Review of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
by Mary Roach
(Norton, $24.95, 288 pages, April 2008)
Reviewed by Dr. Fred Bortz
(Copyright 2008 by Alfred B. Bortz)
Click cover to buy Bonk from Amazon.com.
Readers who enjoy Bonk, may also enjoy Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by the same author.
Bonk explores sexuality studies with humor
(headlines borrowed from the Seattle Times)
As anyone who has read Mary Roach’s earlier books knows, her quirky titles guide readers through emotional bramble fields with plenty of humor and nary a scratch.
When the topic was everyone’s eventual state of cadaverhood, Roach delivered the laugh-out-loud Stiff.
For those who were skeptical about but not totally dismissive of scientific studies of the afterlife, she offered Spook.
Now Roach risks the wrath of spam filters and human gate-keepers with Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.
Like its predecessors, Bonk is a showcase for Roach’s hallmark wit and innovative, thorough approach to research. Thanks to her first-person viewpoint, readers venture wherever she does, their embarrassment defused by her uninhibited style.
Beginning with “Foreplay” instead of the usual Foreword, Roach serves as a wise-cracking guide on a safari into the human body’s and mind’s most intimate recesses. Readers soon find themselves on a quest for a historic icon: “a mildly outrageous, terrifically courageous, seemingly efficacious display of problem solving, fueled by a bullheaded dedication to amassing facts and dispelling myths in a long neglected area of human physiology.”
Yes, Roach went to the laboratory where the famous sexology team of Masters and Johnson did the research for their 1966 book Human Sexual Response. Many of their observations came from images captured by “a thrusting mechanical penis-camera that filmed–from the inside–[women’s] physical responses to it.”
Though she was unsuccessful in locating the device itself (possibly dismantled) or any of its original footage (probably still extant but under tight security in an undisclosed location), Roach vividly recreates the research project. She then looks at other past and current research that attempts to correlate detailed measurements of the female genital sub-structures with specific physical, psychological, and emotional sensations and responses.
Later chapters do the same for the male of the species and his favorite organ.
No aspect of human reproductive or other sexual behavior–and the anatomy involved therein–is left unexplored. Readers are bound to learn more than they ever wanted to know about functional and dysfunctional bodies and minds of both sexes.
Even the sex life of para- and quadriplegic men and women comes under scrutiny.
To Roach, nothing is sacred. She manages to persuade her intrepid husband, Ed, to make love while their genitals are imaged by ultrasound. The inducement: an expense-paid trip to Europe where the research is taking place.
It is a distinct improvement over previous studies done in the narrow cylindrical chambers of MRI machines, but the experimental setting and the knowledge that they are being observed is certain to be off-putting. Ed is given a little blue pill just to make sure he succeeds at what he normally can do without assistance.
Not all of the research Roach describes is so exotic. But her quirky viewpoint turns studies of primate sex or the effect of hormones on humans into entertaining reading.
Bonk is far from pornography, but it is hard for readers of either sex to avoid noting their personal responses to it. Does that add to their reading pleasure? And do they feel guilty about it?
Perhaps that’s the next project for Roach. Stay tuned for Porn?
Physicist Fred Bortz does not discuss alien sex in Astrobiology, his latest title for young readers, though he admits to being curious about it.