Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Mary Roach's Curiosities

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Rate this book
The study of sexual physiology - what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better - has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey's attic.
Mary Roach, "The funniest science writer in the country" (Burkhard Bilger of The New Yorker), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn't Viagra help women - or, for that matter, pandas? In Bonk, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm - two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth - can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place.

319 pages, Hardcover

First published March 17, 2008

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Mary Roach

26 books11.8k followers
Mary Roach is a science author who specializes in the bizarre and offbeat; with a body of work ranging from deep-dives on the history of human cadavers to the science of the human anatomy during warfare.

Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; GULP: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, PACKING FOR MARS: The Curious Science of Life in the Void; BONK: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex; and GRUNT: The Curious Science of Humans at War.

Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, Discover, New Scientist, the Journal of Clinical Anatomy, and Outside, among others. She serves as a member of the Mars Institute's Advisory Board and the Usage Panel of American Heritage Dictionary. Her 2009 TED talk made the organization's 2011 Twenty Most-Watched To Date list. She was the guest editor of the 2011 Best American Science and Nature Writing, a finalist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize, and a winner of the American Engineering Societies' Engineering Journalism Award, in a category for which, let's be honest, she was the sole entrant.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
16,089 (28%)
4 stars
22,438 (39%)
3 stars
14,301 (24%)
2 stars
3,341 (5%)
1 star
1,260 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,942 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
September 23, 2014
(Joint review with JORDAN, who's actually finished the book)

- George?

- Mmm?

- Don't go to sleep.

- Mmm.

- You are going to sleep!

- Mm-mm.

- George, tell me something you did today.

- Um... I read a book.

- That's better! Move around a bit. Yes, that's right, put your hand there. Good. What book?

- Bonk. By Mary Roach.

- That silly book about sex?

- It's not silly! She's really got a lot of interesting things to say!

- Like?

- Ah... I liked the bit about women's orgasms.

- Guess you don't know much about that. OW!

- Sorry, you asked for it. Now do you want me to tell you what she said about women's orgasms?

- OK. I'm sorry I teased you. Put your hand back there. What did she say?

- Well, she spends a lot of time discussing whether women really do have vaginal orgasms. I didn't understand how many different opinions there were. It's complicated!

- Complicated?

- Alright, so most women have clitoral orgasms. Stroking or kissing their clit gets them off.

- Certainly works for me. Talking of which...

- No, wait, let me finish. The question is whether so-called vaginal orgasms are really just clitoral orgasms in disguise. The guy's penetrating her, and it gives her an orgasm, but what's really happening is that he's just indirectly stimulating her clit. So it's not really a vaginal orgasm at all.

- Well, I agree with her. I think that's what's happening. But how could you know for sure?

- Look, that's what's so interesting. There was this French princess. Marie Bonaparte. Her clit was a long way from her vagina, and she never got any vaginal orgasms.

- Did her guy have to go down on her then?

- Um... I think this was before oral sex was invented. She talked to a bunch of women, and measured how far their clits were from their vaginas, and asked them how sex was for them. She has some French word that means you're a woman whose clit is a long way from her vagina. And...

- There's a French word that means that??

- There is! Look it up. I told you there was good stuff in this book! Teleclit... something. Téléclitoridienne. Aren't you impressed that I remembered that?

- You're not pronouncing it right.

- Well, how am I supposed to say it?

- Téléclitoridienne.

- That's what I said. I think. Anyway, the princess found that most téléclitoridienne women didn't enjoy penetrative sex. She wrote a scientific paper about it.

- You're asking me to believe that a princess went around, like a hundred years ago, asking a bunch of women questions about their sex lives and measuring how far their clits were from their pussies, and then published the results in a medical journal?

- I agree, it does sound a bit weird. But that's the way Mary Roach tells the story. The princess was so convinced by her findings that she paid a surgeon to operate on her and move her clit further in, so she could have better sex.

- And did it work?

- Well, no. She never had an orgasm again. He screwed up. But he figured out what he did wrong, and next time it worked.

- What a sad story! George?

- Mmm?

- Do you think I'm téléclitoridienne?

- Ah... well...

- Could you look?

- OK. Turn that light on. Hm. I think you're mesoclitoridienne. Between one and three centimeters. I'm guessing one and a half.

- Oh, what a relief. But I think you should check more carefully.

- Like this?

- Well, I was thinking more like this.

- Can you really measure distances that way?

- George, don't be silly. Of course you can.

- Mmm.

- George?

- Mmm?

- I'm glad I'm not a French princess.

Profile Image for Trevor.
1,301 reviews22k followers
November 11, 2008
I’ve never had internet sex – there must be another word for it, cybersex, obviously, but I’m thinking more along the lines of keyboard sex. All the same, a couple of years ago (and purely as a community service, you understand) I started working on a series of words that could be typed using only the left hand. It was another of those projects that I started and fairly quickly lost interest in.

If this book is about anything I think it would be fair to say that it is about the absurdity of sex. This is the second of Roach’s books I’ve read lately and I must say sex is much funnier than death. This book was laugh out loud funny.

I have also discovered that I have a special face that I wear whenever the words URETHRA and EXPANDED or INSERTED are used in the same sentence. This is especially the case when the word TOOTHBRUSH is also contained in that sentence – but it is not reserved for the collocation of those particular words. In fact, by the end of the book whenever the word URETHRA was used at all I could feel my face responding in a particularly pronounced Pavlovian fashion.

There were so many interesting bits to this book that it is pointless me starting or I simply won’t be able to stop. And it was funny and fun – so I am going to recommend it and recommend it highly.

The bit I found most interesting was right at the end, where she was talking about tests that were done in the 1970s that found that the people who enjoyed sex the most were homosexual couples – either gay or lesbian. This was because the heterosexual couples tended to see sex as a destination they needed to reach as quickly as they could, while the homosexual couples played more and teased and delighted in each other more. For some reason we seem to have become sold on the ‘sex as performance’ metaphor. At one point she said that many women felt sexually inadequate because they believed themselves to be unattractive and spent the whole time worrying about what they looked like – watching themselves in effect. Sex is about being there with someone else, and is better the more ‘there’ you are – it is a dance, rather than a race or a beauty contest.

Now, this is the second time recently that I’ve discovered just how incurious I am and have always been. The first time was with Mr Fry’s autobiography when he was talking about boys sticking their fingers up their bums. That simply never occurred to me when I was growing up. And to be honest, you could leave me alone in a room for a thousand years and I would never think of having sex with a vacuum cleaner. I am assuming that is not what Billy Bragg means when he has a female character in one of his songs say, “no amount of poetry will mend this broken heart, but you can push the Hoover ‘round if you want to make a start”.

So, what did I learn? Well, besides that gays make the best lovers, that it is best not to rush into a room when you hear a man calling out “Titan, Titan, Titan” on a video your wife is watching and if God has a place it certainly isn’t in the bedroom, I think that the best of this book – like Stiff – is acknowledging that life, death and sex are all a bit absurd and for that we really should be very grateful.
Profile Image for Michael.
274 reviews781 followers
July 24, 2011
This book review has received a strong 'R' rating for disturbing sexual content. If you are eating, you might not wanna read this review right now.

