I first encountered the writings of Mary Roach several years back when a friend handed me Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
“This is the only kind of non-fiction I’ll read,” my friend said, “informative and humorous at the same time.” She was absolutely right. Roach has a gift for taking scientific topics – in that case, exploring bodies postmortem – and pulling out the most interesting information and presenting that information in an accessible and amusing way.
Stiff was a hoot to read. Roach begins the book: “The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship. Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you.” Before the book is through, Roach, with the same dry wit, covers many topics relating to cadavers, including the history of embalming, the process of decay, human crash-test dummies – chapter title: “Dead Man Driving” – and medical scientists practicing surgery on corpses.
So when a member of my book group put forth Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, also by Roach, as our next read, well, I was delighted to check it out. Roach writes about sex in the same breezy, witty, and informative way I was both expecting and hoping for. Topics covered in this book range from the sure sign of female orgasm, the location of the fabled G Spot, female arousal as a function of clitoral-urethral separation distance, to the the link between female sexual pleasure and fertility.
In Bonk, Roach continues to instruct and entertain as she discusses cures for erectile dysfunction, societal perspectives on masturbation, the internal mechanics of penile erection, the nature of arousal in men vs. women, the physiologic trigger of male ejaculation and the role of hormones on the female libido.
Yes, a lot of ground is covered in this book! Roach not only pays homage to those research scientists from the past, including Masters and Johnson and Alfred Kinsey, but she also volunteers herself and her husband as test subjects in a lab that uses MRI ultrasound imaging during sex.
I was intrigued by the fact that our society was more open to and accepting of sex research in the 1920s than it was in the 1950s. I gained new respect for Kinsey and Masters and Johnson (et al) who risked their entire reputations and careers to learn more about human sexual response. Deemed “perverted” by their scientific peers, funding was almost impossible to attain, as was space to conduct research. Kinsey resorted to using his attic as a space to interview patients and observe sexual response.
So, what did my book group think about Bonk (the book, that is!)? Overall, it was well received, by those who actually read it. We all agreed that Roach’s ability to simultaneously inform and entertain the reader is winning. We also felt, perhaps not unsurprisingly, that she may have spent too much time on “sow insemination” and too little time discussing “female orgasm” in a meaningful way. She did not, it was observed, discuss the topic of orgasm over a woman’s life span. As one woman said about the coverage of that topic: “It was not conclusive.”
None of us were surprised to learn that it is the female rat, not the male, who loses interest in copulation when bits of cheese appear nearby. One woman shared that her husband has long suspected that, given the choice, she would opt for a hot fudge sundae over the chance of an “encounter” with him.
And, true to form for most book group gatherings, we frequently strayed off topic and one of us would have to coax the group back to discussing Bonk. As for the level of “sharing,” it ranged to fit our personalities perfectly. Some shared quite a bit – maybe TMI – some merely listened, and others offered a more analytical approach to reviewing the book’s contents.
In the end, I preferred Stiff to Bonk. Roach has published two other books, one dealing with questions about the afterlife, and one about on life in space. I look forward to reading both in the near future.