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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Department of Book Reports: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Mary Roach is one terrific writer of non-fiction. Her previous books, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (W.W. Norton $13.95) and Spook: Science Takes on the Afterlife (W.W.Norton $13.95), report on different aspects of death. In Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (W.W. Norton $24.95; paperback next April at $14.95), Roach grapples with human sexuality and the people who study it.

Included among the many different things she explores in this book are pioneers in the field before Alfred Kinsey and Master and Johnson. Men like Robert Latou Dickinson, who began his work in the 1890's; and John B. Watson, who helped develop the behaviorist school of psychology. She discusses Princess Marie Bonaparte, the grand-great niece of Napoleon, who tried correlating woman's sexual pleasure from measuring the distance of the clitoris from the vagina. Roach examines whether or not the female orgasm boosts fertility by first traveling to a Danish farm where pigs are artificially inseminated ( a really interesting process, and an up close experience for those who handle the sows). Other topics are given their due: penis cams, coital imaging, impotence, transplants and implants, masturbation, and the role of hormones. One of my favorite chapters was about Dr. Ahmed Shafik who studied the effects of polyester on sexuality by dressing lab rats in pants. After a year he found that rats that wore polyester pants had sex less frequently than those rats that wore cotton or wool.

Roach has a felicity with words and integrating her stories with humor and grace. The book reads smoothly and I found myself laughing aloud a great deal. Not to be missed are her footnotes. Some of the best stuff is in the footnotes. In discussing the aforementioned Marie Bonaparte's marriage to Prince George of Greece, a latent homosexual, Roach writes:

"Marie was unaware of her prince's proclivities when they were married. Her suspicion were roused by the drawings of Greek athletes that
George hung on his dressing room walls and later, by his decision to serve as the gymnastics examiner at the Panhellenic Games. Marie had
just given birth to their first son and complained in her diary that while she was home all day 'suckling Peter,' George was off, well, suckling

Bonk is available at Jackson Street Books and many other Fine Independent Bookstores.

What book is on your bedside table?

démocommié™™™™™©®ç åü courant is conducting his own research into human sexuality. I'm sure he'll report back soon.

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We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.