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Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Hardcover – March 17, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Roach is not like other science writers. She doesn't write about genes or black holes or Schrödinger's cat. Instead, she ventures out to the fringes of science, where the oddballs ponder how cadavers decay (in her debut, Stiff) and whether you can weigh a person's soul (in Spook). Now she explores the sexiest subject of all: sex, and such questions as, what is an orgasm? How is it possible for paraplegics to have them? What does woman want, and can a man give it to her if her clitoris is too far from her vagina? At times the narrative feels insubstantial and digressive (how much do you need to know about inseminating sows?), but Roach's ever-present eye and ear for the absurd and her loopy sense of humor make her a delectable guide through this unesteemed scientific outback. The payoff comes with subjects like female orgasm (yes, it's complicated), and characters like Ahmed Shafik, who defies Cairo's religious repressiveness to conduct his sex research. Roach's forays offer fascinating evidence of the full range of human weirdness, the nonsense that has often passed for medical science and, more poignantly, the extreme lengths to which people will go to find sexual satisfaction. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* The New Yorker dubbed Roach “the funniest science writer in the country.” OK, maybe there’s not a lot of competition. But even if there were thousands of science-humor writers, she would be the sidesplitting favorite. Of course, she chooses good subjects: cadavers in Stiff (2003), ghosts in Spook (2005), and now a genuinely fertile topic in Bonk. As Roach points out, scientists studying sex are often treated with disdain, as though there is something inherently suspicious about the enterprise. Yet through understanding the anatomy, physiology, and psychology of sexual response, scientists can help us toward greater marital and nonmarital happiness. Such altruistic intentions, which the book shares, aren’t the wellspring of its appeal, however. That lies in the breezy tone in which Roach describes erectile dysfunction among polygamists, penis cameras, relative organ sizes and enhancement devices, and dozens of other titillating subjects. Not to be missed: the martial art of yin diao gung (“genitals hanging kung fu”), monkey sex athletes, and the licensing of porn stars’ genitals for blow-up reproductions. To stay on the ethical side of human-subjects experimentation, Roach offers herself as research subject several times, resulting in some of her best writing. --Patricia Monaghan
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The jacket loudly proclaimed, "In Bonk, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm-two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scienctific phenomena on earth- can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a mores satisfying place."
Sounds intriguing right? Plus all the reviews on Amazon were 5 stars. It must be good, right?
Well, no. I don't think so.
Don't get me wrong, the subject matter is interesting. I am amazed by secual reproduction of all types of life, including jellyfish, but that is a tale for a different day. The problem is that I guess I just don't cotton to juvenile sex humor. Maybe it's because I am old (late 20s). Maybe it is because I am a scientist or really open about my sexuality and thus do not feel uncomfortable thinking or reading about, OMG! Sex! I don't know, but I found this woman's humor to be a distraction at best and outright retarded at worst. I wonder whether I could make it through coffee talk with her and here's why:
In one passage she is talking about meeting with a researcher who studies the sexual activity of rheus monkeys, where come on cues are referred to as presentations. The note for this tidbit within the continuing story is as follows: "A visit to Yerkes [the research facility] will forever after distort your image of Corporate America. On my flight home, the woman behind me was talking about a presentation she was planning for a man named Mark. Her seatmate had just finished up a series of displays at the regional sales conference." [Pg. 284, emphasis the author's]
Or when speaking about the G-spot, she mentions that "Zwi Hosh, of the Center for Sexual Therapy at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel, published a paper in which he trained 64 percent of a group of 56 noncoitally orgasmic women [those who do not orgasm simply from intercourse] to have orgasms by stimulating the front wall of their vagina. While most were using the finger, some had managed ot with 'anteriorly directed intercourse.'" The note on this one:
"No one in Israel titters over the seeming irony of a sex therapy center in a hospital called Rambam. Rambam is short for the Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (a.k.a. Maimonides). Though I now associate him with rear-entry intercourse, the rambam, as he is known there, was an important medieval Jewish philospoher." [pg. 80]
Sadly, this book just didn't deliver. Yes, sexual research is interesting, provided it is presented properly. This feel more like an aside into the author's personal absorption and juvenality, especially once you get to the points in the book when she begins (more than once) to volunteer to be a research subject. If she gets off on that, great. If it helped her understand her subject matter, great, but I don't necessarily want to hear about her personal experiences having sex while being ultrasounded. Do you know why researchers randomize the identities of the people they research? It's not for the subject's privacy, but because the last thing most people want to think about is what two other people look like during a sexual experience, especially when it's not porn.
I don't know. I forced my way through this book, but it was a total waste of energy. If you want an enjoyable read, pick up: "Sex: A Natural History." It is at once more intelligent, tells a better story, and is actually funnier in a very adult way. For ridiculousness associated by a woman who clearly hasn't made it past 4th grade humor, read Bonk.
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!