Bonk by Mary Roach

Bonk, the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex is a very entertaining light read about how scientists have investigated human sexuality.  Ms. Roach has more of an eye for the amusing detail about the work of the scientists involved than a desire to explain what is really known, but this may be because so little is really known. What is clear from this book is that there is a significant problem in doing serious scientific work on human sexuality and that is the scientists are humans with their very personal experience of sex. Kinsey, for example, overestimates the prevalence of homosexuality because of a selection bias in his choosing subjects for his interviews. Bias is always a problem in science, but normally there are enough scientists investigating a topic to eliminate this problem over time. With sex, very few people are brave enough to face the humiliating experience of serious study about sex.

Overall the book is more amusing than informative. While having a first hand account of participating in a sex study (the Ms. Roach and her husband volunteered for a study involving medical imaging of intercourse) is interesting because it suggests the limits of this kind of study, the episode feels more like (fun) gossip rather than serious science. The book isn’t arousing, exactly, but it in general has the feeling of naught fun that doesn’t help the image problem that the profiled scientists face on a regular basis.

As a warning to male readers, chapter 8 has many more details about medically slicing and dicing the penis than I had stomach for. Aside from that I can recommend Bonk as good clean fun.


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