Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

The study of sexual physiology - what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better - has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey's attic.Mary Roach, "t...

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Title:Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Author:Mary Roach
Rating:
ISBN:0393064646
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:319 pages

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Reviews

  • Geoffrey Kleinman
    Jun 09, 2008

    I really wanted to like Bonk. Mary Roach seems joyous in her celebration of the science of sex. It's clear she's spent (and thoroughly enjoyed) her time researching the subject, unfortunately the book never really comes together. Mary Roach's 'signature wit' comes of more as juvenile as she seems lost in her perspective on her subject. Is Bonk a personal essay about her journey through the world of sex research? A portrait of the history of sex and the science surrounding it? Roach never settles

    I really wanted to like Bonk. Mary Roach seems joyous in her celebration of the science of sex. It's clear she's spent (and thoroughly enjoyed) her time researching the subject, unfortunately the book never really comes together. Mary Roach's 'signature wit' comes of more as juvenile as she seems lost in her perspective on her subject. Is Bonk a personal essay about her journey through the world of sex research? A portrait of the history of sex and the science surrounding it? Roach never settles in with a clear perspective on her subject and ends up getting lost in the telling.

    I'm not a huge fan of footnotes, I respect when they are used well but despise when they are used as long tangents for a broken narrative. In Bonk Roach uses long footnotes on almost every other page and uses them to add 'witty commentary' to some of her points. Most of the footnotes should have been integrated into the main text as they often feel orphaned from it.

    The most telling chapter of this book is when Roach goes to Cairo to get insight into sex research in Egypt. Her trip, the results and the chapter are a complete let down and yet Roach tries to salvage it at the end with a chest thumping cry of how important people dedicating their lives to sexual discourse are. It's at this point you can see that Roach is 'rounding third' in her book and realizes she doesn't have the goods to bring it all home.

    It's a real shame. This book could and should have been better. Mary Roach is a fine writer, an obvious research nut and the subject is one that is anything but unengaging. Unfortunately it's yet another book where the editor let the author run free. Some real hard nosed editing, some real focus, a re-arrangement of the footnotes and a clarity of perspective and you've got a fine book. But what's in this pages isn't worth picking this book up in hardcover. It's really a casual mass-market paperback read (or even a used one at that).

  • jess
    Jul 24, 2008

    i audiobook'd this, the third feature-length scientific expedition of mary roach. i love! love! love! mary roach. i have bought multiple copies of her first book, stiff, and have managed to permanently "lend" every one of them out. audiobooking the curious couplings of science and sex, however, was a very strange experience. picture this: i am walking around downtown pittsburgh, just like every morning, and there are strangers passing me left and right with serious or sleepy looks, briefcases an

    i audiobook'd this, the third feature-length scientific expedition of mary roach. i love! love! love! mary roach. i have bought multiple copies of her first book, stiff, and have managed to permanently "lend" every one of them out. audiobooking the curious couplings of science and sex, however, was a very strange experience. picture this: i am walking around downtown pittsburgh, just like every morning, and there are strangers passing me left and right with serious or sleepy looks, briefcases and plastic bags, and i am listening to a chapter on Lady Boners. i'm stuck in traffic, the way i most despise spending my time, and learning about the erotic rituals of artificial insemination of pigs in norway. very! strange!

    if you're looking for a forthright and humorous scientific break-down of erotic encounters, the clit, the g-spot, the erection.... well, this may not be the book for you. roach focuses her special, special attentions on the sex researchers that have changed the landscapes of our bodies and our bedrooms. quick, tell me, which sexologist used his research as an outlet for his attraction to men? whatever happened to the dildo cams constructed decades ago for sex research of vaginal arousal? what do you know about the discovery of the g-spot? have you ever read a graphic description of the surgeries performed to provide erections for men with erectile dysfunction? what do you know about the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening, and the orgasmic capacity therein? interested to find out which sex researchers had to perform their studies under the cover of nightfall? read BONK.

    roach explores the ways that funding moves (or not) through research facilities, the stigma and social implications of being involved in sex research, and the feelings of grown-up children of researchers. we visit the institutions that are supportive and not. roach pieces together the changing times and cultural notions of sex, and how our perception of sex restricts or facilitates collection of data and ability to publish. she produces a clear picture of the historical variance in our cultural acceptance of sex research. basically, the book is a lot of the grimy politicking that happens when people are jostling for funds and the neighbors might not approve of your research. it's an entertaining ride through the scientific research industry. along the way, i learned that sex researchers are both flawed and fascinating, and have both the purest and most dubious intentions and methods. and some of them actually seem likable (cindy mestin, for example!)

