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Why is the Penis Shaped Like That?: And Other Reflections on Being Human

3.71  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,041 Ratings  ·  164 Reviews
Why do testicles hang the way they do? Is there an adaptive function to the female orgasm? What does it feel like to want to kill yourself? Does "free will" really exist? And why is the penis shaped like that anyway?

In Why Is the Penis Shaped Like That?, the research psychologist and award-winning columnist Jesse Bering features more than thirty of his most popular essays
Paperback, 320 pages
Published July 3rd 2012 by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 1st 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,689)
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Brendon Schrodinger
Oct 30, 2014 Brendon Schrodinger rated it really liked it
Jesse Bering is an evolutionary psychologist. That means he asks things like why do we do that? And what could cause nature to select for that behaviour?

Jesse Bering is an evolutionary psychologist who studies sexual behaviour. So what we end up with is a book that would make your mother blush and your grandmother to either faint or laugh uncontrollably and give awkward sepia -coloured sex stories.

And while some part of me feels that I should give a warning that this isn't a book for everyone an
Feb 14, 2014 Karli rated it liked it
Eh. Some of the essays were fun and interesting. Others, not so much. I particularly picked up this book to read the essay on asexuality, and was pretty disappointed. Bering is really committed to an essentialist understanding of human sexuality, and that carries right over into his take on asexuality, and his essentialist stance directs the questions he finds most intriguing about the biological possibility of someone never experiencing sexual attraction. Bering works with an odd definition of ...more
May 05, 2013 Rick rated it it was ok
I was going to leave this un-reviewed, but since I struggled between giving it a 2-star or 3-star rating...


The Good: Interesting tidbits of science conveyed with a bit of humor, along with some thoughtful ponderings on what it all -- or at least, what some of it -- means. The essays are short, meaning you can easily pick it up for a quicky as time permits, which leads to...

The Bad: This is a collection of previously-published essays. As such, there's a certain lack of narrative flow -- t

Christine Glasser
Aug 12, 2012 Christine Glasser rated it it was amazing
Okay so plain and simple: the book is AMAZING. Didn't want it to end. The title refers to just one of the 33 essays and I don't think does the book justice because it is in fact a work of intellectual breadth covering an incredible range of material. What I mean is that it's not as superficial as it probably sounds. It's one those books that I think readers will either love or hate (or maybe just completely not get?) because of the author's very unique style, the provocative subject matter and t ...more
Georgina Ortiz
Jul 15, 2012 Georgina Ortiz rated it really liked it
A few months ago, I noticed myself just looking at good-looking guys (some of whom used to make my heart palpitate a bit) and feeling nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was then that I realized that I must be getting old, since just a decade ago, butterflies in my chest and stomach were a constant whenever I would come face-to-face with a "potential mate" (in the Filipino language there is a word for this: kilig).

And so I reflected on it. Maybe, I theorized, evolution has dictated that female thir
Dec 01, 2012 Melody rated it it was ok
Wildly uneven book of essays. Some of them were very good and some of them were amusing. A couple rubbed me the wrong way entirely because they were so personal and Bering assumed that his feelings were universal (f'rinstance, polyamory can't ever work for anyone because Bering gets so jealous he throws up). The essays about suicide were especially interesting. Bering's corny jokes were cute at first but wore on me by the end.
I saw this book on display in a used book shop in Oregon. I loved the title and knew I would have to read it. I loved it. I knew I loved learning about evolutionary psychology, but this book reminded me on a constant basis how FASCINATING the whole subject is and how much more we have to learn!

I loved all of the subjects for this book. Penises, bodies, the brain and sex, sexual preferences, homosexuality, suicide, and religion. This book was by no means an easy read, nor did I zoom through it, b
Jan 27, 2014 Claire rated it really liked it
If you do not feel that you are not particularly interested in the shape of penises, don't let the title of this book put you off. The subtitle is “... and other reflections on being human” which is a more helpful description of the collection of essays within.

