Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex delivers on its subtitle; it’s a survey of scientific research and inquiry about all matters sexual, from the early days of a curious female descendant of Napolean, through the formative years of Kinsey and Masters & Johnson, up to modern veterinary, psychological, pharmacological, and medical investigation.
Once again, Mary Roach is hilarious when investigating an area of scientific research. I really enjoyed her exploration of the logistics of outer space in Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, though I wasn’t quite as tickled by the exploration of afterlife-related wishful thinking in Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Since this was a return to a more scientific area, I was really looking forward to it.
And in general, I was rewarded. As always, Mary Roach is an author whose footnotes you don’t want to skip – she runs across some of the most bizarre people, places, and ideas in her research, and she wisely and humorously includes them in the footnotes when she can. Additionally, she really gives her all for her research, whether that means getting lost in Cairo looking for a hospital that does clandestine research with prostitutes or volunteering herself and her husband to have coitus in an MRI.
Roach is also willing to be blunt about the less comfortable areas of sexual science, including a chapter on penile pumps and implants that had me squirming (an effect she foresaw with a footnote apologizing to her male readers).
Roach’s books always seem a little too long, but also not long enough – I really enjoy the humor of her writing style, but it wears out its welcome on me after a couple hundred pages. Oddly, though, there’s always something more to learn or laugh about in these areas, so I’m still a bit sad when I finish.
In conclusion, if your interested in the history of the science of sex, curious about what is actually known about how our genitals and hormones work, and/or want to learn a bit about the struggles for respectability and funding for researchers in those areas, it’s worth checking out Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.