During my last grocery shopping trip, Mary Roach's latest survey of weird science came to mind for many reasons. Reading Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex will change the way you look at the most innocuous things (Pyrex and toothbrushes are both victims here). But the book also illustrates an American contradiction made clear by the magazine racks bordering store checkout aisles.
As Roach writes, people seem to assume "that people study sex because they are perverts." The stigma makes sex research difficult, as getting funding to undertake studies like those of Masters and Johnson "in 1954 must have been, well, like trying to do it in 2007." Such prudishness seems strange in light of Cosmopolitan magazine covers that promise to tell me "how to be a sex genius" and fill me in on fascinating facts about "your va-jay-jay."
Reading Roach won't improve anyone's sexual prowess, but she easily beats the magazine on the second claim. In 15 chapters, she guides readers through a succinct history of sex science, offering tidbits from studies of everything genital.
For Roach, Bonk offers the chance to highlight "moments when urology approaches high comedy," which she does with adolescent giddiness. Roach skims all over sexual realms, and she does her best to give a historical perspective as well as, and I mean this literally, a penis' view of all things coitus. Some of what Roach discusses made me involuntarily crunch up the way I do when a man suffers a blow to the crotch in a mindless comedy. But mostly, I laughed.
This is as light as a science text can get. Like Roach's previous work, Stiff and Spook, Bonk is often more focused on researchers' methodology than their discoveries, and readers won't leave with much conclusive knowledge. But Bonk will help build anyone's library of sexual euphemisms and provide plenty of ammunition to alter the trajectory of cocktail party conversations, for as long as people continue to invite you to them.
Vikas Turakhia is a teacher in Ohio.