DON'T go into this book thinking it'll get you in the mood. In fact, it may disturb the mood right out of you.

Did you know? Before Viagra, guys who couldn't maintain a good stiffy would often have "stilts" of some sort inserted inside of their penis skin, and they would essentially wander through life with a half-boner that never went away so they could still bonk. Special pants were designed to make this perpetual-half-mast issue less obvious.

Also, apparently a lot of guys are turned on by putting stuff inside the skin of their penises. To me, this sounds like exactly the LAST thing I would EVER want to do. For those of you without a penis, let me remind you, tis quite sensitive. Picture putting a bicycle in your mouth. I expect that would be about as painful as putting a gerbil up your. . . I did mention gerbils are popular for this, right?

ALSO, congratulations to homosexuals. In several studies, it has been suggested that homosexuals tend to be much less inhibited during sex. They tend to take their time about it much more, to spend more time with foreplay, and to communicate more actively with their mates during bonk. Apparently, heteros have a tendency to just git 'er done, then go back to watching TV.

Because humans tend to be prudish, for many a year, all studies of sexuality were done by watching other animals doing the bonk. Unfortunately, this is a very ineffective way of studying HUMAN sexuality, since pigs and monkeys tend to orgasm in a matter of seconds and not derive a lot of enjoyment out of it.

Also, do you know about electrical dick machines? Well, now you do! You can buy a kit to build your own machine that serves the purpose of making a plastic cock gyrate. Check out the latest issue of Boy's Life, they always encourage the buying and building of random shit--I can't tell you how many times I tried to convince my parents to let me buy a kit to build a hovercraft, but they always asked, "What are you going to do with a hovercraft?" And I would inevitably respond with, "I don't KNOW, but hovercrafts are awesome!"

Similarly, electric dick machines are awesome.

AND, perhaps this is the most important and encouraging fact of all. SHORTER WOMEN (in general) ORGASM BETTER AND MORE OFTEN. There is science to back this up, and I don't remember the details, but I do remember the rule of thumb: the distance between belly button and vagina is a good indication of the clitoris's location. The shorter this distance, the more conveniently placed the clitoris, and the more action it will receive during bonk.

This was quite entertaining, and I learned a lot--some of which I didn't want to know. That said, I didn't find this one as entertaining as Stiff. Bonk is similar in a lot of ways, taking the same humorous approach to the topic, and focusing on the bizarre and fascinating. If you feel like reading something that's light, fun, and able to make your genitals suck up into your body with fear, give this book a go.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
May 6, 2015
3.5 stars.

This was like cup of cocoa sex. Sex is always good but sometimes you can't help hoping it will be over soon and you can have a cup of cocoa, maybe with cream. Marshmallows even. Maybe a sprinkle of cinnamom and some grated chocolate curls. Oh there I go, mind drifted off.

Read 13 Dec. 2013 and forgotten about until now. Now what was it reminded me. Friday night. Hopeful. And if not... there is always cocoa.
Profile Image for rachel.
773 reviews150 followers
June 29, 2012
One of my favorite parts in Fifty Shades of Grey -- by which I mean, one of the parts that gave me the greatest WTF glee -- is the part where Ana, still a virgin, is watching Christian Grey become aroused and is wondering how it's going to fit, and he says to her, "Don't worry. You expand too."

My first reaction: Sexay! My second reaction: sadness for the fact that for whatever reason, there are other girls and women who also lack the knowledge of basic sexual biology because, as I lamented in my review of Fifty Shades, the subject is so laced with shame.

This book is a little more than basic. It's Intermediate Sex Ed, for people who know the names of parts and how they work (and certainly that they fit), but doesn't know the exact mechanics of that working, perhaps. Mary Roach teaches us these things in great detail. For example, what layperson knows that vaginal fluid is plasma secreted through the vaginal walls, its source being the blood that rushes to fill the walls during arousal? (I mean, maybe you reasoned that out, but nowhere in high school sex ed do they say "here is what makes up vaginal fluid," you know?)

Who knew that people could think themselves to orgasm, that orgasms can temporarily relieve the spasms and pains of neurological disorder? That quadriplegic and paraplegic persons who are capable of having orgasms -- 40-50% of them -- may feel it not just in their heads and genitals, as those who are not quadriplegic or paraplegic do, but potentially in their chests, arms, shoulders too?

Who knew that women experience involuntary symptoms of arousal while watching any sort of sex (homosexual, heterosexual, even sex between animals) but men generally are only aroused by the type(s) of sex they're oriented towards? So much for that oh-so-feminine insult of frigidity.

There's also a delightful human element to the book. The fact that the woman who volunteered to publicly demonstrate a sex machine at a convention is in her sixties and wearing bookish glasses. Roach and her husband in hospital gowns, doing it whilst having their genital responses imaged, for science. The accusation of one of Kinsey's biographers that there was a perverse gleam in his eyes as he hovered his face inches away from a copulating couple (also FOR SCIENCE).

I guess my complaint would be that there's not enough of that human connection to the genitalia detailed in the book. Not enough of the human connection and communication that -- as Roach concludes in the final chapter, to the surprise of no one -- enhances our sexual experiences. I mean, it's kind of good to get to a point where you've read the word "clitoris" so many times it seems as dirty as reading a symbolic logic textbook. But that effect also makes the book about as exciting as symbolic logic at points, so.
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,883 reviews5,800 followers
September 1, 2016

Mary Roach is always on her game. She is funny, and her subjects are all so interesting. The narrator of this audiobook was also on point. But while I enjoyed this book, I think my 3 star rating is mostly my own fault.

Because I apparently already knew all the freaky weird details about sex... like almost all of them covered in this book.

In this case, I guess my love of sexual oddities and all things weird conspired against me because parts of this book felt, dare I say it, boring.

I still love you, Mary Roach, and I'll be listening to Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers very soon.
Profile Image for jess.
852 reviews75 followers
July 24, 2008
i audiobook'd this, the third feature-length scientific expedition of mary roach. i love! love! love! mary roach. i have bought multiple copies of her first book, stiff, and have managed to permanently "lend" every one of them out. audiobooking the curious couplings of science and sex, however, was a very strange experience. picture this: i am walking around downtown pittsburgh, just like every morning, and there are strangers passing me left and right with serious or sleepy looks, briefcases and plastic bags, and i am listening to a chapter on Lady Boners. i'm stuck in traffic, the way i most despise spending my time, and learning about the erotic rituals of artificial insemination of pigs in norway. very! strange!

if you're looking for a forthright and humorous scientific break-down of erotic encounters, the clit, the g-spot, the erection.... well, this may not be the book for you. roach focuses her special, special attentions on the sex researchers that have changed the landscapes of our bodies and our bedrooms. quick, tell me, which sexologist used his research as an outlet for his attraction to men? whatever happened to the dildo cams constructed decades ago for sex research of vaginal arousal? what do you know about the discovery of the g-spot? have you ever read a graphic description of the surgeries performed to provide erections for men with erectile dysfunction? what do you know about the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening, and the orgasmic capacity therein? interested to find out which sex researchers had to perform their studies under the cover of nightfall? read BONK.