    of course, we learn the most from the exceptional cases, and roach brings enough material from the margins to make your head (or sphincter) spin. i appreciated her examinations of the roles that prostitutes played, especially in the early days of sex research. i loved the tales of wild sexual encounters in a rented attic for the sake of science. i loved that mary roach talked her husband into having sex with her in a lab for the sake of science. i am not sure that i could talk my spouse into that, even for the sake of science. i was enthralled by the last chapter's mention of the scientific proof of better sex between gay couples than straight couples. i'm biased, i guess, but i agree.

  • Trevor
    Nov 02, 2008

    I’ve never had internet sex – there must be another word for it, cybersex, obviously, but I’m thinking more along the lines of keyboard sex. All the same, a couple of years ago (and purely as a community service, you understand) I started working on a series of words that could be typed using only the left hand. It was another of those projects that I started and fairly quickly lost interest in.

    If this book is about anything I think it would be fair to say that it is about the absurdity of sex.

    I’ve never had internet sex – there must be another word for it, cybersex, obviously, but I’m thinking more along the lines of keyboard sex. All the same, a couple of years ago (and purely as a community service, you understand) I started working on a series of words that could be typed using only the left hand. It was another of those projects that I started and fairly quickly lost interest in.

    If this book is about anything I think it would be fair to say that it is about the absurdity of sex. This is the second of Roach’s books I’ve read lately and I must say sex is much funnier than death. This book was laugh out loud funny.

    I have also discovered that I have a special face that I wear whenever the words URETHRA and EXPANDED or INSERTED are used in the same sentence. This is especially the case when the word TOOTHBRUSH is also contained in that sentence – but it is not reserved for the collocation of those particular words. In fact, by the end of the book whenever the word URETHRA was used at all I could feel my face responding in a particularly pronounced Pavlovian fashion.

    There were so many interesting bits to this book that it is pointless me starting or I simply won’t be able to stop. And it was funny and fun – so I am going to recommend it and recommend it highly.

    The bit I found most interesting was right at the end, where she was talking about tests that were done in the 1970s that found that the people who enjoyed sex the most were homosexual couples – either gay or lesbian. This was because the heterosexual couples tended to see sex as a destination they needed to reach as quickly as they could, while the homosexual couples played more and teased and delighted in each other more. For some reason we seem to have become sold on the ‘sex as performance’ metaphor. At one point she said that many women felt sexually inadequate because they believed themselves to be unattractive and spent the whole time worrying about what they looked like – watching themselves in effect. Sex is about being there with someone else, and is better the more ‘there’ you are – it is a dance, rather than a race or a beauty contest.

    Now, this is the second time recently that I’ve discovered just how incurious I am and have always been. The first time was with Mr Fry’s autobiography when he was talking about boys sticking their fingers up their bums. That simply never occurred to me when I was growing up. And to be honest, you could leave me alone in a room for a thousand years and I would never think of having sex with a vacuum cleaner. I am assuming that is not what Billy Bragg means when he has a female character in one of his songs say, “no amount of poetry will mend this broken heart, but you can push the Hoover ‘round if you want to make a start”.

    So, what did I learn? Well, besides that gays make the best lovers, that it is best not to rush into a room when you hear a man calling out “Titan, Titan, Titan” on a video your wife is watching and if God has a place it certainly isn’t in the bedroom, I think that the best of this book – like

    – is acknowledging that life, death and sex are all a bit absurd and for that we really should be very grateful.

  • Manny
    Jun 06, 2009

    - George?

    - Mmm?

    - Don't go to sleep.

    - Mmm.

    - You

    going to sleep!

    - Mm-mm.

    - George, tell me something you did today.

    - Um... I read a book.

    - That's better! Move around a bit. Yes, that's right, put your hand there. Good. What book?

    -

    . By Mary Roach.

    - That silly book about sex?

    - It's not silly! She's really got a lot of interesting things to say!

    - Like?

    - Ah... I liked the bit about women's orgasms.

    - Guess you don't know much about tha

    - George?

    - Mmm?

    - Don't go to sleep.

    - Mmm.

    - You

    going to sleep!

