Bonk. The curious coupling of sex and science

Bonk. The curious coupling of sex and science 

Mary Roach 

Edinburgh, UK: Canongate Books  2008 | 319pp | ?12.99 (SB) ISBN 9781847672261 

Reviewed by Tony Stubbings 


Roach seems to be enjoying quirky sexual studies too much

This is another in the series of popular science books by Mary Roach with one-word titles (including  Stiff and  Spook  ); it will certainly attract the attention of the casual browser of bookshop shelves.  

After a foreword, appropriately called Foreplay, Roach presents us with a series of well-written but loosely connected chapters on the study of sex by researchers down the ages. She has researched the past literature on sex research more deeply than is probably healthy. We read a great deal about those past giants of sexual research, Marie Bonaparte, Arnold Kegel, Alfred Kinsey, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. 

Roach gatecrashes into more recent studies, asking probing and often unanswerable questions. After all, who wants to know if a dead man can get an erection? The studies of the Egyptian Ahmed Shafik on the effects of polyester on sexual activity using laboratory rats dressed in polyester pants are particularly intriguing. 

One can laugh at Roach’s description of outlandish research and smile at weird sexual behaviour, but she seems at times to be enjoying the quirky studies too much. Sex after all is a subject worthy of scientific study, but being based on relationships, is difficult to carry out rigorously, and does not easily attract the necessary funding.