Friday, 15 March 2013

Things that go bump in the night

While the entire world seems to be reading a Fifty Shades novel, I opted for a different kind of sex book. Mary Roach’s Bonk – The curious coupling of sex and science (2008) is all about sex.

Roach investigates the weird and wonderful world of sex research. She explores the historical attempts at enhancing pleasure and curing various dysfunctions, including those from ancient Greece, medieval times, the early 20th Century, and the work of Kinsey and Masters & Johnson.  She also shows us the advances made through modern day research using MRIs, exploratory surgeries and even sex-toy R&D labs.

Whether wading though journal articles, or attending a Scandinavian pig farm, or viewing surgical implants, the thoroughness of Roach’s research reveals a degree of commitment that she throws herself into the subject. Literally - Roach and her devoted partner Ed volunteered to participate in research by subjecting themselves to ultrasound scanning while performing to assist researchers to learn more about the internal sexual anatomy.

There is humour throughout, in both the bizarre circumstances and Roach’s vivid descriptions. I will never look at a gooseneck lamp again without thinking of a certain Taiwanese surgical procedure. She makes science fun and you can’t help but laugh out loud at some of the nonsensical absurdities that have been presented as medical research.

Roach inserts herself in the book with witty asides and footnotes. This worked well in her book Stiff – The curious lives of human cadavers (2003), but occasionally works less well here. Sometimes these are distracting or obvious smirks, that could have been removed allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

This book should come with a warning. Roach is not shy about asking the questions we are curious about but would be too embarrassed to ask. Her descriptions of certain procedures and tests will leave you crossed-legged and shuddering. There is creepiness and ickiness. So beware, once you know it you can never un-know it.

My review of Roach’s equally fascinating, hilarious and enlightening book Stiff – The curious lives of human cadavers is also on this blog.