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From the Los Angeles Times


‘Bonk’ by Mary Roach

The scientific exploration of human sexuality.

By Tara Ison

April 20, 2008

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
by Mary Roach

W.W. Norton: 288 pp., $24.95

What Mary Roach won’t do for a book! In her delicious “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” Roach hung out with severed heads in a dissection lab, sniffed around a body farm (more politely known as a forensic anthropology facility) and studied smashed corpses donated for automobile-crash research — all to aid her investigation of an aspect of existence most of us prefer to ignore.

Bonk by Mary RoachNow, in “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex,” Roach has chosen a topic that is perhaps the antithesis of death: our sexual physiology and psychology. Like “Stiff,” “Bonk” (almost interchangeable titles, no?) is rich in dexterous innuendo, laugh-out-loud humor and illuminating fact. It’s a compulsively readable, informative history of the scientific inquiry into the hows and wherefores of engorged tissues and sweaty palms, from Leonardo to Kinsey and on to Annie Sprinkle, including coverage of “artificial coition machines,” panda porn, the challenges of conducting sex studies in Islamic countries and the workings of the orgasm in people with spinal cord injuries.

She details gender bias in research and language (such as the longtime male-dominated debate between the “vaginocentrists” and the pro-clitoral orgasm team), but she too often glosses over the tragic effects of misguided “treatments.” The profit-seekers or perpetrators of scientific sexual brutalities (such as Leo Stanley’s experimental testicular grafts of animal gonads into San Quentin inmates in the 1920s) often get off easy. And for a writer so conscious of the power of language, her discussion of “clitoridectomies” as the treatment for female “hysteria” up to the 1950s, with no mention of the continuing crisis of female genital mutilation, is too determinedly apolitical.

Beware, too, the queasy-making or cringe-inducing sequences. There wasn’t a sentence in “Stiff” that made me squirm, but Roach’s needles-and-tubes descriptions of Dr. Gen-Long Hsu’s surgical treatments for erectile dysfunction were hard to bear.

[ click to read complete review at the LA Times ]

Posted on April 21, 2008 by Editor

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