Bering is a professor of evolutionary psychology, or something equally as fascinating and beyond the reaches of my full understanding. The book begins with a chapter where he does tackle the male genitalia in some detail (pun intended) bu
Jul 05, 2012 Book rated it it was amazing
Shelves: neuroscience, science
Why is the Peni$ Shaped Like That? And Other Reflections on Being Human by Jesse Bering

“Why is the Peni$ Shaped Like That?" is the irreverent, thought-provoking and rather sensational book of essays on human sexuality. Dr. Jesse Bering takes us on a journey of surprising and even shocking peculiarities of being human. Using the latest of scientific research in psychology, neuroscience, biology and a naughty sense of humor Bering succeeds in enlightening the public on fascinating issues pertainin
Nov 18, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it
How could you not want to read a book with this title? The book is a fast, enjoyable read: It's a series of short, clever and often funny, essays most them taking on a sexual topic (an ode to human seman, the female ejaculation) but, not exclusively (death, free will, suicide and animal laughter). All are science-based, AND it's science made user-friendly. Dr. Bering is gay, so unsurprisingly a few essays (5 of 33) deal with the science of homosexuality: repressed homosexuality; can you detect s ...more
Sep 06, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it
Interesting fodder for speculation, but I expected it to be, I guess. Most of this books is, "Hey, think of this! BTW, someone did an experiment on this once, but beyond that...THINK OF WHAT THIS COULD MEAN!" A fun read, but I was looking for more analytically-based info. Probably because I'm a goofy f*cker like that.
Also: I guess I was looking for something...not as all about the author's sexuality as it was? It was (like I said) a fun read, but you can only read someone writi
Aug 16, 2012 Hadassah rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book tremendously. The author covered a very large range of hot button issues and was clear about not over stepping what the scientific evidence is for various theories. It is a great introduction to so many topics in Evolutionary Psychology. Jesse Bering has a great sense of humor.

I was tickled to revisit the work of many evolutionists that I have worked with through my involvement in the Evolutionary Studies (EvoS) program at Binghamton University (
Aug 19, 2013 Scott rated it liked it
This was not an easy rating to arrive at. On the one hand, the book is full of interesting and at times valuable information presented in readable prose, fully accessible to a general audience. It was for the most part fun to read and edifying which generally earns a book at least four stars.

On the other hand, the book reads like a collection of previously published pieces, cobbled together under more or less logical headings, then sent off to the binder with a perfunctory introduction and littl
Jan 28, 2013 Yeedle rated it really liked it
Humorous and entertaining. I'm not a big fan of evolutionary psychology, and as the author calls it, it's "backwards engineering", using what we know to explain it from an evolutionary perspective, a process that is highly speculative at best and downright absurd at worst. Another problem with evolutionary psychology is that one can probably do the same while taking the creationist perspective. I admit, though, that in some instances such explanations only work within an evolutionary framework a ...more
Roger Blakesley
Oct 18, 2012 Roger Blakesley rated it it was ok
It was certainly educational. Even about parts I've owned for 51 years. Written entirely, almost, from the perspective of an evolutionary psychologist who was oddly biased towards Darwinian evolution, but who was honest enough to know its limitations. He, of course, in keeping with the presumption of evolution's truth broadly acknowledges dipping his toes deeply into speculation.

And the book lacks the traditional visceral hatred of religion and traditional morality one might expect. The essays i
Jan Bednarczuk
Aug 12, 2012 Jan Bednarczuk rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
I was hoping this book would be an informative and fun read, but the author's irritating voice kept me from enjoying the material. I could never really get into the topic he was writing about, due to his constant efforts to draw attention to himself in the form of "humorous" asides and digressions, often seemingly intended to shock the reader with how outré he is. Can we just assume that someone who is willing to pick up a book titled "Why is the penis shaped like that?" is someone who is reason ...more
Dec 26, 2015 Jenny rated it liked it
This was an interesting book, on an interesting topic. It being a collection of previous essays, however, made reading it difficult and repetitive. Had the Author edited his essays in order to make them more smooth (or, you know, hired a decent editor) it would have been far more enjoyable.

The author is a GOLD STAR GAY. He wants you to KNOW. Every essay, every mention of female reproduction gets an explanation of HOW GAY Dr. Bering is. Great. Good for you. It's largely irrelevant. And now I'm ir
Deby Depreta
May 18, 2013 Deby Depreta rated it it was ok
This book's aim was to titillate, rather than educate. I found it immature at best and rather spare on its actual science reportage.
Annoyingly, the author seemed to think the reader needed to know how much he loathed the idea of having intercourse with a woman. He mentioned it a few times in the book.
This book was more about the author's opinions and predilections than factual information.
I was deeply disappointed given I looked forward to a good non-fiction read.
Charity Becker
Jul 18, 2013 Charity Becker rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who isn't a prude
Recommended to Charity by: frogfairie
I'm getting a huge kick out of this book. It's funny and informative, and the author is just so darn adorable. I'm a big science and psychology buff, and I have always been interested in human sexuality; this book covers all of that, and more. I'm about halfway through, and I'm almost dreading the end, yet I find it hard to put down so I can get some actual work done on my OWN books! Not for the squeamish or prudish--you have been warned.
Sean Goh
Jul 17, 2015 Sean Goh rated it really liked it
Apart from the very interesting stuff related to sex, genitalia and other bawdry goodness, this book contained some gems.