roach explores the ways that funding moves (or not) through research facilities, the stigma and social implications of being involved in sex research, and the feelings of grown-up children of researchers. we visit the institutions that are supportive and not. roach pieces together the changing times and cultural notions of sex, and how our perception of sex restricts or facilitates collection of data and ability to publish. she produces a clear picture of the historical variance in our cultural acceptance of sex research. basically, the book is a lot of the grimy politicking that happens when people are jostling for funds and the neighbors might not approve of your research. it's an entertaining ride through the scientific research industry. along the way, i learned that sex researchers are both flawed and fascinating, and have both the purest and most dubious intentions and methods. and some of them actually seem likable (cindy mestin, for example!)

of course, we learn the most from the exceptional cases, and roach brings enough material from the margins to make your head (or sphincter) spin. i appreciated her examinations of the roles that prostitutes played, especially in the early days of sex research. i loved the tales of wild sexual encounters in a rented attic for the sake of science. i loved that mary roach talked her husband into having sex with her in a lab for the sake of science. i am not sure that i could talk my spouse into that, even for the sake of science. i was enthralled by the last chapter's mention of the scientific proof of better sex between gay couples than straight couples. i'm biased, i guess, but i agree.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
September 5, 2010
I didn't think she could write a better book than Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, but I was wrong. "Bonk" is fantastic. I read it because I love Roach's style, especially on tough subjects. I'm over 50, grew up on a farm, had an active sexual life before & after I got married almost 30 years ago & have raised 3 kids to adulthood. I'm a sysadmin & there isn't much I haven't seen on the Internet. So, how much new material could there be?

Plenty, but that wasn't what shocked me. There was very little 'shocking' material. Roach kept the book very much in the realm of science with just enough humor to make it flow & keep it interesting. No, what shocked me was our lack of knowledge in this area.

Sex is one of the most important parts of our lives. I would have thought some one or some study would have all the answers. We've split the atom, but we don't really understand an orgasm. What's up with that? Well, sex is a taboo subject. Even after the 60's? Yup.

I thought we'd come a long way since the Victorian & 50's era repression, but apparently not. President Clinton (the man with the wandering cigar) actually fired his surgeon general for suggesting that teaching masturbation might help with the AIDs epidemic. Government money & review committees make sex studies a very tough sell. It's also very difficult to find people willing to be studied & even harder to take many measurements.

Roach really went all out to write this book. She literally traveled the world (from Danish pig farms to a private Egyptian clinic, all over the U.S. & to the far east) & even participated in some studies. She even talked her husband into helping. ("Dear, how would you like a free trip to London. There's only one little catch...") And then she wrote a fantastically in-depth book about it with just the right touch of humor.

I highly recommend it to everyone. I don't think there is a person on the planet that couldn't learn a lot from this book, even if it is just some of the difficulties the scientific method faces when it runs into our prejudices.
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,529 reviews979 followers
July 19, 2019
My first book was about human cadavers, and as a result, people assumed that I’m obsessed with death. Now that I have written a book about both sex and death, God only knows what the word on the street is.

I have both books by Mary Roach, but I decided to start with the second. I don’t know what that says about me, but I would rather learn more about sex than about cadavers. For now.

It’s not surprising that the study of sexual physiology, with a few notable exceptions, did not get rolling in earnest until the 1970s. William Masters and Virginia Johnson said of their field in the late 1950s, “... science and scientist continue to be governed by fear – fear of public opinion, ... fear of religious intolerance, fear of political pressure, and, above all, fear of bigotry and prejudice – as much within as without the professional world.” (And then they said, “Oh, what the hell,” and built a penis-camera.)

Mary Roach is an excellent researcher of available scientific articles, followed by interviews and even direct experimentation. But I think the main reason of her success is her very healthy and very sharp sense of humour. Laughter and an awareness of the ridiculous are probably the best tools to fight ignorance, bigotry and prejudice. Natural curiosity will take you that extra step further towards understanding and mastering the subject of today’s lesson.

Of course, it helps to have a guide who can sift through the tedious and the unnecessary lengthy dry study raw data in order to pick up the most scandalously funny bits of trivia available. For example, one chapter is called:

The Upsuck Chronicles: Does Orgasm Boost Fertility, and What Do Pigs Know About It?

I was waiting after that title for a caveat, and sure enough it comes a few pages after describing in detail how workers at a fertility farm for sows increase productivity by fondling their charges:

While it is often true that people are pigs, it is never the case that pigs are people.

And here is the second reason I rate the book so highly: Mary Roach may be skillful at finding the funny angle of research, but she is also serious about the project, and a truly gifted educator who does more than simply making money out of popular science. I know mostly my own corner of the woods, but I can confirm that sex-ed is still a thorny subject for teenagers and mature readers alike. Church and politicians still treat the subject as tabu, and the easy access of porn on the internet has its own drawbacks in establishing fake theories. We really need a guide to separate for us the true scientists from the quacks and snake oil sellers that prey on the easily gullible.

Every Sunday, a dozen or more somber men arrived at Milford train station from points distant, to be processed for Brinkley’s miracle four part operation to restore sexual vigor with goat glands.
At one point, Brinkley was taking delivery on forty Toggenburgs a week, housed in a corral behind the hospital. He encouraged his patients to personally select their donor, like diners at a Chinese seafood restaurant being ushered to the aquarium.

The study of human physiology is helpful for sure, and we should be grateful to the serious people who tested Viagra on pandas or dressed lab rats in polyester pants, so we can now all wear cotton underwear and improve or sperm-count. Even to those Canadian doctors who wrote an article on “Sexual Intercourse as a Potential Treatment for Intractable Hiccups.”
But at the end of the day, there will be two people in the privacy of their bedroom, and all the science in the world may be insufficient to take them to the highest peaks of satisfaction. Because, as Mary Roach aptly observes, we are not animals, and pleasure has as much to do with the mind as with the body.

Throughout ‘Human Sexual Response’, the researchers encourage open and straightforward communication between partners. It comes as no surprise that they moved on to sex therapy (giving, not getting) following the eleven-year physiology project.

In conclusion, this was a fun and informative journey that makes me plan to read more from this irreverent researcher. Even about cadavers and stuff.

Bit by bit, sex research has unraveled the hows, whys, whynots, and how-betters of arousal and orgasm. The more the researchers and sexperts and the reporters talked about sex, the easier it became for everyone else to. As communication eases and knowledge grows, inhibitions dissolve and confidence takes root.
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
816 reviews2,583 followers
June 10, 2015
This is definitely an entertaining book. Mary Roach did a lot of personal investigations; she visited sex researchers to find out what they are up to, how they do research, what are their findings. She describes the early researchers, like Kinsey and Masters and Johnson. She even volunteers herself and her husband as subjects for some of their experiments. She visits scientists who put willing couples into an MRI to take images of the proceedings. She visits sex toy factories to find out how employees feel about their work.

