Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach, is a history of the scientific study of sex. Mostly the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are covered, but Aristotle makes an appearance or two. Roach mostly focuses on the physiology of sex and the difficulty of researchers in getting funding. She takes great delight in quoting the tortured euphemisms that they have to use in order to disguise what they’re up to. In the end though, you realize just how much we don’t know about sex.
The problem, according to Roach, is that no matter how objective the researchers are, no matter how pure their motives, the people who hold their purse strings and the public tend to think those naughty sex researchers are up to something. And, to be honest, you have to wonder about some of the researchers methods, especially Alfred Kinsey.
The problem with this book is that it seems like a collection of facts cherry-picked from what sounds like a couple of years worth of research. It’s not organized very systematically, though it is entertaining to read. The thread of the book just wanders as Roach writes about things that interest her. It’s rather fitting in a way, given how piecemeal sexology’s history is. The last chapter, though, just has a concluding paragraph tacked on to a discussion of Masters and Johnson’s studies about homosexuals. It just ends and that’s more than a little irritating. Still, no other science writer has been about to make research so entertaining. She’s only the second non-fiction writer to make me laugh out loud. On the other hand, I have to give Roach kudos for following in the fine tradition of sex researchers and volunteers for a study or two.
Bonk is not everything you ever wanted to know. But it’s sure a fun read.