Three new books about sex

Sunday, July 11, 2010; B06

These new books talk about the birds and the bees with the goal of illumination, rather than titillation. Our historical tour starts with the socio-sexual behavior of our ancient relatives, moves on to visual representations of sexuality during the Renaissance and ends in the present day, when hardcore pornography is corrupting brains along with hard drives.

1. "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethás (Harper, $25.99)

Humans weren't wired to be monogamous, contend the authors, and until about 10,000 years ago most had multiple sexual partners. The agricultural revolution and the concept of private property placed new pressures on the roving eye, but our innate biology has not changed with our social institutions.

2 "In and Out of the Marital Bed: Seeing Sex in Renaissance Europe," by Diane Wolfthal (Yale, $55)

Wolfthal examines late medieval and early modern images "whose sexual meaning has been either overlooked or denied." Each chapter explores the implications of sexuality in a different location: the bed, the bath, the city street.

3 "Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality," by Gail Dines (Beacon, $26.95)

Dines claims that porn's movement into the mainstream -- thanks to the Internet -- threatens healthy sexual relationships.

-- Stephen Lowman

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