexual dysfunction with low personal crime; high theft: 68% of cultures correctly classified; extreme bellicosity: 68% of cultures correctly classified; killing, torture and mutilation of enemy captured in warfare: 69% of cultures correctly classified. Sample size of cultures examined range from 25-176 cultures.

Prescott (1990) provides a summary of social and behavioral characteristics of cultures that are punitive toward extramarital sexuality. The statistical relationships are much stronger than for repression of premarital sexuality and reflect stronger associations with violence, criminality, sexuality, militarism, exploitation of women and children and dehumanization (slavery) with strong punishment of premarital sexuality.

It should also be noted that in these violent, sexually repressive cultures their supernatural deities are aggressive rather than benevolent and are patrilineal rather than matrilineal. Given the linkage of patrilineal cultures with strong punishment of premarital and extramarital sexuality, a summary of the social-behavioral characteristics of patrilineal and matrilineal cultures seemed indicated. These follow below:

Prescott (1980) lists the nineteen exclusive matrilineal cultures (N-55) that permit premarital coitus with their religious belief structure and extramarital behaviors.

Sixteen of the nineteen cultures had coded information available on their High God. Ten of the sixteen cultures or 63% had no High God present in their culture. Three of the remaining six cultures had a High God that was "inactive"; and the three remaining cultures with "active" High Gods were not involved in affairs of human morality. Nine of the nineteen exclusive matrilineal cultures had coded information available on extramarital sexuality where 7 of the 9 or 78% of these cultures permitted extramarital coitus.

It should be noted that 100% of the nineteen exclusive matrilineal cultures where information was available on pre-marital sex permitted premarital coitus; whereas 67% of the 84 exclusively patrilineal cultures punished premarital coitus. Further, 59% of 37 exclusively matrilineal cultures had no High God in their cultures; whereas, 71% of 99 exclusively patrilineal cultures had a High God in their cultures. Similarly, 80% of 15 exclusive matrilineal cultures that had a High God were coded as "inactive," whereas, 64% of 70 exclusive patrilineal cultures had a High God who was coded as "active."

Prescott (1990) presents selected statistically significant social-behavioral characteristics of exclusive patrilineal cultures (Textor Code 186, N = 150); and patrilineal cultures whose kin group is exclusively patrilineal or double-descent rather than matrilineal (Textor Code 190, N = 186), vs. all other kin group cultures.

The primary social-behavioral characteristics of these patrilineal cultures are human inequality (caste system and slavery present; high bride price; polygyny common); affectional deprivation and exploitation of children (low child indulgence and high childhood responsibility; high desire for children with abortion punished are linked because children serve utilitarian purposes, e.g. proof of virility in the male; fertility in the female; and economic security in old age); sexual violence and repression (male genital mutilation rituals, premarital and extramarital coitus strongly punished but homosexuality permitted); belief in a High God that is active and involved in human morality; and drunkenness.

These data fully support the central thesis of Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality   by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha with more current empirical statistical data that modern human cultures with their dominant emphasis on sexual monogamy and the destructive violence that follows imperils the future of humanity.

There can be no substitute for sexual honesty in human sexual relationships despite the perilous future that this entails for many sexual relationships.

The authors of Sex At Dawn reflect: “Religion, politics, and even science square off against biology and millions of years of evolved appetites. How to defuse this intractable struggle?” (p.6) and

“We are not advocating any particular response to the information we’ve put together. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do with it ourselves” (p.24).

My response:

1. First, human cultures must support mothers being nurturing mothers by supporting breastfeeding bonding for “two years and beyond”, as recommended by WHO/UNICEF 1990 Innocenti Declaration
and baby-carrying throughout the first year of life

2. Second, human cultures must support mutual youth sexual affectional relationships (sexual generosity) and not sexual exploitation (sexual puritanism and sexual violence.

3.   Recognize the primary importance of pleasure in human relationships and that pain, suffering and deprivation does not lead to salvation (happiness) http://www.violence.de/prescott/letters/Our_Two_Cultural_Brains.pdf

4. Ending the intentional infliction of Pain (Physical & Emotional) upon infants, children and youth. Pain (Physical & Emotional) destroys Pleasure, Happiness and the Joy of Living.  http://www.violence.de/prescott/truthseeker/genpl.html

The complete statistical analysis and paper Chapter 6 Affectional Bonding for the Prevention of Violent Behaviors: Neurobiological, Psychological and Religious/Spiritual Determinants with References can be found at

Prescott, J.W. (1975) Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence. The Futurist April.  Reprinted: The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists  (1975) November.

Prescott, J.W. (1976). Violence, pleasure and religion. The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists
  March http://www.violence.de/prescott/bulletin/barack.html

Prescott, J.W. (1977). Phylogenetic and ontogenetic aspects of human affectional  development. In: Progress In Sexology. Proceedings of the 1976 International  Congress of Sexology. (R. Gemme & C.C. Wheeler, Eds.) Plenum Press, New York.

Prescott, J.W. (1989c). Genital Pain vs. Genital Pleasure: Why The One and Not The Other?
 The Truth Seeker July/August pp.14-21.

Prescott, J.W. (l990): Affectional bonding for the prevention of violent behaviors: Neuro- biological, Psychological and Religious/Spiritual Determinants. In. Violent Behavior Vol. I:  Assessment and Intervention. (L.J. Hertzberg, et. al., Eds). PMA Publ.  NY pp. 110-142.

Prescott, J.W. (1995). Violence Against Women: Philosophical and Religious Foundations of  Gender Morality. New Perspectives. (March/April). Hemet, CA.

Prescott (2003). Our Two Cultural Brains.

WHO/UNICEF (1990). Innocenti Declaration. On the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding. Florence, Italy--1 August

Textor, R.B. (l967): A Cross-Cultural Summary.  HRAF Press. New Haven.