Cover image for Ever since Adam and Eve : the evolution of human sexuality
Ever since Adam and Eve : the evolution of human sexuality
Potts, Malcolm.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 358 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 26 cm

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HQ12 .P68 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Eminent scientists Malcolm Potts and Roger Short view the broad panorama of human sexual and reproductive behaviour to reveal an inextricable mixture of nature and nurture - a combination of innate actions which have evolved over the millennia to adapt us to a nomadic, hunter-gatherer lifestyle, overlain by more recent cultural constraints imposed by civilization. For each of life's milestones - sexual intercourse, conception, pregnancy, birth, puberty, love, marriage, parenting, menopause and death - they describe the biology behind our actions and consider how pressures imposed by various historical and contemporary cultures have further influenced our behaviour. By looking back at the past they attempt to make sense of the present, to see how and why these cultural modifications arose, how they have contributed to the richness of human sexual behaviour, and what our biological and cultural inheritance can teach us about safeguarding the continuation of our species.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Authors and publisher give us an attractive, readable, informative book that ranges broadly, both geographically and chronologically, over a variety of cultures and through a similar variety of books and artwork. Text and illustrations complement each other, and lively page lay-out stimulates the reader's thinking as well as supports Potts and Short's arguments, in which Darwin and Aristotle appear frequently, though as thought provokers rather than mere textual furniture. Potts and Short explore relationships among chimpanzees, gorillas, and other animals and show how they can sometimes illuminate relationships among human beings. Potts and Short also discuss the pros and cons of specialized events impinging on sexuality (e.g., breastfeeding and bottle-feeding) and the wide-ranging effects of religious and psychological concepts. Especially fascinating are the literary allusions and the frequently clever interpretations of them. This is one of those rare coffee-table books that exert tremendous intellectual appeal. --William Beatty

Publisher's Weekly Review

From an evolutionary perspective, success is defined by the number of offspring produced‘a number that, in humans, is directly dependent on the act of sexual intercourse. And virtually all human behaviors, from style of dress to manner of war, can influence the probability that sexual intercourse will occur. Scientists Potts and Short "look for consistent patterns of behavior, found across many cultures, that probably represent the inherited predispositions that evolution has given us in the areas of mating, parenting, social behavior and relationships between groups." The behavioral comparisons they make with many of our primate cousins often shed humorous light on our own actions and motives, such as their juxtaposition of a picture of copulating pygmy chimpanzees to one of Margaret Thatcher greeting Ronald Reagan with a full-toothed grin. The authors' cross-cultural and cross-species research permits them to walk the fine line between nature and nurture, focusing attention on, as expressed in the words they quote from anthropologist Laura Betzig, "not whether evolution has shaped our behavior but how." With abundant details and numerous fascinating sidebars illuminating seemingly all facets of the interplay between behavior and sex, Potts and Short present their topic with wit and insight. Their book often reads more like an encyclopedia than a smoothly flowing narrative, however, so readers may find themselves dipping into, rather than swimming through, its informative waters. 50 color plates, 20 halftones, 10 line diagrams. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Potts (public health, Univ. of California, Berkeley) and Short (perinatal medicine, Univ. of Melbourne) "hope to show that there is little in the natural world that cannot be explained by biological evolution." Beginning with Darwinian theory and applying findings from the field of primate behavior, the authors attempt to make sense of the complexities of human sexuality for the lay reader. examining birth, puberty, love, marriage, sex, conception, pregnancy, parenting, menopause, and death. Unfortunately, they add little to the existing literature. Peculiarly organized, often blithely superficial and incomplete, filled with repetition and redundancy, unsupported generalizations, and stereotypes, their book is also peppered with errors of fact and interpretation and opinions masquerading as science, e.g., "Individuals with a homosexual orientation must be continually recruited by some process from parents with a normal heterosexual orientation." Not recommended.‘James E. Van Buskirk, San Francisco P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Beginnings
2 The polygynous primate
3 Sex and gender
4 Love and marriage
5 Sex and pregnancy
6 Birth and breastfeeding
7 Growing up
8 The civilisation of sex
9 Sex and power
10 Dying for love
11 Sex and mortality
12 Too many people
13 The animal within us