    - Mm-mm.

    - George, tell me something you did today.

    - Um... I read a book.

    - That's better! Move around a bit. Yes, that's right, put your hand there. Good. What book?

    -

    . By Mary Roach.

    - That silly book about sex?

    - It's not silly! She's really got a lot of interesting things to say!

    - Like?

    - Ah... I liked the bit about women's orgasms.

    - Guess you don't know much about that. OW!

    - Sorry, you asked for it. Now do you want me to tell you what she said about women's orgasms?

    - OK. I'm sorry I teased you. Put your hand back there. What did she say?

    - Well, she spends a lot of time discussing whether women really do have vaginal orgasms. I didn't understand how many different opinions there were. It's complicated!

    - Complicated?

    - Alright, so most women have clitoral orgasms. Stroking or kissing their clit gets them off.

    - Certainly works for me. Talking of which...

    - No, wait, let me finish. The question is whether so-called vaginal orgasms are really just clitoral orgasms in disguise. The guy's penetrating her, and it gives her an orgasm, but what's really happening is that he's just indirectly stimulating her clit. So it's not really a vaginal orgasm at all.

    - Well, I agree with her. I think that's what's happening. But how could you know for sure?

    - Look, that's what's so interesting. There was this French princess. Marie Bonaparte. Her clit was a long way from her vagina, and she never got any vaginal orgasms.

    - Did her guy have to go down on her then?

    - Um... I think this was before oral sex was invented. She talked to a bunch of women, and measured how far their clits were from their vaginas, and asked them how sex was for them. She has some French word that means you're a woman whose clit is a long way from her vagina. And...

    - There's a French word that means that??

    - There is! Look it up. I told you there was good stuff in this book! Teleclit... something.

    . Aren't you impressed that I remembered that?

    - You're not pronouncing it right.

    - Well, how am I supposed to say it?

    -

    .

    - That's what I said. I think. Anyway, the princess found that most

    women didn't enjoy penetrative sex. She wrote a scientific paper about it.

    - You're asking me to believe that a princess went around, like a hundred years ago, asking a bunch of women questions about their sex lives and measuring how far their clits were from their pussies, and then published the results in a medical journal?

    - I agree, it does sound a bit weird. But that's the way Mary Roach tells the story. The princess was so convinced by her findings that she paid a surgeon to operate on her and move her clit further in, so she could have better sex.

    - And did it work?

    - Well, no. She never had an orgasm again. He screwed up. But he figured out what he did wrong, and next time it worked.

    - What a sad story! George?

    - Mmm?

    - Do you think I'm

    ?

    - Ah... well...

    - Could you look?

    - OK. Turn that light on. Hm. I think you're

    . Between one and three centimeters. I'm guessing one and a half.

    - Oh, what a relief. But I think you should check more carefully.

    - Like this?

    - Well, I was thinking more like this.

    - Can you really measure distances that way?

    - George, don't be silly. Of course you can.

    - Mmm.

    - George?

    - Mmm?

    - I'm glad I'm not a French princess.

  • Michael
    Jul 11, 2011

    This book review has received a strong 'R' rating for disturbing sexual content. If you are eating, you might not wanna read this review right now.

    DON'T go into this book thinking it'll get you in the mood. In fact, it may disturb the mood right out of you.

    Before Viagra, guys who couldn't maintain a good stiffy would often have "stilts" of some sort inserted inside of their penis skin, and they would essentially wander through life with a half-boner that never went away so they co

    This book review has received a strong 'R' rating for disturbing sexual content. If you are eating, you might not wanna read this review right now.

    DON'T go into this book thinking it'll get you in the mood. In fact, it may disturb the mood right out of you.

    Before Viagra, guys who couldn't maintain a good stiffy would often have "stilts" of some sort inserted inside of their penis skin, and they would essentially wander through life with a half-boner that never went away so they could still bonk. Special pants were designed to make this perpetual-half-mast issue less obvious.

    Also, apparently a lot of guys are turned on by

    To me, this sounds like exactly the LAST thing I would EVER want to do. For those of you without a penis, let me remind you, tis quite sensitive. Picture putting a bicycle in your mouth. I expect

    would be about as painful as putting a gerbil up your. . . I did mention gerbils are popular for this, right?

    In several studies, it has been suggested that homosexuals tend to be much less inhibited during sex. They tend to take their time about it much more, to spend more time with foreplay, and to communicate more actively with their mates during bonk. Apparently, heteros have a tendency to just git 'er done, then go back to watching TV.

