Thursday, April 07, 2011

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Science studies pretty much everything under the sun, but who knew, apart from Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, that science has turned its all-seeing gaze to the subject of sex? Even before these dedicated scientists turned their attention to the subject of sex, it was studied by no less than Leonard DaVinci and James Watson. But that is all in the past, quite literally. What sorts of things are sex researchers studying today, and can any of what they are studying make your sex life better?

Mary Roach goes undercover and behind the scenes, finding scientists researching help for frigid women, impotence cures, the importance of hormones to sex and whether orgasm increases one's chance of having a baby, among other things. Some sound rather outré, like helping people with missing genitalia gain orgasms and pleasure from sex (if you want to think of it another way, imagine what it would be like to be able to feel nothing from the waist down- and yet still want to have orgasms), while others are more prosaic, like prescription-strength vibrators- presumably much more powerful than those you can buy in drug stores or on the internet or through the mail.

Now, all these subjects could be covered in a dry and clinical way, making them seem as boring as dust, but Mary Roach manages to find the humor, and even the pathos involved in the subjects the scientists are studying and their attempted "cures" or solutions to the problems presented. Sometimes, she and even she and her husband, sign up to help the scientists, from attending a masturbation therapist, to having sex while being monitored for their various physiological responses. And for the record, that last one is not as easy as it sounds, each of them being laden with all sorts of bands, sticks and other objects, plus the knowledge that they are being watched- not quite conducive to a sexy mood. In short, while you will be tempted to laugh often at the direction of the scientist's studies, there are plenty of times when you realize that their solutions are often desperately needed by some people, and while many find sex and finding pleasure in sex easy, others don't have it so good, or even good at all.

I found myself really enjoying this book, which is filled with factoids I would never have known if not for reading it, and stories which are fascinating in and of themselves, such as Empress Marie Bonaparte's sexual problems, which led to her clitoris being moved- twice, in an effort to provide her with some satisfaction during sex. Even if the story did have me wanting to cross my legs, it was fascinating that the surgeon who perfected the technique had success using it on other patients- but not her.

Others will definitely make you laugh, like the Victorian obsession with "retaining one's vital sap" (read: semen), which was so important that you couldn't even lose any through "nocturnal emissions", and which inspired a number of patents devoted to items that would fulfill this function. All of them sound more like torture devices to me- which I suppose was kind of the point.

In short, this book is both funny and informative, making it an extremely enjoyable read. That being said, you will probably not enjoy it if you are unable to view sex as something both sublime and humorous at the same time, as many times, Mary Roach's words inspire laughter and amusement, at both herself and the science. But if you are relaxed enough to read about it, you will find plenty to enjoy here. Highly recommended.

No comments: