364 of 368 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2008
This a truly great tale of a first-hand look at science and sex from both the inside and the outside! Mary Roach provides a humorous and often very personal view--both as a participant and observer--of humans, animals, and mechanical devices: there is much that you would never have imagined, and perhaps would rather never of heard of at all. She and her husband Ed have sex in a 20-inch diameter MRI tube in the interests of science. The doctor looks on, makes suggestions, and finally tells Ed "You may ejaculate now". The author also recounts the experiments by Kinsey is his attic many years ago and tries to track down the film footage.
The author's great sense of humor needs to be read to be believed. She spares no one, and particularly not herself or her husband. She travels to Taiwan to watch an implant operation. In one of the funniest parts[and this says a lot, since the book will have you howling a lot] she goes to Denmark to watch artificial insemination of sows. We know this happens with cows, and you might suppose that there's not much difference with pigs, but you'd be wrong, very wrong indeed. Suffice it to say that the best results occur, when, among other things best not mentioned here, the AI person lies down on the sow's back and fondles her teats during the process. You may never regard your morning sausage quite the same way again.
The author has a lot of asides that are a delight to read. If you usually skip the footnotes in a book, you'll miss a lot here. You'll learn a lot--for all the things that might seem frivolous, but which are not, the book is a scientific one. Roach has a curiosity, an appetite for knowledge, and has the capability that perhaps most scientists do not have, which is to mix science and humor. Stephen Gould was able to do this, but his humor was not as pervasive--his writing is, at a guess, 95% science at 5% humor, whereas with Roach it's more like 50-50. Martin Gardner's great Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science may be the closest similar work to Roach's book. This book is certainly not for everyone, and there are those who will be deeply offended, but for most it should be a real treat to read!
103 of 106 people found the following review helpful
"Not everyone gets their (masturbation study) funding from research grants. Some masturbation professionals get their funding from the sales of Vibrating Port-A-Pussies and Mr. Fred Jelly Dongs." - Mary Roach in BONK
"To get inside a lubricated vagina, a penis needs to be hard enough to push against the opening with one to two pounds of force. That is approximately the amount of force required to open a swinging kitchen door." - Mary Roach in BONK
Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, the enormously instructive and entertaining book on the uses to which human cadavers are put. As far as I'm concerned, instructive AND entertaining is about as good as it gets. With BONK, Roach has outdone herself with a read that I couldn't put down.
Science pursues sex because, after all, it's what makes the world turn. Roach first establishes the history of the science, which pretty much reached mainstream acceptance with researchers Alfred Kinsey and then William Masters and Virginia Johnson. (An excellent film about the former, starring Liam Neeson, is 2004's Kinsey.)
The meat of the book, so to speak, is the wide array of sexual behavior and physiologic functions which scientists have investigated, and which include: the sure sign of female orgasm, the location of the fabled G Spot, female orgasm as a function of clitoral-urethral separation distance, the link between female sexual pleasure and fertility, the validity of the vaginal "upsuck" concept, the validity of the penis-cervix interlock theory, cures for erectile dysfunction, the historical legal implications of male "potency", societal perspectives on masturbation, testicular transplants, penile implants, penis restoration post amputation, the physiology and structure of the clitoris, the internal mechanics of penile erection, orgasm's effect on overall physical health, the value of orgasm as exercise, the role of electroejaculation in people with spinal cord injuries, vaginal lubrication as an indicator of female sexual arousal, the nature of arousal in men vs. women, the physiologic trigger of male ejaculation, the role of hormones on the female libido, the existence of human sex-pheromones, and the qualitative measurement of sex. Juicy stuff, this.
The author's special talent, whether it be in STIFF or BONK, is her serious - but not too serious - approach to the subject matter. At any time, the reader may expect Mary to look up from her notes, cock an eyebrow, and deliver some wryly humorous aside. This is perhaps best seen in the footnotes to the text, as in the one connected to the above quote concerning the amount of penile force required for vaginal entry:
"We have three Houston researchers to thank for this statistic. In 1985, the trio attached a pressure gauge to the tip of a penis-shaped Plexiglas rod and penetrated a small group of female volunteers. It seems to me that if they wanted to approximate the surface friction that exists in real intercourse, slippery-smooth Plexiglas was a poor stand-in for penis skin. Though I suppose that when you're doing an experiment that involves penetrating coeds in your lab, surface friction is less of a concern than, say, human subjects review board friction."
