Monday, June 20, 2011

Bonk by Mary Roach

The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex.

In which we learn about the science of sex, the history of sex research and cutting edge sex scientists.

Mary Roach tackles sex in Bonk with her usual sincerity, humor and rigor. It really is a winning combination. The book is consistently edifying and entertaining as we learn about sex research pioneers figuring out the basics of intercourse right up to current research on the physiology of orgasms!

Bonk is not for the squeamish. In between laughing out loud, it had me cringing, crossing my legs, instinctively shielding my crotch and gagging. It delves into the nature of all the sex related fluids you could name, discusses research being done on (and, uh, in) people and talks about all kinds of disturbing things people do to themselves. I am have a low tolerance for medical and body related ickiness (particularly genitals. ew) and this book was sometimes tough to read. I think a good test of your ability to read this book without cringing would be if you can think of the definition of the word smegma without throwing up in your mouth or think about clitoris-relocating surgery without your legs wanting to instinctively cross. I was uncomfortable reading lots of this book, but still largely enjoyed it.

I don't know if I need to clarify, but this is nothing like a sex-ed primer a kid should read. It will probably be the most interesting and relevant to adults well familiar with the, uh, ins and outs of sex. I would have been traumatized by this book well into my college years, and my mom had me in extracurricular sex ed classes at age 9! Also traumatizing, for the record.

Maybe my favorite thing about this book was how normal it made me feel. Not to get into sexy details that (I sincerely hope) no readers of this blog want to hear, but this book was reassuring in regards to my own sexual experience. It is strangely reassuring to learn about the science behind sex stuff that is confusing to me as well as read indications that other people have similar concerns!

I love how Roach interjects humor in weird and unexpected ways into her science writing. She just puts in weird factoids, strange comparisons or funny context to make me giggle! Some of my favorites in Bonk included the idea of illustrating positions with robots uh, bonking; the french term for doggy style (a la vache - like the cow) or about 100 other short bits of humor.

I would rank the books I've read by Mary Roach as follows:
Bonk < Spook < Stiff.
It's hard to say why exactly, but I feel like Stiff was by far the most amusing and made me the least uncomfortable while Spook was in between on both counts. All three subjects were interesting and her perspective always unique, but I was cringing so hard at points in this book that I felt unsure it should exist. In retrospect, I think the good outweighs the bad. Mostly.

Despite my cringiness, I would give Bonk 4/5 stars. It really is fascinating and educational and I can't really hold it against Roach that I'm the type of person who is uncomfortable reading about the structure of the vagina or what not. I would recommend this book to fans of other Roach books or a person who knows they enjoy reading about sex or weird science.

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