On polyamory (multiple partners) being evolutionally hard-wired into humans: "But the amoral beauty of Darwinian thinking it that it does not - or at least should not and cannot - prescribe any social behaviour, sexual or otherwise, as being the 'right' thing to do. Right it irrelevant. There is only what works and what doesn't work, within context, in biologically adaptive te
Baal Of
This was an enjoyable collection of essay on a wide-ranging list of topics, most of which are considered by a lot of people to be prurient or taboo. The subjects are approached with a light touch and in a conversational manner, so the science content is not as deep as I would like, but it does make for a fast and fun read. I did drop the rating for one poorly thought-out essay about why Bering would choose a taxi-cab with a bible and cross prominently displayed, over one without. Unfortunately h ...more
Nov 01, 2014 Sophia rated it liked it
I liked the first half better than the second half. I understand that he has many different interests, but I personally don't share all of them and would have preferred that his book had a more unified subject matter.
His righting is alright, "readable", although the humor and jokes aren't the best I've come across, even in scientific writing.
Its strong point was broadening my understanding on a lot of research done on sex-related studies, and this isn't the first book I read on the matter. It'
May 30, 2015 Amyiw rated it really liked it
3 1/2- 4
Interesting little tidbits on sex, sex parts, sexuality- fetishes, orientation (including asexual), monogamy, orgasm, etc...-, suicide, laughter, green burial, etc... Really the book is a bunch of speeches or essays that were put together, so the book ends in one topic and then goes off into another, maybe related or loosely related topic, maybe not so much related topic. I think it might be called scientific researched based theories on sex, life and death. In his theories he quotes stu
Jul 29, 2013 Darren rated it liked it
Some fascinating stuff to be found in here, all rendered with a caustic, funny and decidedly unacademic tone. A good read, though I got a little bored at the end. 2 chapters too long methinks.
May 12, 2014 Ana rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Strange thing is: I haven't read the book itself, but I read all the articles included in it, prior to publication. Awesome, funny, thorough and with sound scientific bases. Go for it!
Jan 24, 2014 Nina rated it liked it
Ever since he was a child, the author wondered about why human beings are the way they are. So he became an evolutionary psychologist and explored what the natural selection advantages were that led to some of our traits. He uses humor (and a delightfully big vocabulary) to offer interesting theories. My favorite chapter was the last one: "The Rat that Wouldn't Stop Laughing: Joy and Mirth in the Animal World." There are some philosophical ponderings about free will. And he proposes an interesti ...more
Jun 05, 2014 Nehal rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. Sheds light on evolution's less asked (but much pondered in private) questions. Erudite, witty and smart. Nice job, Dr Bering
Nov 30, 2015 Ibjilln rated it it was ok

When I bought this book, it was with the intention of reading some scholarly/academic articles that explored the fun side of biology and psychology with some level of unacademic humor woven in throughout the text. Instead, I received what I would term as more of a "personal soapbox".
The essays I assume, and hope, have been significantly modified for the average reader's enjoyment, as they were almost juvenile in their scope and delivery which was rather disappointing. Although perhaps I should
Oct 17, 2014 Tom rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. While the title was intriguing, and the essay on the title subject and a few others were informative and well-written reviews of the research on that subject, a few others missed the mark. Either the essay was a bit too depraved for me (and I'm not a prude), or the essay was a bit too detailed about a subject while not being informative enough. Some of the essays simply ended with "more research could be done on this, but probably not in an ethi ...more
Oct 17, 2012 Sarai rated it it was ok
I always find books like this interesting but this one kind of left me cold. It did not have the kind of random medical trivia I appreciate, nor very interesting descriptions of anything, and most came from the perspective of a homosexual man who admittedly did not know about things from the woman's side. Let me clarify something I just said - there is interesting information to be had, some studies that sounded kind of cool, but the information is presented in a dry, boring way. I was disappoin ...more
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