Roach seems also to focus on the bizarre. For example, what people used to do before the days of Viagra. I won't go into the details, in case you are enjoying a snack right now. In fact, many parts of the book are gross enough to avoid reading on a full stomach.

Mary Roach not only focuses on the personalities, but on the science as well. As some other reviewers have noted, it is surprising how little is known about human sexuality. One reason is that it can be difficult to get funding in some topics. Also, perhaps little is known because it is a combination of physiology and psychology, mixed together and it is difficult to sort out these two areas.

I didn't read this book. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Sandra Burr. Her reading is FANTASTIC. Her voice tells much more than just the words printed on the page. If you haven't read the book yet, and want to, I highly recommend listening to the audiobook!
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
November 23, 2020
Everything you always thought you might want to know about sex

I really enjoy Mary Roach's science books. She combines a layman's viewpoint with a fearless need to know and a wicked irreverence. Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers is my favorite by her. In a tie for second is Spook: Science Tackles The Afterlife and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Bonk is the fourth book I've read and the fourth in enjoyment too. It does have intriguing and some new information on it, but I was not as enthralled with it, perhaps because, sex has become a topic that is talked about so much in our world, and the afterlife and death, not so much. And Mars and astronauts are always fun.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,538 followers
February 1, 2013
First she did death and now she does sex. Bonk is a perfect successor to the tour-de-force of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. She is brilliant in her ability to present to the average readers the triumphs and the twisted in the progression of scientific and medical approaches to these subjects. Roach represents a veritable cross between the styles of Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Bryson.

I learned a lot, I laughed a lot. The latter helps with the squeamish and embarrassing bits. For example, the boring or disgusting (to some) aspects of the physiology of erection is improved nicely with her gifted leavening with levity:

So now we had achieved , in the parlance of ED experts, an erection. It is a respectable achievement, but it is not enough. An erection, like a motorcycle or lawn, must be maintained. The blood that has filled the two erection chambers must be trapped there, otherwise the erection wilts.

Her focus is as much on the human aspects of discovery as in the knowledge itself in the slow progress of discovery about sexuality and its disorders. You keep rooting for some light at the end of the tunnel (so to speak). The concept that masturbation could be healthy seemed to take forever, especially for women. Even as late as the Clinton administration, his Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, was fired for suggesting it should be promoted. From the ancient Greeks, there developed the idea that women produced their own form of semen, and by the middle ages, there was the recognition that, “Young widows, with no sexual outlet and a consequent log jam of womanly seed, were especially prone to hysteria—or ‘womb fury.’ The notion persisted for centuries.” The method of clinical massage was developed by doctors was outlined in a 6th century medical treatise:

Aetios of Amida …outlines tactics for release of the she-semen. …Presumably Aetios was mistaking vaginal lubrication for semen. Gynecology was but a sideline interest for Aetios (best known for his eye, ear, and nose texts) and it shows. Women who came to him for contraceptive advice were told to wear a piece of cat liver in an ivory tube attached to the left foot. Though I suppose this might well keep you from getting pregnant, in the same way that wearing Birkenstocks might.

When we get to modern times, it turns out that vibrators were initially sold to doctors, who could shorten this chore of “pelvic massage”.. From a book by Maines “The Technology of Orgasm”, Roach shares that most of these doctors were unaware that “the climax of the treatment they were providing was an orgasm.” The home models were advertised with vague claim such as “makes you fairly tingle with the joy of living.” A pair of Star Vibrators were advertised in 1922 as “Such Delightful Companion! Perfect for weekend trips,” as though they could serve up witty repartee and spell you at the wheel.”

Throughout the book, Roach’s provides a fascinating and sympathetic tour of the science of sexology, from delvings in the library to a diverse set of road trips ranging from laboratories and surgical clinics to sex toy factories and animal breeding farms. Sometimes she puts herself on the line (and sometimes her poor husband) as a subject in some experiments. She sits in on penile surgeries for erectile dysfunction in Taiwan and empathetically delves into current explorations of treatments for people with spinal cord injury. I like her conclusion:

Study by study, the gains may seem small and occasionally silly, but the aggregation of all that has been learned, the lurching tango of academe and popular culture, has led up to a happier place. Hats off and pants off to you all.

Her delightful chapter titles give the prospective reader an idea of the ride they will be taking when they pursue this wonderful book:
The Sausage, the Porcupine, and the Agreeable Mrs. G: Highlights from the Pioneers of Human Sexual Response
Dating the Penis Camera: Can a Woman Find Happiness with a Machine?
The Princess and Her Pea: The Woman Who Moved Her Clitoris, and Other Ruminations on Intercourse Orgasms
The Upsuck Chronicles: Does Orgasm Boost Fertility, and What Do Pigs Know About It?
What’s Going On in There: The Diverting World of Coital Imaging
The Taiwanese Fix and the Penile Pricking Ring: Creative Approaches for Impotence
The Testicle Pushers: If Two Are Good, Would Three Be Better?
Re-Member Me: Transplants, Implants, and Other Penises of Last Resort
The Lady’s Boner: Is the Clitoris a Tiny Penis?
The Prescription Strength Vibrator: Masturbating for Health
The Immaculate Orgasm: Who Needs Genitals?
Mind over Vagina: Women Are Complicated
What Would Allah Say: The Strange, Brave Career of Ahmed Shaftik
Monkey Do: The Secret Sway of Hormones
“Persons Studies in Pairs”: The Lab That Uncovered Great Sex

Profile Image for Megan Baxter.
985 reviews663 followers
May 19, 2014
Mary Roach takes her practially-patented whirlwind tour through the world of sex research. And for the most part, it's very fun. And occasionally cringe-inducing. But less so than Stiff, which had me avoiding that book any time I was eating. Bonk never gave me the same problems.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Profile Image for Coco.
85 reviews8 followers
September 1, 2011
In a few words, this book is poorly written and less than informative. The information, IF YOU CAN FIND ANY, in this book is mostly trivial and/or useless. (The actual amount of info in the book might have made a long magazine article in Cosmo.) The book is shamelessly padded with jokes and cutesy side remarks, found both in the text and in anecdotes in textual footnotes. Since they often have nothing to do either with the book's subject or the material on the page at hand, they quickly become first disruptive and then irritating. After about 30 pages, even the sex jokes become lackluster. I like a good sex joke as much as the next person but Ms. Roach is not my best friend nor can I deny the fact that this worthless commentary comes at an expensive price.
Profile Image for Christian McKay Heidicker.
Author 8 books219 followers
January 27, 2009
A book about sex. You might not want to read on.

My uncle and I have read all of Mary Roach's books together. We had stomach churning conversations about cadavers at dinner parties and discussed the after life at meant-to-be light-hearted gatherings. He approached me with red in his cheeks after he finished this. "It's raw. But good." And that was the end of our conversation.

