After studying death both in the physical decay (“Stiff) and the afterlife (“Spook”), science author Mary Roach investigates the subject most important to the living: sex.
In her book “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” Roach tackles the questions that no one asked Dr. Ruth: Is your penis three inches longer than you think? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Can a dead man get an erection? Why doesn’t Viagra help women—or, for that matter, pandas? How exactly did a rat tail get “lost” in a penis? Roach is interested less in scientific subjects than in the ways scientists study their subjects. She cares less about the conclusion that polyester shorts are less likely to get you laid, and more about the scientific process determining that by dressing rats in polyester pants. In short, Roach takes an interesting subject and showcases its creepier side.
Roach studies the evolution of sex research; from Dr. Kinsey to Victorian and Roman theories about sex and conception to modern day research for the female version of Viagra. But Roach is not just an impartial reporter; she is willing to take some absurd steps to advance scientific research. At one point, Mary and her spectacularly gracious husband, Ed, perform get it on in a hospital room while a Dr. maneuvers an ultrasound wand over their significant body parts while maintaining small talk, pausing only to reboot his computer.
There are so many bizarre creepy and hilarious moments in this book that I don’t have time to address, but I do have to tackle the highlight reel. Roach found a case study of a woman who had an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth. You’d think this woman would have spectacular oral hygiene, but sadly she believed that she was being possessed by demons and switched to mouthwash. Another study advocated sex as a way to cure intractable hiccups. My favorite line of that study is that “unattached partners may engage in masturbation” to curb the hiccupping. I love that scientists felt the urge to add a third demographic of sexually frustrated hiccuppers: married, single and unattached.
The whole book is worth the price of admission for the chapter where Roach travels to Denmark. In Denmark, the Danish committee for Pig Production (they’re real; Google it) reported that sexually stimulating a sow while artificially inseminating her, will produce a 6% increase in the number of piglets produced. This discovery produced the most amazing instructional DVD ever- teaching farmers the 5 point plan to sexually simulate a sow. When Roach was in Denmark visiting these farmers she asked her host Ann Marie why the farmers don’t just stimulate the clitoris of the pig. She replied (and I love this) “it was a big hurdle to get the farmers just to touch underneath the vulva so we thought let’s not mention the clitoris right now.” Shy but ambitious farmers can also buy a sow vibrator to titillate the pig whilst artificially inseminating her. The things science can do.
What’s most delightful about “Bonk” is not only the bizarre things it reveals about the history of sexual beliefs — if two testicles are good, aren’t three better?! — but also how little is still known about some basic mechanics of human sexuality. Hats-and pants-off to all those brave intrepid scientists.