As windows on otherwise esoteric or eccentric subject matter, Mary's books are without peer as reading experiences.
Finally, in case you're wondering, BONK describes a photoplethysmograph as a device used to measure the amount of lubricant vaginal walls exude during sexual stimulation. As a matter of fact, I have one right here for inclusion in Mom's Christmas basket.
75 of 84 people found the following review helpful
Author Mary Roach set out to find and write about sex research around the world (and about the yeilds of that research) and wound up following a lot of very strange paths. From a urologists office in Taipei to a sow furrowing operation in Denmark to a "toy" manufacturer in Chatsworth California, the author tracked down all leads that were presented to her and followed up to learn all there was about how the human anatomy works and why research on this subject is usually cloaked in euphemisms. At times she delves back into the 1800s to explain how we are where we are today and why.
To say the book is funny is an understatement. The author has a gift for puns and uses it to maximum potential, taking material that could be somewhat dry and turning it into page turning reading. If you are interested in the science of sex and love to laugh, this is a wonderful book that will not fail to deliver.
75 of 86 people found the following review helpful
The author in this book basically researches sex researchers and their work: sexual anatomy, function, and response. She does this with certain misgivings, as sex research, even in modern times, has largely had to fly under the radar. Researchers often have to battle insinuations that they "enjoy" their work just a bit too much.
She travels widely to investigate any number of relevant topics. The subjects are both human and animal; and the use of a variety of technologies from MRIs, ultrasound, and personal devices receives attention. A major focus of the author is on the understanding and overcoming of sexual dysfunction, ranging well beyond recent obsessions with ED.
She does all of this with understated humor, even volunteering herself and her husband for some not-so-discreet ultrasound imaging. The book is definitely not without merit and is interesting, but it is scattershot - a little bit of this, a little bit of that. It tends to bounce along the surface alternating among the scenario, equipment, the science, the researcher, the participant, etc. More focus and organization are needed, but is still a pretty good contribution to a field that seemingly cannot be discussed forthrightly in the pseudo moralistic US.
57 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2008
Ms Roach has written a hiliarious account of science in search of better sex. A lot of her discoveries fall into the category of "It seemed like a good idea at the time." The author of previous off the wall subjects like "Spook" (post-death exploration) and "Stiff" (dead bodies), she has the knack of finding obscure information that no one has ever heard of. While the book is verbally graphic, it is not porn. She injects herself into her story and her humor resembles the writer, P.J. O'Rourke.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Right up front, Mary Roach tells us this book is a "...tribute to the men and women who dared. Who, to this day, endure ignorance, closed minds, righteousness, and prudery" [sic]. This is a book for those who are interested in Sex, that is, the big picture of what sex is, does, and is all about. This book is about, as Roach so cleverly offers in her subtitle, where science and sex intersect, the success and shortcomings, about vital, important and thoroughly scientific work done necessarily in shadow and secrecy.
The book is generally classified as science writing, but it does not read that way. It's more a memoir of personal curiosity, and a lay-author's attempt to answer are some basic questions about a subject we're all interested in but propriety keeps us from asking. There was adventure aplenty for her (and her husband, a real trouper) in writing it, and we get to come along, too. She ventures as far afield as Cairo, where she runs into dedicated sex research taking place amid--of course--religious restriction. And she goes to Taiwan to be hosted by a highly enthusiastic penis-enlargement doctor.
There are three Really Big Questions Roach goes at:
First, are sex scientists pervs? That's her lead-off, and it's a really good question. Basic common sense seems to indicate that those who make something their life's work usually are deeply interested in it, in all aspects of it, and they live it as well as work it. It flows most logically that those who study sex, and study it as intensely as Kinsey and Masters/Johnson did probably had a real thing for sex. Well, duh. But Roach offers: what's so horrible about that? Why is it that enthusiasm and deep enjoyment/interest in sex makes you any less a thoroughly dedicated scientist?