This was the kind of book that kept me laughing so hard people around me had to ask, "What, what?" and then I would reiterate some astounding and hilariously written fact about the clitoris or how to appropriately stimulate a pig to prepare her for insemination without stuttering or batting an eyelash.

I thought I knew a lot about sex. Turns out there's an untapped (heh) well of information about the infamous researchers and their discoveries. Not only has Roach equipped me with fascinating tidbits to share in random conversations, but I actually think it's going to make my sex life better. Scratch that, it already has.

There's plenty I want to talk about/quote, but I'm feeling shy. This is the price you pay for having your mom as a goodreads friend.
Profile Image for Rachel (BAVR).
150 reviews1,041 followers
March 11, 2014
Shocking news: It's really difficult to get funding for sex research even in these enlightened times. I know. A real travesty, right? What strikes me is that there's still a lot we don't know about sex. The female orgasm is harder to figure out than quantum physics because the experience is so subjective, and the various remedies for erectile dysfunction are varied and disputed. In Bonk, Mary Roach, with her customary wit and fearless approach to asking TMI questions, details the relationship between science and sex.

I learned a lot. Frankly, I'm a bit ashamed by how much I didn't know about sex. Growing up in Pennsyltucky is hard, you guys.

So, in case you were wondering, a lot of sex research consists of people banging in a lab, or in the case of Kinsey's studies, at an undisclosed location. I'm imagining the situation was something like this ...

... only without the dreamy CW eye-candy. Masturbation, too. People are still masturbating for science. Researchers check heart rates, blood pressure, watch MRI scans, etc. to uncover the mysteries of how our reproductive systems work.

Roach and her husband even throw in their assistance as test subjects, agreeing to have uncomfortable, sanitary sex in an MRI machine while a kindly doctor watches. I can only imagine how my husband would react if I asked him to have sex with me in an MRI machine for science. Roach's husband agreed to it for the trip abroad. Mine ... probably definitely wouldn't be so easily convinced.

Bonk is a fun read with a wealth of information explained in every day terms by Roach. I felt a little bogged down by the erectile dysfunction chapters. Is it sexist that erectile dysfunction doesn't really interest me? Even in general, I hear or read the word Viagra, and I'm like ...

So, yeah, if that makes me close-minded, sorry to the penises. It is not your fault.

The erectile dysfunction stuff wasn't all bad, though. One of my favorite parts of the book is the chapter where Roach goes over all the ways old-timers tried to keep men from masturbating. Masturbation was believed to cause impotence because they apparently thought a penis would eventually die of overuse like a baseball glove or an old pair of shoes. Back in Victorian times, they were patenting devices left and right to stop those dastardly wet dreams. The most horrifying device was strapped on to the penis at bed time. If the man (or boy) became aroused in his sleep, his skin would come into contact with tiny spikes! D: Before impotence was linked with masturbation, a lot of people just thought witches did it, so I suppose the penis torture devices were sort of an improvement, scientifically speaking.

Aside from all the kinky stuff, the real stars of the book are the numerous sex researchers that Roach interviews. They're a brave lot, boldly going where other researchers are afraid. For that, I thank them.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,923 reviews386 followers
June 26, 2017
Mary Roach, as usual, is drawn to the weird and the wonderful. I love her sense of humour about whatever her current obsession happens to be. A book about sex research could be dry and boring, but not with Ms. Roach at the helm.

Male readers may cringe at several of the chapters regarding surgery on the family jewels—it made me a little queasy. I am also amazed that she managed to drag her husband along to participate in research projects with her. He is obviously a guy with a sense of adventure!

Sex researchers, both animal and human, were good sports to show off their work in progress or discuss published results. As stated a couple of time in the book, publicity can sometimes be a hindrance to obtaining research money, so they were either very established researchers or willing to risk the exposure.

We’re all interested in the topic, but few of us have the time or inclination to track down these great stories! Thank you, Mary Roach, for being the obsessive researcher for us.
Profile Image for Jim.
371 reviews90 followers
January 7, 2014
This is another great book by Mary Roach. I have to hand it to this lady, she leaves no stone unturned in her mission to shed some light on our favourite topic. Mary travelled great distances to watch foreplay between inseminators and sows, voyeuristically spied on mating monkeys, and even went so far as to offer to put a gent's new penile implant to the squeeze test. Heck, she even recruited her husband to do (it) under observation, becoming a research subject in the process.

Her research is exhaustive, and I have to admit I learned a lot in reading this book, not least of which was the existence of a "Fruit Machine" designed to be used by certain federal agencies in Canada to expose and root out homosexuals from the ranks of our military and RCMP. Apparently the contraption couldn't be tested as the Department of National Defence claimed to have no homosexuals to test and the mounties were understandably reluctant to volunteer.

There is a lot of technical and biological info in this book but don't worry...you won't even realize that you're being educated. Mary's delivery is so humorous that this offering is a breeze to read. My only (slight) criticism is that her last chapter seemed abbreviated and perhaps a bit rushed. I'm going to read everything she puts out.
Profile Image for Jay Green.
Author 4 books237 followers
May 31, 2016
Not as raunchy as I'd hoped for, but then the subtitle doesn't exactly set you up for raunch. It was my own fault, my own fervid expectation, based on my enjoyment of reading Roach's other books. That said, Roach is never a disappointment.
Profile Image for Lori Whitwam.
Author 6 books156 followers
June 26, 2008
(Review starts with a recent blog post, written mid-book, then my conclusion)

Well, maybe it is, just a little bit.

As I've often stated here, I read very little non-fiction. Too dry, too dull, too fact-intensive. Just too. A couple of months ago, I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. Roach's good-natured obsession with researching anything and everything that interests her is infectious. Plus, I'm fairly morbid, so the topic appealed to me. Seriously, I can watch surgery shows, gruesome real-life crime investigations, you name it. If I thought I could stand medical school (and all those annoying patients I'd have to deal with during my internship and residency), I think I'd love to be a forensic pathologist. I'd donate my body to the Body Farm, where they place corpses all around the wooded property to study how we decay under various conditions, but I suspect that would upset Tom. Also, then my ashes couldn't be mixed with those of my dogs and scattered somewhere scenic.

When I discovered that Roach had a new book coming out, I was excited. Then I learned that Fabulous Fiancee had a copy, and that I could borrow it. Jackpot!

The new book is Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. What could possibly be more fascinating than experiments and research involving dead humans? Sex? Maybe? Yeah, I'm thinking so.

I'm only about halfway through it, but just had to mention it here. You can check my Goodreads page in a couple of days and read my full review. The link is over in the right sidebar of Fermented Fur.

Am I fascinated? Yep. Am I intrigued? Amazed? You betcha. Am I a wee bit disturbed and perhaps even alarmed? Oh, yeah.

