For What It's Worth

Thursday, February 6, 2014

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


2082136The 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, "the funniest science writer in the country" (Burkhard Bilger of 'The New Yorker'), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn't Viagra help women or, for that matter, pandas?

In 'Bonk', Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm, two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth, can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place. 16 illustrations.

Goodreads | Author | Amazon

Source: Own

Review: I love Mary Roach's thorough, yet down to earth and accessible approach to science. I’ve read several of her books including – Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – and I enjoyed them both.

Bonk takes on the science and history of the study of sex. Sex is one of those topics that is avoided in polite company or snickered at and unfortunately Roach also falls into that trap on more than a few occasions, instead of elevating the subject matter. She uses humor to educate and that’s one of the things I enjoy about her writing but this seemed more like she couldn’t actually handle the subject without giggling, never mind write a whole book about it.

There are several fascinating studies highlighted and it was interesting to see how society and politics has such an influence regarding something that should be treated as science – like any other study involving the human body. I was surprised by how much more open we were in the 20's, when a healthy sex life was considered important to a healthy marriage, compared to now. It was also disturbing how little doctors know – or even want to know – about women and their sexuality. There was a time when doctors performed an internal pelvic exam while looking at the ceiling with the women's privates covered in a sheet. Things have changed of course, but even so, most scientists don’t dare use any term related to sexuality while submitting a request for funding these days because of our political climate.

Yet overall, Bonk gives into the snickers and is filled with Roach’s footnotes that are more jokey than informative. When discussing the infamous Kinsey and Masters and Johnson we find out she’s unable to access any of their original studies and is left talking to biographers and spreading speculative innuendo instead of facts. Basically, she talked more about whether they were turned on by the testing and what the rumors were regarding their private kinky sex life rather than sticking to their studies. It is worth mentioning of course, but shouldn’t be the focus IMO.

Most of the scientists and test subjects wouldn't discuss the studies they took part in because of the stigma attached and the fear of losing funding. In fact, Mary and her husband had to be the test subjects in one experiment just to understand what it was about. The results? We find out that it's awkward to be naked and have sex in an MRI machine in front of a stranger, and that her husband is an incredibly good sport but not much else.

She keeps lamenting how difficult it is for scientists to research this subject because of the perception that they are perverts & deviants but then does nothing more than provide fuel for the fire.

Another example: she visits a sex toy factory and it ends up another opportunity for her to make a joke - this time about seeing a guy walk around with a big box of dildos or how the workers lie and say they work in plastics. It was funny but - I don’t know…I guess I just expected more from this author.

Final Thoughts: I did enjoy Bonk and found it to be quite informative but I couldn’t help but be disappointed in Roach’s juvenile approach and disjointed chapters. It opens strong but then loses focus. I didn’t feel like she delved into this subject with the same voracity as she has in her previous books. I think that maybe a better approach would be to discover why - in 2014 - are we still unable to have an adult discussion about our bodies and how they work without blushing or dissolving into a fit of giggles and double entendre sex jokes.

16 comments:

  1. It's crazy to me that scientists have this kind of difficulty getting funding for something that's, well, part of everyone's life. It seems so prudish and Middle Ages (though I think those folks were much more open about sex than we are even today!).

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    1. I don't get it either. It's just the human body. You should know these things.

      I was so shocked that the scientists and test subjects would barely talk about what they're doing now in 2014 but patients from the 20's! would readily answer questionnaires saying that had lesbian experiences and openly discuss their sex life to make their marriage better.

      We're still hiding our romance book covers these days!

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  2. An interesting and obviously well thought out review. I must confess I thought the title quite juvenile and overly tongue in cheek.

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    1. All her books are titled "The Curious.... insert topic" so it makes sense. Unfortunately, despite a few very interesting chapters, she was embarrassed at times with the topic, no one wanted to discuss it so that doesn't leave much in depth reporting like her other books.

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  3. Hmm, glad that it had humourous parts, but not sure this one is for me.

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  4. I can't say that this one interests me at all

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  5. Juvelnile quips is probably the last thin I would expect from the author. Or she probably just has a weird sense of humor?

    Sex is just one of those things that's overrated but unexplored. I think personal approach is best for now LOL

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    1. She does write about science from a humorous angle. She usually does it really well - and yes she has a dark sense of humor. In this case it felt like she was uncomfortable at times with the subject matter and it felt more like high school humor or using it in place of an actual observation.

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  6. Well, with the title like that, I guess you expect some jokes. Perhaps she amped up the funny because people get uncomfortable?

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    1. Yes. I did expect that. I think it was that she was a little uncomfortable as well. Or maybe to try to put the reader at ease??

      In her book about space though she talked about sex in space, pooping in space and did it in a very humorous yet intelligent way. I guess I expected that approach here as well.

      It could be that I noticed it more because of the lack of science. She had so few people who would talk to her about the topic so she needed filler. Which isn't the case with her other books.

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  7. It does sound like maybe she was trying to put the reader at ease...sounds like she just didn't manage to hit the mark with this one unfortunately!

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    1. It just seemed like a subject that couldn't fully be explored like the in the books she's written previously.

      Maybe she should have written it using a different angle or waited.

      It wasn't bad - just not as good or thorough as her others.

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  8. i've read stiff & enjoyed it but haven't read her other works. this sounds interesting though! i'm sorry it fell flatter for you. it does seem awk w the juvenile approach she seems to take at times, yikes.

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    1. I love her writing. This one just didn't balance the science and humor as well as her others IMO

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  9. I loved Stiff, but had to quit on Bonk a few chapters in. It just didn't seem to have that magic that Stiff did. I am interested, though, to see what subject she tackles next.

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    1. I'm glad to hear it wasn't just me.

      Have you read Packing for Mars? That was a good one too.

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