A-ha, Ms. Roach! By extension, are people who write about sex science pervs? Well...Roach offers very little direct personal insight as to her own proclivities, but the book itself speaks more than enough about her curiosity, lust for adventure, and willingness to try something new, if anything just for having done it, bad or good.
Okay, back to sex researchers, and Roach's description of their sad struggle for funding for their studies. They cannot be straightforward in explaining their desires to explore sexual response or orgasm or arousal patterns, so have to resort to euphemism and semantic gymnastics in proposals. So, when it comes to research dollars, it's clear the grant holders still believe that sex researchers are pervs.
And two: what exactly is an orgasm? Sure, it can be observed and defined in any number of physical ways, but it seems that a great many hypersmart scientist-folk still disagree on exactly what is going on here, uh, there, down there. Roach discusses this kind of in depth, offering that there are at least 20 competing medical/scientific definitions. But to my mind doesn't settle on an answer, or really fully develop enough information to let the reader decide.
And third, who are the best lovers? Unfortunately for most hung-up readers, Roach's arrived-at answer is homosexual couples, both female and male (in that order). The heteros get points for attendance, but are a distant third.
Roach's overview of the historical understanding sexual physiology and the act itself is quite interesting. We should all be glad that we are living in the present age, and are not subject to the dangerous idiocy of scientific/medical understanding of sexual anatomy and function as little as 70 years ago.
Roach's humor is outstanding, offering parenthetical and footnoted quips and observations which are truly funny, while not disparaging of her subjects. I mean, she makes references to Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine. She offers lots of oddball tidbits, found facts, such as Millard Fillmore's last words, the world record for ejaculation distance, and what it might be like to date a corn dog.
There is no X-rated action here, at least directly portrayed. The content is adult, to be sure, but not prurient or titillating. There also is no direct how-to here, but you can pull little things out, like that foreplay really does make a difference to both foreplayer and foreplayee.
As for contents, she reviews the work of Kinsey and Masters/Johnson, but in interesting bits and pieces. She's done a lot of research, and requests a number of the key pieces of Kinsey's clandestine research, only to be told no; the reader can't help but infer that such material might just show that one of the greatest sex researchers of all time was indeed a perv. You get the penis camera, phallometrics, vaginal upsuck, the International Index of Erectile Function and RigiScan-Plus Rigidity Assessment System (with Self-Calibrating Penile Loops), smegma, the medicalization of impotence, pelvic clenching, the ins-and-outs of Danish pig insemination, panda porn, Ben Vereen, implants and transplants, the Fruit Machine, coital imaging, the Dickinson vulvas, sex toy manufacturing, the arousometer, foreplay and response, glands and hormones, womb fury (the perfect punk band name!), the rectal probe electroejaculator's role in dampening leg spasticity, and the fact that "...the stereotypical...Barbie...is the one least likely to respond to a manly hammering." You get all this in 303 easy-reading pages, with an extensive bibliography, and with no index or "vibrating eggs," as promised by the author.
Bottom line: If sex disgusts, horrifies or otherwise makes you uncomfortable, this very direct and mature adventure will not be an enjoyable read. But if you've got an intellectual curiosity honest enough to admit that you're interested in well, you-know-what, and if you'd like actually to learn a little bit as you indulge your randy curiosity about S-E-X, then you'll enjoy this book, as I did.
44 of 52 people found the following review helpful
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).