Early "sex researchers" were inventive, barbaric, and creepy, but as curious in their own ways as Roach is today. And some of the things people do? I thought I was pretty well-informed regarding some of the less-conventional, more taboo, things humans do in their quests for excitement. (I read lots of fiction, and just because it's fiction doesn't mean it isn't about things that really do take place.) Now, I realize I have no clue - and am probably better off that way. There are things (which should not be considered "insertable") that are placed into regions where they were never intended to be. There are methods of "study" that are at least as bad as the worst porn scenario you've ever seen, imagined, or heard about.

And who knew there were so many uses for Pyrex?

The truly fascinating thing is Roach's absolute dedication to research. She talks to people about things that most of us are taught to never, ever say out loud. She asks questions that would cause the average adult human being to bite off her own tongue before they would actually voice it. And, above all, she is all about "the best way to research is to participate."

Imagine being Mr. Roach, and your wife tells you she's arranged for the two of you to take a little trip. It all sounds lovely, until you learn that the focal point of your trip will be having sex inside an MRI tube so the researcher can get accurate images of just exactly how men and women "fit." The name of that chapter? How 'bout "What's Going On In There?" Imagine, lying on your side spooned up to your wife, in an oh-so-intimate (if not even remotely private) moment, with the doctor's hand on your hip as he leans over the two of you to wave a scanning wand in front of your wife's abdomen. Then he tells you he's gotten the images he needs, and it's OK for you to finish now.

Sure, some people might really, really like that. Most of us really, really wouldn't.

At the moment, I'm learning all the fascinating physiological facts behind erectile dysfunction, having just completed the part about the pig artificial insemination facility in Denmark and the segment about the Center for Sex and Culture's annual fund-raiser called the "Masturbate-a-Thon." A glance at the table of contents indicates I shall learn far more than I ever imagined about male and female body parts, the absence thereof, the presence of too many thereof, health, hormones, religion, culture, and "accessories,"... all with Roach's informative yet humorous narrative to guide me.

Fun. Disturbing at times. Really not a mood-setter, though, if you get my drift. But it's non-fiction, and I'm reading it, and any author who can accomplish that definitely knows how to write and educate and entertain. And isn't that why we read?

But I might just sleep with the lights on for the next couple of months.

How Roach can cover so much factual material and remain so entertaining is a gift. Wonder what her next topic will be?

One interesting fact is that one Masters & Johnson study showed that gay and lesbian couples are better at sex than heterosexual couples. Apparently they are more in tune to what their partner wants/needs, they don't see it as a means to an end and tend to linger over each stage, they're more in tune to each other's "almost there" signals and are better able to prolong the event, and they're better about speaking up about what they do and don't want.

Profile Image for Jen.
247 reviews151 followers
February 24, 2010
Bonk. Bang. Scrump. Everyone has a different word for it. Sometimes there aren't even words; a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and an eyebrow lift or two can be enough. But what's behind it? The science of it? And hasn't everyone wondered about what happens if a guy loses a ball (or two) and needs another? Where to go? What to do? It's all in this book.

That written, this book is not as interesting as Roach's book on cadavers. But before I'm called a prude, I want to make sure that all have the opportunity to call me pompous. Here's the reason why: Apart from clit measuring and data specifics, I had read quite a bit of all of her research before...either I just have managed to read a lot on sex accidentally or on purpose. The book just didn't blow me away (twss) with new facts and information.

But I did have a favorite part, which involved mice. When two mice (male and female, btw) are bonking, scrumping, hokey-pokeying, whatever, placing a piece of cheese beside them doesn't distract the male. But, oh! How the female is divided!

So, now my thoughts are out...okay book. Sometimes funny, as expected from Mary Roach. But my younger sister really liked this one. I think it was the idea that people buy cojones implants for dogs that did it- broke through her Jane Austen exterior.

And my middle sister? The one who likes family smut and calls the vagina a "gine?" To her, this book was okay. Boring, really. I mean, who wants to read about scientific details regarding dildos and couples getting it on inside an MRI tube? To her, reading about this took away from the act itself. I think she wants sex to be like magic- why analyze it and try to see what is behind the curtain? Just enjoy. Oooh and aaah. Poor thing, she couldn't even finish the book. Her favorite parts described animal sex research (which reminds me, female pigs have clits inside their vaginas. Forget the phrase lucky dog. Lucky sow!).

But we did agree to a new rule- Sisters' book club will only focus on fiction from now on. We are too diverse a trio to try non-fiction.

Profile Image for Muhammed Hebala.
396 reviews343 followers
February 21, 2017
Roach strikes a nice balance between science, history and humor to keep the book interesting and readable.

I think that the best of this book – like Stiff – is acknowledging that life, death and sex are all a bit absurd and for that we really should be very grateful.

if you're looking for a forthright and humorous scientific break-down of erotic encounters, the clit, the g-spot, the erection.... well, this may not be the book for you.

roach focuses her special, special attentions on the sex researchers that have changed the landscapes of our bodies and our bedrooms. quick, tell me, which sexologist used his research as an outlet for his attraction to men? whatever happened to the dildo cams constructed decades ago for sex research of vaginal arousal? what do you know about the discovery of the g-spot? have you ever read a graphic description of the surgeries performed to provide erections for men with erectile dysfunction? what do you know about the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal opening, and the orgasmic capacity therein? interested to find out which sex researchers had to perform their studies under the cover of nightfall? want to read about Coital interlocking, penile vibrators, the Lazarus sign, spectatoring and mindfulness? read BONK.

That said, I didn't find this one as entertaining as Stiff. Bonk is similar in a lot of ways, taking the same humorous approach to the topic, and focusing on the bizarre and fascinating. If you feel like reading something that's light, fun, and able to make your genitals suck up into your body with fear, give this book a go.

This book could and should have been better. Mary Roach is a fine writer, an obvious research nut and the subject is one that is anything but unengaging. Unfortunately it's yet another book where the editor let the author run free. Some real hard nosed editing, some real focus, a re-arrangement of the footnotes and a clarity of perspective and you've got a fine book.
Profile Image for Daisy.
204 reviews72 followers
March 24, 2021
I shall not put in the context in which this sentence appears but suffice to say any book with this in it has got to be worth the price of entry (see what I did there?)

"It's hard to get irritable over a liaison that takes less time to finish than a banana."

Unlike the Woody Allen film of almost the same name this is everything you didn't want to know about sex - like does grafting chimp testicle tissue onto human ones have rejuvenating effects for the recipient (and calamitous ones for the donor). How do researchers err research? How does one explain the frozen pigtail that needs a visit to the hospital to have removed from one's rectum?
Sex is a hard (yes, yes, keep it clean) topic to write about scientifically without sounding like the script of a 70's Carry On film. And as you can see even in these few lines I have failed to avoid the schoolboy humour trap, which makes my criticism of Mary Roach somewhat hypocritical.
It is a very readable book - who doesn't get a prurient thrill from reading about sex - but her bracketed asides are just a bit too frequent and started to grate (not by an S&M enthusiast armed with a cheese grater) by mid-point.
Not as well written as her other book Stiff (about cadavers) and I felt I learned less (though maybe that's because I have had sex but not been dead) after all who can say that the following comes as a surprise to anyone?