    Because humans tend to be prudish, for many a year, all studies of sexuality were done by watching other animals doing the bonk. Unfortunately, this is a very ineffective way of studying HUMAN sexuality, since pigs and monkeys tend to orgasm in a matter of seconds and not derive a lot of enjoyment out of it.

    Also, do you know about electrical dick machines? Well, now you do! You can buy a kit to build your own machine that serves the purpose of making a plastic cock gyrate. Check out the latest issue of

    , they always encourage the buying and building of random shit--I can't tell you how many times I tried to convince my parents to let me buy a kit to build a hovercraft, but they always asked, "What are you going to do with a hovercraft?" And I would inevitably respond with, "I don't KNOW, but hovercrafts are awesome!"

    Similarly, electric dick machines are awesome.

    AND, perhaps this is the most important and encouraging fact of all. SHORTER WOMEN (in general) ORGASM BETTER AND MORE OFTEN. There is science to back this up, and I don't remember the details, but I do remember the rule of thumb: the distance between belly button and vagina is a good indication of the clitoris's location. The shorter this distance, the more conveniently placed the clitoris, and the more action it will receive during bonk.

    This was quite entertaining, and I learned a lot--some of which I didn't want to know. That said, I didn't find this one as entertaining as

    .

    is similar in a lot of ways, taking the same humorous approach to the topic, and focusing on the bizarre and fascinating. If you feel like reading something that's light, fun, and able to make your genitals suck up into your body with fear, give this book a go.

  • rachel
    Sep 05, 2011

    One of my favorite parts in

    -- by which I mean, one of the parts that gave me the greatest WTF glee -- is the part where Ana, still a virgin, is watching Christian Grey become aroused and is wondering how it's going to fit, and he says to her, "Don't worry. You expand too."

    My first reaction:

    My second reaction: sadness for the fact that for whatever reason, there are other girls and women who also lack the knowledge of basic sexual biology because, as I lamented in my

    One of my favorite parts in

    -- by which I mean, one of the parts that gave me the greatest WTF glee -- is the part where Ana, still a virgin, is watching Christian Grey become aroused and is wondering how it's going to fit, and he says to her, "Don't worry. You expand too."

    My first reaction:

    My second reaction: sadness for the fact that for whatever reason, there are other girls and women who also lack the knowledge of basic sexual biology because, as I lamented in my review of

    , the subject is so laced with shame.

    This book is a little more than basic. It's Intermediate Sex Ed, for people who know the names of parts and how they work (and certainly that they fit), but doesn't know the exact mechanics of that working, perhaps. Mary Roach teaches us these things in great detail. For example, what layperson knows that vaginal fluid is plasma secreted through the vaginal walls, its source being the blood that rushes to fill the walls during arousal? (I mean, maybe you reasoned that out, but nowhere in high school sex ed do they say "here is what makes up vaginal fluid," you know?)

    Who knew that people could think themselves to orgasm, that orgasms can temporarily relieve the spasms and pains of neurological disorder? That quadriplegic and paraplegic persons who are capable of having orgasms -- 40-50% of them -- may feel it not just in their heads and genitals, as those who are not quadriplegic or paraplegic do, but potentially in their chests, arms, shoulders too?

    Who knew that women experience involuntary symptoms of arousal while watching any sort of sex (homosexual, heterosexual, even sex between animals) but men generally are only aroused by the type(s) of sex they're oriented towards? So much for that oh-so-feminine insult of frigidity.

    There's also a delightful human element to the book. The fact that the woman who volunteered to publicly demonstrate a sex machine at a convention is in her sixties and wearing bookish glasses. Roach and her husband in hospital gowns, doing it whilst having their genital responses imaged, for science. The accusation of one of Kinsey's biographers that there was a perverse gleam in his eyes as he hovered his face inches away from a copulating couple (also FOR SCIENCE).

    I guess my complaint would be that there's not enough of that human connection to the genitalia detailed in the book. Not enough of the human connection and communication that -- as Roach concludes in the final chapter, to the surprise of no one -- enhances our sexual experiences. I mean, it's kind of good to get to a point where you've read the word "clitoris" so many times it seems as dirty as reading a symbolic logic textbook. But that effect also makes the book about as exciting as symbolic logic at points, so.

