Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach is typical of her other books: it’s full of fun, interesting science, and is a little bit of crazy and a lot of hilarity. Having already traveled to the morgue and outer space with Roach, I was more than enthusiastic to follow her into the bedroom.
The book is, obviously, about sex. You will read about genitals and toys and the author having, ahem, relations in an MRI. If that makes you blush, you probably might want to avoid this book. Or, better yet, put another dust jacket on it and read it anyway.
A quick read, Bonk covers a lot of topics but none of them go particularly in-depth. The organisation is more thematic than topic-based, so you might find your anatomy lesson spread out through several chapters rather than all consolidated into a single “About: Genitals” chapter (for my purposes, I’ll cover things more topically). The book doesn’t cover much in the way of sexuality — although it’s obviously relevant and still discussed — it’s more about the act itself.
Being a book focused on the science of sex, the bulk of the book is really about research into the field. We get a lot about the people who really started it all – famous names like the Masters & Johnson partnership and Alfred Kinsey. These researchers not only paved the way for current studies but also provide plenty of weird or amusing anecdotes as a result of being the first to do things in a time when it wasn’t an acceptable area of study.
In addition to learning about research of the past, the studies and tools used now are investigated as well. Roach paints a very enlightening picture of what kind of sex research occurs today and how it’s done. Think internal cameras and imaging machines and all other sorts of awkward means of measurement. Roach interviews people who participant in these studies, as well as taking part in several herself.
Roach of course covers the basic stuff, always clever and peppered with funny stories. The anatomy and the biology behind sex: genitals, hormones, fertility. We get some psychology, gender issues, sexuality as well. She discusses masturbation and sex toys and practices.
Sexual impotence and dysfunction is also a theme within the book. The book also covers sex for people suffering physical handicaps like paralysis. You will read about cutting edge (and eye-widening) surgeries, implants and the doctors that do them, and the doctors who innovate and perform these procedures and the people that get them. You’ll also learn about other wacky ways things things are approached – now and in the past.
The book has plenty of funny, relevant stories, as well. You’ll read about the guy who implanted suckers with goat testicles to increase fertility (the subject of another book I just read, in fact), about pig orgasms, sex monkeys, impotence court trials and porn star crotch licenses. Additionally, Roach uses a ton of footnotes, which are often as good at the text itself – don’t skip them!
While Bonk is not my favourite book of hers — Stiff still holds this title — it is not because this book is lacking so much as the others set a very high bar. It’s a great read and you’ll come away a little more informed and a little more amused.