"Cheese crumbs spread in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male."
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,487 followers
October 31, 2015
Mary Roach is always entertaining - possibly our best living author just for "shit that might be fun to talk about at a party" - but this isn't her best work.

The thing that's fun about her is that she gets hands-on with her research. She visits corpse farms and goes into low-earth orbit. And there just wasn't as much of that here. I'm all "I just want to read about Mary Roach fucking things," I know, and why am I complaining? She nails her husband in an MRI tube! - but that's sortof about it, and the rest of it is pretty heavy on descriptions of studies, and that makes it feel like one of those articles someone puts on Facebook called something like "Does Semen Cure Depression?" and, like, yeah, obviously you're going to click on that - anyway it's like 300 of those in a row. Which isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's not the best thing either.
Profile Image for Amanda.
180 reviews64 followers
October 27, 2015
If ever there were a book about sex that were less sexy than Bonk, it would have to have been written specifically for that purpose. A veritable calliope of penis especially, vaginas, engorged... everythings and extremely graphic, medical detail, this is not for the faint of heart. Yes, you'll need to gird your loins for this one.

If you're interested in a scientific look at sex and how it works (or doesn't work, as is often so lamentably the case), then this is probably the book for you. If, however, you're looking for something to make you want to have sexy sex lots of sexy times, then this is probably (assuredly) not the book for you and you should really, really not read it.

In fact if you'd like to have sex ever again and not think about castrations, multiple speculae being put where they shouldn't be, or things being (gah) stretched that had no need to be (gah) then you should really stay away from this book. Forever.

In fact, you probably shouldn't even put this book near your genitals or near anyone you want to have sex with or in the same room as well, anything. For instance avocados.

That's not to say this is a badly written book! In fact it is well-written, and the audiobook is very entertainingly read.

Mary Roach has a deft touch that keeps the subject matter refreshing and even appealing, while simultaneously causing unconscious cringing. Honestly, I rather feel that I don't need to know any more about pig, cow or even human sex than this book has taught me. Alright, I probably do, but the subject matter is so disconcerting that I really feel like I don't need to know anything more for a good long while.

I didn't think I could get any more grossed out after reading Stiff, but surprise! At times this really, really put me off: I found myself walking around clutching at my genitals at inopportune moments. It's that sort of book.

So if you choose to read this book, don't act like I didn't warn you. Read with caution – be aware that there is some disturbing stuff in here! I definitely wouldn't read it to children, pets, pot plants or in the vicinity of dairy you don't want spoiled.

If you are curious how your body works and what makes you and your partner tick, or just want to be reassured that that strange quirk or pecadillo is not just normal but healthy, then this is the book for you.

But please, my fellow humans, stop putting things up your urethrae. It's just not good.
April 6, 2016

There's nothing here I didn't already know. Should I be alarmed? Take heed: you can learn a lot about the science of sex from smutty books.

Roach is a very engaging writer. She does an incredible amount of research for her books and makes science approachable and FUN.

One tidbit; if you need a penis reattached, Thailand is the place to go:

Two of the wives flushed the penises down the toilet, forcing their husbands to grope for their lost manhood inside the septic tank. (Incredibly, both were found, cleaned, cleaned some more, and reattached.) More commonly, the women would hurl the penis out the window. In the cases described in “Surgical Management of an Epidemic of Penile Amputations in Siam,” all the recovered penises were “grossly contaminated.”

Better that than eaten by livestock. Many rural Thai homes are elevated on pilings, with the family’s pigs, chickens, and ducks tending to mill about seeking shade in the space underneath. It is not, oddly, the pigs, but rather the ducks, that the castrated Thai must worry about. The paper does not provide the exact number of penises eaten by ducks, but the author says there have been enough over the years to prompt the coining of a popular saying: “I better get home or the ducks will have something to eat.”
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,293 followers
March 23, 2016
As I recently noted on Twitter, there is an uncomfortable amount of talk about inserting stuff into bodily orifices that shouldn’t be inserted there. This is not a book for the faint of heart.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is the third book in the #bangingbookclub, run by Hannah Witton, Leena Norms, and Lucy Moon. Check out the Twitter feed to see what everyone else is saying about Bonk and the other reads (last month’s was The Vagina Monologues ). This book club focuses on books about sex and sexuality, and Bonk definitely falls under that category. What the club doesn’t prescribe but Mary Roach does provide is a healthy helping of humour: in the book’s description, someone for The New Yorker describes her as “the funniest science writer in the country.” I was sceptical of such a superlative distinction, but it might be true—and if not, she’s up there on the podium.

If you watched the first season of Showtime’s Masters and Sex you will know, somewhat, of what Roach discusses here. (I say the first season, specifically, because subsequent seasons have drifted further into soap opera territory and farther away from the science side of things—which is fine if you want soap opera, but not really my cup of tea.) Roach gives Masters and Johnson their due, of course, and she mentions other notorious scientists, like Alfred Kinsey. She also illuminates the field, though, mentioning names I hadn’t encountered: Robert Latou Dickinson, and women in the field, like Marie Bonaparte (she of the “I had my clitoris moved…”). And while Roach diligently details much of the history of sex research, she spends a great deal of the book talking about the state of the field right now. I found this very gratifying.

I can’t speak for others (particularly those who live in less fortunate areas of the world, like the United States, where sex ed is paltry or non-existent) but I’ve always just kind of had the impression that our scientific knowledge of sex was pretty thorough and complete. We know, in other words, how babies are made. I knew we were still mucking about with genes and fertilization techniques, etc., but I didn’t pay much attention to other parts of the field. I guess I underestimated how much the pleasurable nature of sex for some people motivates us, as a species, to turn our curious and scientific minds to the process. The truth is, sex research is alive and well—but we just don’t talk about it as much as we should!

Roach seems to have a few clear goals. Firstly, she sets out to demystify and dispel stigma around sex research (i.e., it’s not something scientists do because they have a perverted fascination with sex). Secondly, she tries to explore and explain the field without resorting to too much jargon (her explanations of complicated biological processes and surgical procedures are remarkably lucid and easy to follow). Thirdly, she points out areas of sex that have yet to be studied thoroughly enough. Although short, Bonk packs a punch when it comes to the sheer amount of information and number of topics Roach manages to cover. Also, the chapters themselves are short, making this a very easy book to read a little at a time.

I appreciate the way Roach allays accusations that if you’re interested in talking about sex, or researching it in a lab, you must be a pervert. It seems like this should go without saying in 2016 (or 2008, when this book was written), what with the way we’re saturated in media by sex and sexuality. And hey, everyone wants to talk about sex—I’m not interested in having sex and I still want to talk about it. However, this is the peculiar double standard of our times: we are supposed to be interested in sex just enough, but if we are interested too little or too much, we are labelled as deviant. The amount of interest, and the way it should be expressed, varies with one’s gender, social status, age, etc. Slip up in any way and you get policed. Start talking or thinking about sex too young? Perverted. Someone must have “corrupted” your innocence. Start having sexual thoughts about the sex you’re not supposed to be attracted to in your community? Ugh, perverted! Did you start talking about sex, and are you a woman? The height of perversion!!

