Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Science And Sex

Ah, just after I get cozy with Dr Tatiana’s text and Dawkins’ sex-posed on YouTube – it’s time for Mary Roach to return from the dead with some shagging. And what a comeback!

Now, I’m a keen reader of Roach’s work after getting into Stiff (which was recommended by Penn Jillette on his ‘books enjoyed this year’ list of ’03) and Spook has been very useful for my studies.

Roach’s narrative style follows her investigations with a engaging, open-minded attitude and straightforward questioning on aspects of human life and beliefs. In a way, she reminds me of Jon Ronson’s explorations, although Ronson has a more self-deprecating, ironic style. But then, what would you expect from a guy who beats up on himself for taking his kid along with him when investigating Santa Claus and realises too late that there’s only so much enthusiasm that you can have when suffering from jet-lag.

Speaking of which, I strongly recommend picking up the more recently released collection of Ronson’s essays that I mentioned previously – will get onto comparing What I Do: More True Tales of Everyday Craziness with Out of the Ordinary: True Tales of Everyday Craziness later!

So – Bonk. To Australians and those familiar with UK slang, the term isn’t unknown. But Roach has questions and the most vital involve what is unknown about sex and those who research it. Sexology is a science offering at many universities (I should go to my workplace and ask around the department there!) with several studies involving participants going for it in laboratories – and after reading this book I can see why there’s a lot to look at. Uh, so to speak. From the chapter “What Would Allah Say? The Strange, Brave Career of Ahmed Shafik”:

In the field of sexology alone, Shafik has planted his flag into twenty new reflexes. If you look at sex through the fabulous black spectacles of Ahmed Shafik, you see more than just a couple expressing their love…

From the well-known aspects of Alfred Kinsey’s somewhat dubious studies (some of which were revealed in a very disappointing feature film), the advent of viagra, even to seriously bizarre involving interspecies copulation and the tale of ‘Robert Latou Dickinson, a pioneer in the field of female smegma‘, Roach keenly talks to a variety of experts and covers a broad range of interesting aspects. Socio-political attitudes will naturally influence the efforts to know more and like her previous work, she travels world-wide to talk in person to many of the researchers in their own institutions. Roach is most in her element when she gets into the mysteries about the inner-workings of bonking that are revealed by new technology, like MRI and ultrasound… a bit more advanced than just using a test tube:

But Masters didn’t want to limit his findings to the arousal and orgasms of masturbation. He wanted to know what was going on with the cervix and the vagina during a typical round of bonk. Obviously there are logistical problems here. You can’t see the hangar when the airship’s in the building. William Masters needed a penis he could see. And so he had one built.

I wondered why the Hite report wasn’t mentioned, but apart from that omission, this was a really uh, in-depth look at sex. Sorry, it’s difficult not to keep away from double-entendres, which was something Roach seemed to enjoy at moments too. Particularly enjoyable was the applied research using the author herself, after learning of the paper Real-time three-dimensional ultrasound for imaging dynamic morphology of various sexual activities.

You can check out the New York Times review of the book here and there is also a (eek!) video thanks to Slate Online: – YES it is explicit, be warned!!

Mary Roach, author of the new book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, relates how she and her husband became the first couple to be filmed on 4-D ultrasound while having sex. We have the tape, too.

You can also enjoy a Salon interview with the author – “If somebody on an airplane says ‘Well, what do you do?’ I don’t say, ‘I’m a sex researcher.’” Because they inevitably think you’re a pervert, or you must really dig sex. Whereas if you’re a geneticist, people don’t think: “Oh, you must really dig genes!” Sex researchers get that all the time—a lot of raised eyebrows.”

If you go to, you can buy The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (and How to Do Them)Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex and get them with a bit of a discount too. Peter Sagal was interviewed on Skepticality a little while back, which got me into his book too. Well worth it!

And next on the cards? Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife, just released this month by Roach and described by Jon Ronson himself as ‘a wonderfully dry, funny, trustworthy tour guide into the exciting but murky world of the afterlife’ – I’ll let you know!

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Filed under Cool stuff, Current Events, Education, Media, Psychology, Science, Skepticism, Technology

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