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Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex Paperback – April 6, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Roach's glimpse into the inner workings of sex, be it the orgasm, erection or even the use of Viagra on animals, is a refreshing and fascinating study. Sandra Burr offers a straightforward, unfiltered reading that captures Roach's sense of humor perfectly. Taking the taboo out of the touchy subject matter and giving listeners an entertaining, unbiased look at sexual intercourse, Burr offers an everyday approach to the hot topic that will appeal to a wide ranging audience.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
*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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Studying sex is tough. It's difficult to get funding for research because the research boards think you are a pervert and it can be difficult to get good subjects. As Mary Roach says "The laboratory study of sex has never been an easy, safe, or well-paid undertaking. Study by study, the gains may seem small and occasionally silly, but the aggregation of all that has been learned, the lurching tango of academe and popular culture, has led us to a happier place. Hats and pants off to you all." (p 304).
Mary Roach is an exhaustive researcher; she went around the world to cover the topics. The book covers both scientific topics and sociological. I found the sociological aspects to be my favorite. There are some real cringe-worthy moments in the book as when she discusses penile implants. But we do get some insight into what an orgasm; we read about 20 definitions. Who knew it could be so complicated. We also learn why men get stuffy noses when they take Viagra and "how rectal probe electrostimulation came into use as a therapy for muscle spasticity in people with spinal cord injuries". (p 222).
On the sociological side we find that "the best sex going on in Masters and Johnson's lab was the sex being had by the committed gay and lesbian couples. Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they 'took their time.' They lost themselves - in each other, and in sex."(p 300). "Masters points out that the heterosexuals were at a disadvantage, as they do not benefit from what he called 'gender empathy'. Doing unto you partner as you woud do unto yourself only works well when youre gay." (p 302).
I also enjoyed the study of putting many students in a dark room so they can do what they like without the fear of judgement. Couples form. "'People share strong yearnings to be close to each other,' concluded the authors. 'However, social norms make it too costly to express these feelings. '" (Location 3814)
Mary Roach's style reminds me of Calvin Trillin: ironic with a little distance. (Well not too much distance: she and her husband did have sex in an MRI as part of the study). I'll read "Packing for Mars" where I imagine she'll have plenty to say about getting rid of bodily waste.
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.