  • Petra Eggs
    Jul 21, 2012

    3.5 stars.

    This was like cup of cocoa sex. Sex is always good but sometimes you can't help hoping it will be over soon and you can have a cup of cocoa, maybe with cream. Marshmallows even. Maybe a sprinkle of cinnamom and some grated chocolate curls. Oh there I go, mind drifted off.

    Read 13 Dec. 2013 and forgotten about until now. Now what was it reminded me. Friday night. Hopeful. And if not... there is always cocoa.

  • Michael
    Feb 01, 2013

    First she did death and now she does sex.

    is a perfect successor to the tour-de-force of

    . She is brilliant in her ability to present to the average readers the triumphs and the twisted in the progression of scientific and medical approaches to these subjects. Roach represents a veritable cross between the styles of Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson.

    I learned a lot, I laughed a lot. The latter helps with the squeamish and embarrassing bits. For exam

    First she did death and now she does sex.

    is a perfect successor to the tour-de-force of

    . She is brilliant in her ability to present to the average readers the triumphs and the twisted in the progression of scientific and medical approaches to these subjects. Roach represents a veritable cross between the styles of Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson.

    I learned a lot, I laughed a lot. The latter helps with the squeamish and embarrassing bits. For example, the boring or disgusting (to some) aspects of the physiology of erection is improved nicely with her gifted leavening with levity:

    Her focus is as much on the human aspects of discovery as in the knowledge itself in the slow progress of discovery about sexuality and its disorders. You keep rooting for some light at the end of the tunnel (so to speak). The concept that masturbation could be healthy seemed to take forever, especially for women. Even as late as the Clinton administration, his Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, was fired for suggesting it should be promoted. From the ancient Greeks, there developed the idea that women produced their own form of semen, and by the middle ages, there was the recognition that, “Young widows, with no sexual outlet and a consequent log jam of womanly seed, were especially prone to hysteria—or ‘womb fury.’ The notion persisted for centuries.” The method of clinical massage was developed by doctors was outlined in a 6th century medical treatise:

    When we get to modern times, it turns out that vibrators were initially sold to doctors, who could shorten this chore of “pelvic massage”.. From a book by Maines “The Technology of Orgasm”, Roach shares that most of these doctors were unaware that “the climax of the treatment they were providing was an orgasm.” The home models were advertised with vague claim such as “makes you fairly tingle with the joy of living.” A pair of Star Vibrators were advertised in 1922 as “Such Delightful Companion! Perfect for weekend trips,” as though they could serve up witty repartee and spell you at the wheel.”

    Throughout the book, Roach’s provides a fascinating and sympathetic tour of the science of sexology, from delvings in the library to a diverse set of road trips ranging from laboratories and surgical clinics to sex toy factories and animal breeding farms. Sometimes she puts herself on the line (and sometimes her poor husband) as a subject in some experiments. She sits in on penile surgeries for erectile dysfunction in Taiwan and empathetically delves into current explorations of treatments for people with spinal cord injury. I like her conclusion:

    Her delightful chapter titles give the prospective reader an idea of the ride they will be taking when they pursue this wonderful book:

  • Megan Baxter
    Jun 30, 2013

    Mary Roach takes her practially-patented whirlwind tour through the world of sex research. And for the most part, it's very fun. And occasionally cringe-inducing. But less so than

    , which had me avoiding that book any time I was eating.

    never gave me the same problems.

    Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision

    .

    In the meantime, you can read the entire review at

  • Heather K (dentist in my spare time)
    Jul 30, 2015

    Mary Roach is always on her game. She is

    , and her subjects are all so interesting. The narrator of this audiobook was also on point. But while I enjoyed this book, I think my 3 star rating is mostly my own fault.

    Because I apparently already knew all the freaky weird details about sex... like almost all of them covered in this book.

    In this case, I guess my love of sexual oddities and all things weird conspired against me because parts of this book felt, dare I say it,

    .

    I still love

    Mary Roach is always on her game. She is

    , and her subjects are all so interesting. The narrator of this audiobook was also on point. But while I enjoyed this book, I think my 3 star rating is mostly my own fault.

    Because I apparently already knew all the freaky weird details about sex... like almost all of them covered in this book.

    In this case, I guess my love of sexual oddities and all things weird conspired against me because parts of this book felt, dare I say it,

    .

    I still love you, Mary Roach, and I'll be listening to

    very soon.