A Review of “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex”


The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

I was confused when I read several online criticisms of Mary Roach’s new book Bonk that described it as “oddball,” “trivia,” and “idiosyncratic.” Reviewers compared this book, which is about the history of scientific research concerning sex, to books on orchids, spelling bee contestants, or some other unusual hobby, where the author gives us a peek into an esoteric realm of knowledge.

But this is a book about sex research. You know, sex? The subject that most men think about at least once daily, and, according to the Kinsey studies 19 percent of women do the same. If sex is an “out there” subject, then why all the decades of sex in advertising? What about the $97.06 Billion yearly revenues for pornography?

You can’t call a subject that daily enters most men and women’s minds and generates billions of dollars in revenue “idiosyncratic.”

In fact, I read most of Roach’s book on my bus ride to and from New York, where, during a significant portion of the ride back, I was treated to an out-going African American woman describing her previous-night’s roll in the hay with her boyfriend in explicit detail to her friend on a cell phone (the words “five times” and “wash rag” were involved). “Idiosyncratic” my ass.

It’s a real shame that people view sex as an odd topic, because, as Mary Roach demonstrates, this is why we know so little about it. Roach documents numerous examples of scientists having to cloak their research in euphemisms, leave out technical details, and otherwise obfuscate their methods to prevent having their research funding cut. Without concrete scientific data on which to base our understanding of sex, we are left to pornography, which is about as useful as going to the circus, to understand the norm.

It’s embarrassing that we know so little about such a fundamental, indispensable aspect of our physiology. I was grateful to learn that, thanks to Masters and Johnson’s innovative research techniques that the “dildo-camera unmasked, among other things, the source of vaginal lubrication: not glandular secretions but plasma (the clear broth in which blood cells float) seeping through capillary walls in the vagina.” I can find Medical Journal Articles referencing this fact, but many sites don’t mention it at all and confuse vaginal lubrication with cervical mucus.

I was also glad to learn that a personal hypothesis I’ve been meaning to figure out how to research has already been tested and confirmed. “The Human Penis as a Semen Displacement Device” is a journal article that confirmed my suspicion that the knob on the end of our giggle-sticks is an evolutionary adaptation for sweeping the semen of competing males out of the vagina. It is not, as a punch line to an old joke goes, “To keep your hand from slipping off the end.”


Clitocybe geotropa
Photo by Lebrac

These are insights, not trivia, and Mary Roach offers a multitude of them. Some passages involving penis surgery made me involuntarily cross my legs. Others made me scratch my head at the ridiculous hypotheses of the past. They had some weird ideas a hundred-plus years ago.

Throughout it all, Mary Roach keeps the subject fun. She does not distance herself from the subject matter, describing her personal interactions with scientists, surgeons, and sex-toy manufacturers. She even participates in a few studies herself, going so far as to have sex with her husband and having images taken with ultrasound.

The puns, metaphors, and euphemisms Roach uses throughout the book kept me smiling. Her footnotes were enlivening distractions as well. In one of these, I discovered a place for one of my own personal kinks, the Yahoo Clown Fetish Group.

Yay! : )

Most of all, what I took from Bonk is that sex research hasn’t produced the answers we really need on many important topics. For instance, we still don’t really know why women have orgasms from an evolutionary stand-point. We’re an enlightened species, we should know this by now, and the research-funding should be there without stigma to find out.

Note: In writing this review, I have learned that while Microsoft Word will acknowledge the correct spellings of “penis” and “erection,” it will not offer them as suggestions when you right-click them as misspelled words. Prudes.






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