Mary Roach is not a scientist. However, despite (or perhaps because of?) her lack of formal scientific training, Ms. Roach writes about science better than most of the scientists I know. Each of her books looks at the science behind a single topic, digging into vast fields of research and presenting her findings to a general audience. She has a talent for finding peculiar facts, and a stomach of steel when it comes to her research. * Her third book (and my personal favorite), Bonk, is a delight to read.
Bonk is about the strange marriage between science and sex. Researchers have been interested in sex since the 1800’s, but the social stigma around the topic has made scientific progress difficult at every turn, from applying for funding to getting the public to hear about their findings. That social stigma is the very reason that a book like Bonk is so important. It is informative, without reading like a textbook. It is funny, but not lewd. It does not attempt to tell its reader when or how or why or with whom to have sex. Basically, it attempts to use science to answer the questions we all are too shy to ask. Ms. Roach leaves no question unanswered, even bravely volunteering herself and her husband as test subjects when data is needed.
The book meanders through the history of sex research, taking care to illustrate not just the science, but the people involved. We learn about a princess who had her clitoris surgically moved in an attempt to orgasm more frequently. We encounter the woman who coined the term “G-spot.” We meet a sex researcher who refuses to use the word “porn” for fear of losing his funding. Ms. Roach’s writing is fresh and funny, expect to laugh out loud if you open the book. One that got me laughing today as I skimmed through was: “While today’s biologist spends the days peering through a scanning microscope at protein receptors or sequencing genomes, the biologist of the fifties could put some animals in a pen and watch them have sex.” As someone who spends a lot of her time at work looking through a microscope, I’m not sure if I should be feeling relived or jealous. *
If you, your partner, or someone you know is interested in sex, head over to your local bookstore (or library) and pick up a copy of Bonk. You won’t be disappointed.
*Her first book, Stiff, is all about human cadavers.
**Coincidentally, my current project is looking at how zebrafish reproductive neurons respond to sexual arousal. So you can have it all.
1. Image from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bp7J84jejBA