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
"I think by now you know how science is", says a researcher to Mary Roach. "You think you know a lot until you start to ask some really basic questions, and you realize you know nothing." That's perhaps a koan-like exaggeration, but it is certainly true that good research answers questions only to turn up more questions. This might be even more true in the arena of sexual research, the topic of Roach's enormously entertaining and informative _Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex_ (Norton). Roach has before written books about scientific evaluation of the physical and spiritual afterlife of the dead, and if she could make such macabre topics engaging and funny, you can count on a lively treatment of how science investigates sex. Part of the reason this book is so interesting is, of course, that everyone is interested in sex, and there is a great tangle of complicated hormones, engorgements, and reflexes that operate to give us sexual joy and we cannot even feel many of them operating. Another reason is that we got a late start in the scientific evaluation of the subject. Kinsey and Masters & Johnson were pioneers in a sphere where few others had gone before, because of a taint of naughtiness. Another reason the book is so interesting is that you can read all the books on chemistry, physics, or cosmology you want, and you will never find experiments as funny as those of the Egyptian researcher who monitored the coital rates of rats who wore polyester pants. And that's just one example of the experiments here.
Roach loves her subject, which she says is "as good as science gets" because it involves researchers who display "a mildly outrageous, terrifically courageous, seemingly efficacious display of creative problem-solving, fueled by a bullheaded dedication to amassing facts and dispelling myths in a long-neglected area of human physiology." She certainly gets into the spirit of the effort by recruiting her good-sport husband to be the first couple scanned in coition by 3D sonography."For the still images, we must hold still for several seconds, like Victorians posing for a tintype, only not like Victorians posing for a tintype." Roach reports on most of the other research without participating in it, like a paper from five years ago called "The Human Penis as a Semen Displacement Device". Not only did our male evolutionary forebears want to deposit their own semen into vaginas, they wanted to scoop out any semen from predecessors, and it turns out the shape of the glans at the end of the penis is just right to do this. This experiment involved no humans except for the experimenters. They used artificial semen (the recipe is given in the book), an artificial vagina from California Exotic Novelties, and three different artificial phalluses, one of them a control without a glans. The lifelike phalluses expelled 91% of the standing semen, while the cylindrical control expelled only 35%.
Roach has an appealing jocular prose, and her subjects in one chapter after another are, well, the sorts of scientists that would study such things, so they make for entertaining interviews. This does not keep her book from being packed with information, some of it at the cocktail-chatter level and some decidedly deeper. Here is the vaginal photoplethysmograph probe, and to balance that, the nocturnal penile tumescence monitor. Here is how Danish pig farmers stimulate sows so that artificial insemination has a better chance of success. Here is a report of the "inside-out" maneuver performed during surgery on the penis. Here are reflections about how doing sexual research was almost forbidden in the fifties, and then it became acceptable and fundable, but now in an era of "just say no" it has become difficult again. Here are explanations of how victims of paraplegia, who ought not to have sensation below the waist, can get orgasms. Here is evaluation of the famous upsuck theory of female orgasm, and an admission that studies comparing conception rates of women who have sex with orgasm and those who have sex without have simply not been done. Here are descriptions of sexual quackery from the past, including during the witch craze when witches were busy collecting men's penises by magic and putting them in the nests of birds who helpfully kept them alive with a diet of oats and corn. Here is the shorthand code used by the San Francisco Fire Department for sex toy emergencies. And here are some results from a forgotten study that issued from the lab of Masters & Johnson. The most fulfilling sex seems to have been that between committed gay and lesbian couples. Roach says, "Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they `_took their time_.'" They moved slowly and lingered over each other's pleasure. They teased. They talked. Well, perhaps Roach examined research with more revolutionary lessons, but nonetheless, it might be practical to put this one into action.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Once upon a time, Dr. Isaac Asimov attempted to explain the world to everybody. When I was growing up, I devoured both his science fiction and his non-fiction, learning a lot about what had already happened in the world, what was happening at the present, and what yet might happen. I enjoyed his non-fiction books and thought he was really good at explaining science to the layman.
But these days my heart belongs to Mary Roach! I will never stray. She's only written three books, but she's already captured every inquisitive bone and impulse in my body. She's written articles for READER'S DIGEST and NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and her curiosity and propensity for knowledge and instruction seem inexhaustible.
