Review: Bonk

Making love. Gettin’ it on. Knocking boots. Doing the deed. The euphemisms for sex, that most primal urge, are numerous. The fact that I felt compelled to start this review this way tells me that I am probably not mature enough to be writing it, but here goes anyway!

In Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary Roach turns her attention to the scientific research into this often-taboo topic. After stumbling across an article studying human sexual response, Roach was intrigued to realize that even sex can be put to scientific study, at the risk of the researchers being suspected of perversion or voyeurism, and thus, the idea for Bonk emerged. The book covers topics ranging from early forays into sex research, to research focused on arousal to treatments for impotence to masturbation to pheromones. Along the way, readers get delightful forays into quirky information like patent history of sex machines and research into the role of polyester on sexual activity. Also present are the delightful footnotes that add entertaining, albeit sometimes tangential, details. Through interviews and firsthand visits to laboratories carrying out sex research, Roach sheds light on the weirder side of science.

Fans of Mary Roach’s other writing will find her irreverence and humor in fine form here. Bonk is not serious, somber, or necessarily a comprehensive history. The examples definitely skew toward the weird and sometimes discomfiting, and that is fine—readers looking for the drier stuff can peruse the bibliography for further reading. Bonk is also not for those faint of stomach; like Roach’s previous work, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, some of the descriptions can get a bit gruesome (one section, on attempted surgeries to address erectile dysfunction had me wincing on behalf of equipment that I don’t even have, due to the details involved). For those with the curiosity and fortitude, though, the read is worth it.


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