Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Date Mon, August 21 2017

If I was enlightened and educated by Mary Roach’s  book on cadavers (see my review here), then I am absolutely enthralled with her book on the science of sex.

Now, I’m not only familiar with Mary Roach because of the other book of hers that I’ve read. I first discovered her through an essay she submitted to the Best Sex Writing series in 2009-ish. I’ve also seen at least one her her TED talks on sex, so I am actually more familiar with her as someone who is knowledgeable on the subject of the science of sex than other sciences. Those are just a bonus!

Neither am I a stranger to the general science of sex. I’ve read books and watched TED talks. I subscribe to podcasts and tweet. Hell, I’ve even written content that explains the biology, the physiological, the psychology and sometimes even the sociology of sex. So to say that I was surprised by how much I learned from Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is one of the highest compliments I can pay.

That isn’t to say that there are not some things that are repeated from other sources. But Roach dives in past the results of the surveys by Masters and Johnson or Kinsey, for example. She contacts researchers or their surviving family members. She discovers who participated and why — and how they may have skewed answers. Roach travels the world to talk to Asian urologists who still perform specific surgeries to help with erectile dysfunction. She talks to experts who might be little known outside of their specific niche or even geographical location. In short, Mary Roach puts in the few work that few people are interested in and, for those who are, even fewer can accomplish themselves. It’s quite the feat!

Mary (and her witting husband) become the subjects in experiments where they have sex in MRIs because there are no other people willing to pick up this mantle. And Roach struggles to measure the distance between her vagina and clitoris, which turns out to be more complicated than you more expect. She’s not shy (neither are most of the characters she comes across in her quest), and it makes for an interesting and educational read.

She knocks on every door, even those in the past. It’s how she’s discovered an oft-forgot fact that shorter women also have a shorter distance between their clitoris and vaginal openings (this is important to a woman’s pleasure and orgasm as you’ll learn if you’re not already aware). She also delves into the history of clitorectomies.

I am continually impressed not only by how intelligent Mary is as an author but how witty. I am sure that I would enjoy discussing Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex with her over a cup of coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee. Her footnotes are clever, and that’s my one complaint with this book: I prefer when footnotes are at the end of each chapter in eBooks. You can easily forget to read footnotes when they’re at the very end of the eBook as they are with Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and the links to the footnotes don’t seem to work quite right in the copy I was provided through my library. However, you don’t want to miss these notes. They’re hilarious!

In fact, most of my Kindle notes come from the footnotes, including this one.

[the] Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy includes a two-page spread of fourteen thumbnail Coital Diagrams with terse, pronoun-sparse titles: “Pillow Lifts Hips,” “He Diagonally Across.” Chaste as these drawings are—the bed beneath the couple is drawn in more detail than are their faceless, featureless bodies—they were edited out of the first edition. Dickinson tried to appease his publisher by replacing the human forms with a pair of entwining robots; however, he reports, “these evasions proved to be not a little absurd” and the publisher eventually relented.

Despite tackling so many subjects in Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, I feel like Mary Roach is able to give just about each subject its due attention. You learn more than you expect and get a little information if you’d like to delve further into the subject. However, unless you’re as qualified and adventurous as Mary, it’s going to be quite the task to do that!

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