STIFF: THE CURIOUS LIVES OF HUMAN CADAVERS revealed what happened to a body after death. Granted, some stuff maybe I wasn't too thrilled about learning - at first - but Roach took out (most) of the gross effect and totally turned the exercise into an instructional laughfest filled with history and fantastic errata. And the fascination of the subject, as well as her own passion for it, removed the stomach-churn of the experience
In SPOOK: SCIENCE TACKLES THE AFTERLIFE, Roach brought the same kind of intelligent, informative wit to the study of the afterlife and the existence of souls. I knew people were interested in proving the existence of such one way or the other, but I'd never before known to what lengths scientists (and armchair enthusiasts) had gone.
Now Roach delivers, BONK: THE CURIOUS COUPLING OF SCIENCE AND SEX, a hardcore - sorry, couldn't resist - look at the mysteries and mismanagement of sex. When I first saw the plain white, almost virginal book cover, I was entranced. Could a book on that subject really be called by that title? I couldn't help thinking how risqué everyone involved was being.
But I couldn't expect anything less of Mary Roach. All (or at least more than I'd ever before guessed at) of the secrets of sex are revealed between the covers, so to speak. She details several of the curious minds that probed into the subject, and the test patients that laid themselves bare. (See? Even I can't approach this subject with a straight face and the occasional ill-conceived giggle and pun.)
I also love history, and Mary Roach makes the most of the study of sex within those parameters as well. She left no rock unturned in her pursuit of this forbidden knowledge that civilization had invented. I knew that the scientists covered regularly in elementary and junior high science classes dug into the field of sex, but I'd never before known exactly to what degree. Nor did I know that some of them might even have murdered patients to gain knowledge. (I mean, how likely is it that a scientist would happen upon the body of a woman who'd died in the throes of orgasm so he could examine her corpse to better understand that function?)
Another thing I love about Mary Roach is that she's apparently willing to go anywhere to seek out knowledge and report back to the armchair scientists who can't afford to go and wouldn't be caught dead asking such questions. (And that's one of the reasons I like Mike Rowe on DIRTY JOBS.)
For this book, Mary Roach interviewed dozens of people, examined dozens of secret documents, took a tour of a pig farm and watched sows get artificially inseminated, first hand (by hand!), and even enticed her own husband into having sex while being subjected to an MRI. I have to admit, that after seeing Roach in action - forgive me - I can't help but believe that has to be one of the most interesting marriages in the world. I love my wife, but I'm not crawling up onto an MRI table to be watched by scientists for anybody.
Roach goes on to explore several other reconstructive surgery avenues physicians and surgeons have pursued over the year. Just when you think she can't top the last chapter, all you have to do is turn the page.
If you haven't discovered Mary Roach, if you think reading Masters and Johnson's HUMAN SEXUAL RESPONSE has made you an expert in the field, pick up BONK and become truly educated and amazed. Her chapter on Master and Johns, and their peers, casts that research in a totally different light and I found myself alternately appalled and amused.
The science field has a new champion ready to educate and entertain the masses, and her name is Mary Roach. I can't wait to see where she's going next.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2011
Man, oh, Man. I sure wish I had written this book!
First, I would not recommend this book if you're looking to learn about sex. There are many great books for that purpose: Paul Joaniddes' "The Guide to Getting It On", Debby Herbenick's "Because It Feels Good", and Ian Kerner's "She Comes First" come to mind. (Don't slam me: I know those all lose some street cred for heteronormativity!) Bonk is a book about sex research. In other words, this is the book you'll want to read if you want to know HOW we know about sex.
I work in an agency that deals with sexual health. I read lots of journal articles. I read a lot about studies and their methodologies. I also, in my particular work, deal with the cultural aspects of sexual health. This book provided historical context for how we know what we know about sex. Whereas, the people I encounter on a daily basis would have you believe that adolescent sex was invented by MTV, Bonk reviews research on adolescent sexual behavior surveys from the 1800s. Bonk lends context to Kinsey, to Masters and Johnson. Bonk gives insight into the intense scientific research that goes in to understanding sex, a topic so often reduced to pop science. ("A Billion Wicked Thoughts", anyone?)
I can't recommend this book highly enough. In fact, I've already purchased multiple copies to give to friends and coworkers. If nothing else, this book will give you some amazing and colorful trivia to share at your next cocktail party.