I digress. And I jest—one theme that Roach unearths is how women’s sexuality has actually been acknowledged and studied in various ways throughout recorded history. Rather than a clear progression from “women do not enjoy sex” to “women enjoy sex but men don’t care” to “women enjoy sex and men should care,” we see a much more complicated, roller-coaster-ride journey as different societies grapple with the radical notion that women are people, and that they should enjoy their bodies as something other than childbearing vessels. And while we live in a very enlightened and privileged time (what with the Pill and all those fancy vibrators), we still have a ways to go.

For all her openness (Roach is pretty candid about the times she had to volunteer herself as a participant to get access to the goings-on in a sex study), elements of Roach’s humour undermine her attempts to make us stop sniggering about sex. I conflicted about this. On one hand, I think Roach is just trying to dispel our discomfort using humour—by pointing it out and then dismissing it with a joke, we can focus on the science. On the other hand, I do feel like she is somewhat reinforcing the very ideas that she dismisses in her introduction; sometimes her jokes feel like they are implying that these researchers are unhealthily fascinated by what’s going on, or at least that there is something weird and freaky about studying the anatomy and biology of sex in humans. To be clear, I don’t think Roach is deliberately implying that—I just worry it’s a side effect of some of her humour.

Bonk might be one of the most edifying books I’ve read in a while—and I read a lot, a fair amount of it non-fiction. The coy chapter titles conceal their contents well, but Roach covers a vast swathe of sex research. She looks at what we know about the role of the clitoris in orgasm before moving on to wondering what role the female orgasm’s biological manifestations plays in reproduction (answer: we’re still not sure). From there she talks a bit about how we can get a good look all up in there (vaginas; I’m talking about sticking cameras up people’s vaginas), before a few chapters on impotence (male and female) and the ways we can “fix” this (male and female). I say “fix” because Roach does point out that, for some people, it’s not actually a problem, and that there are communities and organizations somewhat concerned by the medicalization of sexuality—especially in women. Throughout this book I was constantly thinking about the controversy around “female Viagra”, a treatment Roach alludes to in the book but that has only recently come to fruition.

This book also taught me many cool science tidbits I otherwise haven’t learned before. Vaginal lubricant isn’t glandular but actually the clear plasma component from the blood that fills the walls around the vagina. How cool is that?

Roach seems to spend roughly equal time on vaginas and penises. For a book about sex, it’s not surprising that the subject falls into such a binary. To her credit, Roach does talk about trans people and gay people here and there—as far as Bonk is concerned, it’s mostly focused on the individual, who might have a penis or a vagina, rather than couples of any particular orientation. I found it most interesting that Roach does not even come near the debate over how biology, genetics, or environment might influence our sexual orientations—though I think she was probably right to stay away from that minefield. Overall, this is a book focused almost exclusively on biological parts of coupling rather than the cultural parts—though I don’t mean to suggest that biology presents us with straightforward binaries either. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go on this front, when many researchers continue to talk about gender queerness in very medical terms and use “healthy” as a synonym for cisgender people. While Bonk doesn’t demonstrate these views, its findings are naturally restricted to what we have studied so far (and the framework around which we study them, as Roach herself points out when she describes the methodologies Masters and Johnson use with gay couples).

That is, of course, the fantastic thing about science. The state of our knowledge is in continual flux: what we know changes every day, every moment, and can make us revise or revisit everything that came before. Bonk represents the state of our knowledge in 2008. It’s far from complete, and I’m sure parts of it are outdated or will be in coming years. But Roach does a great job pulling back the curtain on research into the bedroom, giving her readers a great primer on sex and science and leaving us with the right questions to ask going forward.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Megan.
434 reviews59 followers
February 7, 2013
Well thank god that's over. (That's what she said.) This book had lots of interesting studies and facts and tidbits about sex and how our body parts work and what turns people on and off, but after a while I just started to get bored with it so it took me forever to finish. There's only so much discussion about vajayjays and penii functions that a girl can take before she feels like she's reading a medical journal. Or some kind of really weird, specific porn. This is definitely way more entertaining than a medical journal, don't get me wrong, Mary Roach kept it light and funny in parts (especially for the first half of the book), but eventually I started to feel a bit bogged down with facts that just seemed sort of useless and uninteresting. Like the penis implant procedure - I don't really need to know the specifics of that surgery since I have no plans to do it anytime soon. So maybe a little less time could've been spent there (I'm sure male readers would have liked a break from crossing their legs and holding onto their business for dear life through that part as well).

Things I learned:

"The stereotypical ideal female - Barbie tall with Barbie big breasts - is the one least likely to respond to a manly hammering."

"The Science of Orgasm says that people who have regular orgasms seem to have less stress and enjoy lower rates of heart disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and endometriosis. They also appear to live longer."

"Cheese crumbs spread out in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male." [Because everybody knows bitches like their cheese]

I definitely enjoyed Packing for Mars more and thought it was much funnier, but I'll continue to read Roach's other books for future laughs and strange educational experiences.
Profile Image for Meen.
539 reviews97 followers
November 3, 2008
Unlike any science book I've ever read--enlightening and hilarious! I can't remember the last time I laughed so much with a book. (OK, I don't really read a lot of funny stuff. Occupational hazard?) Almost every footnote made me LOL and want to mark the page so I could post it on GR somewhere, but there were just too many good ones. But you know what stuck with me most about this book? How revolutionary it is for women to have control of their bodies, sexually, reproductively, to be intellectually informed about them... Though there are less recent Western examples of puritanical and misogynistic ideas influencing and inhibiting sex research and gynocological treatment throughout the book, the chapter about the researcher in Egypt was heartbreaking.

The book was also just very informative, and I thought I was pretty informed about sex and my own anatomy! More important, reading it (learning more about my own body, learning more about a natural human activity) helped me further shrug off my own puritanical sexual programming, and anything that contributes to that is a definite winner for me. As is any writer who gives me this moment of Zen:

You have no idea what a perplexing mess is female arousal.
Profile Image for Sandy.
23 reviews6 followers
April 10, 2008
One in every 5000 women is born without a vaginal canal.
who knew?

this is the kind of fact mary roach loves to ferret out of medical journals and research papers--and then, she loves to create puns and laugh out loud smarty-pants remarks about the sexologists and their crazy ideas and inventions. she's a science writer for the masses who footnotes like a fiend.

but hey, it's not all penis cameras, pyrex tubes and statistics about ER visits for 'object retrieval'. Roach visits implant surgeons in taiwan, pig breeders in denmark, 'does it' in an MRI tube in a london hospital, and hangs out with one of the biggest supplier of dildos to the states.

PLUS, there's rats forced to wear polyester pants for a year to see if it cuts into how much action they get. it does--- almost as much as wearing birkenstocks, M.R. reports--and with that remark, she forever wins my heart.

not as great as 'STIFF' but well worth reading
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,942 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.