Sarah's Reviews > Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science

Bonk by Mary Roach
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's review
Apr 29, 2008

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bookshelves: fancypants
Read in April, 2008

okay i didn't REALLY read the *entire* thing. But I read like 85% of it and skimmed the rest. And for the most part it was pretty hilarious. I had some problems with it thought. I felt like I spent the whole book waiting for her get to the point about people having different kinds of sex. The book, supposedly, is about sex. But it's never really clear how she defines sex. She (and scientists) seem to be working mostly from a sex-as-intercourse assumption. This was most clearly illustrated when she and her husband volunteered to have sex in a lab so scientists could take an MRI of it. But then when she described it, it really didn't sound like what i think of as sex at all. I don't want to project feelings on to her too much, but it didn't sound like she was involved or turned on by it at all. It didn't sound like two people having sex. The way she described it, it sounded like she could have been a doll that her husband was having intercourse with. Orgasm was certainly never mentioned in that scenario.

Point being, she spend a lot of time talking about the mechanics of sex, but what IS sex exactly? There are so many different kinds, and she really only talks about intercourse and the orgasms that come therefrom. At the very tiny little squeak of an end she mentions queer sex (or "homosexual," as she very clinically puts it), but only as an aside to illustrate that Masters & Johnson found that queer people have better sex than straight people. But does she go on to say anything more about queer people or queer sex? No no. Instead she talks about the implications of this tidbit for straight people. You can practically hear the underlying "we" when she talks about how far "heterosexuals have come" (no pun?). No mention of any of the implications for queer people. There's so much othering going on I almost can't keep track of it all.

It is shocking to me that a book that purports to be about sex has such a severely limited definition of what sex entails. When I got to the chapter about implants and sexual modification I thought that surely, finally, there would be a mention of queer people, at the very least of people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery. NOTHING! It's appalling. The book is funny and entertaining, but for a book that claims to be about sex, it is heterosexist and cisgenderist (is that even a word?) in the extreme. Not even just heterosexist, interesting-sex-ist (e.g No discussion of all the different ways for just straight ppl to have sex other than intercourse). Disappointing.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Claudia (new)

Claudia Actually, I think the book is about sex RESEARCH rather than about sex by itself. It is an interesting social commentary just seeing what kind of sex-related research can get funding.

message 2: by Katy (new) - added it

Katy that's the exact comment i was going to leave. it's a compendium/overview of research, and she does suggest how and why certain things get studied and certain things don't. any book "about sex" is going to leave someone out. she is not an academic writer; her book is journalistic and told (somewhat) from her point of view, as if she's taking you on her research trip. i don't see why she should make a special point to use sexuality-neutral language. i appreciate your point here, i really do, but it sounds like you are looking for something that you're not getting, then crying "heterosexism!"

Sarah Claudia, quite right. her book is about "RESEARCH". but her research, and that of scientists, seems just a wee bit limited to me. there is a *whole world* of sex that does not primarily involve intercourse. i mean, even for straight people.

katy, well if we approach writing about sex with the attitude that someone is going to always be left out, then someone certainly always will be. thankfully i'm not really holding out for universal inclusion here. however, some indication that intercourse isn't the be all and end all of sex would be nice. since, you know, it isn't.

i don't recall ever saying that she should use sexuality-neutral language. that would be exceedingly silly. what i meant to say was that her book would be more interesting if she widened her definition of sex a bit. seriously, i think she does ALL her readers a disservice.

oh and, yeah, i AM looking for something i'm not getting, namely the assumption that maybe not everyone is straight (among other things). so yeah i think it's perfectly reasonable to say the book's a bit heterosexist. since, you know, that's what heterosexist means.

HeavyReader I haven't read this book yet, but I am looking forward to reading it soon.

I do appreciate the point that folks often say "sex" when they mean "intercourse." If people mean "intercourse," why can't they just say "intercourse"?

Anyway, Sarah, thanks for pointing out what you see as flaws with the book. I still want to read it, but feel like I am going into it with a bit more knowledge.

message 5: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 12, 2008 11:12PM) (new)

It is silly to put down a book which discusses research of sex just because it does not explore every aspect of human sexuality. Take it for what it is, and stop trying to push an agenda on it. Also, even if a book does not mention homosexuality as much as you would like; it does not automatically make the book or its author "heterosexist".

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