No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, June 28, 2009

#45: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science -- Mary Roach

Orgasm appears to be a state not unlike that of the alien abductees one always hears about, coming to with messy hair and a chunk of time unaccounted for. (p. 241)


Subtitled 'The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science', this pop-science book is an enthusiastic, idiosyncratic survey of the scientific study of sex. It is incredibly funny, warmly human and full of fascinating factoids: the premarital medical examinations that took place in a majority of US states during the fifties and sixties, which often involved a medical practitioner breaking the hymen; bisexuality in farm animals; observations of fetal masturbation; the percentage of young American males reporting sexual activity with animals in Kinsey's groundbreaking surveys.

Chapter titles include "The Upsuck Chronicles: Does Orgasm Boost Fertility, and What Do Pigs Know About It?"; "The Taiwanese Fix and the Penile Pricking Ring: Creative Approaches to Impotence"; "Re-member Me: Transplants, Implants and Other Penises of Last Resort". Truly, this is an important reference work for anyone writing about sex.

Roach adopts a no-nonsense approach to the subject, but Bonk is far from clinical: contacting Dr Deng, a lecturer in medical physics who's doing ground-breaking work in coital imaging, Roach receives a reply asking if her organisation can recruit volunteers 'for an intimate (but non-invasive) study'.

My organisation gave some thought to this. What couple would do this? More direly, who wanted to pay the three or four thousand dollars it would cost to fly them both to London and put them up in a nice hotel? My organisation balked. It called its husband.
"You know how you were saying you haven't been to Europe in twenty-five years?" (p. 113)


It's hard to review a book that's so packed with facts, with humour and with humanity. I like Roach's style a lot -- she has fun researching and writing about this, and she manages even the most graphic sections with grace and tact -- and I learnt a lot about Kinsey's findings, about the medicalisation of impotence, about genital anatomy and about some of the modifications that are made to it in the causes of fertility, pleasure and repression.

And most importantly, Roach doesn't lose sight of the non-scientific aspects of these studies. Though they no doubt have their uses, ultrasound movies are a superficial rendering of the complex and varied mind-body meld that we call sex. Sex is far more than the sum of its moving parts. (p.128)

Excellent bibliography, which made it very easy to find this:
underpants worn by the rat
Dr Shafik's work on the effect of different types of underpants on the sexual activites of rats

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