Bonk by Mary Roach: book review

 1/28/11 update: I reviewed Bonk with great enthusiasm in 11/08. I’ve just started listening to the audiobook in the car, and it’s so much fun that I had to bring back this review, in case you missed it the first time. 

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roachis the most entertaining — and, in a madcap way, the most informative — book I’ve read in years. Filled with the weirdness of both the procedures and findings of sex research, Bonk combines arcane details with amazing facts and research tools (e.g. the “penis-camera).

Regale your friends with anecdotes from this book, and you’ll be the life of the party – as long as the party is filled with open-minded friends who enjoy zany details about sex.

Mary Roach writes in a clever, often hilarious style, which makes her books a pleasure to read, whether she’s writing about cadavers (Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers ), the afterlife (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife), or, in this case, sex. My copy quickly became spotted with Post-Its as I read, marking passages I simply had to tell you about, but numbering an impossible 45 markers by the time I finished.

Here’s just a small sampling of the facts I learned:

Princess Marie Bonaparte (great-grand-niece of Napoleon) blamed her inability to orgasm during intercourse on the fact that her clitoris was three centimeters away from her vagina. She did her own research in 1924 with a ruler and interviews and discovered that “téléclitoridiennes,” women with more than 2.5 centimeters between clitoris and vagina, were incapable of orgasm during intercourse. So she employed a surgeon to relocate her clitoris. (No, sorry, it didn’t work for her.)

Women don’t like men’s cologne, according to their rate of vaginal blood flow. The scent of men’s cologne actually reduced vaginal blood flow, as did the smell of charcoal-barbecue meat. Oddly, what increased vaginal blood flow the most (by 13%) was a mixture of cucumber and Good’n’ Plenty candy. Hmmm.

[describing one of many sex machine inventions:] “The motor housing is the size of a lunchbox and is raised on one end, like a slide projector. A flesh-colored phallus on a stick slides quietly in and out. The erotic appeal seems limited. It would be like dating a corn dog.”

[describing another sex machine invention, called “Therapeutic Apparatus for Relieving Sexual Frustrations in Women Without Sex Partners”:] “At the base of the penial assembly was a wide, black, wiry cuff of fur-like or hair-like material. For the partnerless woman who wants not only the ultimate climax or orgasm, but also the feeling that she is having sex with a shoe buffer.”

You’ll learn about “uterine upsuck” in pigs and how Danish farmers increased their pigs’ fertility by sexually stimulating their sows to “upsuck” the semen better. Why it rarely worked to use an MRI to study couples having sex. How porn stars make extra money by having their orifices replicated into plaster casts which are then used for sex dolls. And what Mary Roach and her husband did in full view of scientists to further sex research.

Some of the most intriguing diversions are found in the footnotes. Did you know that Victorian gynecologists and urologists wouldn’t look at the nether parts of the women they were examining? Can you guess why men land in emergency rooms when they can’t remove their improvised cock rings? Or the strangest foreign objects that have been removed from rectums? (I can’t decide whether to vote for the frozen pig tail or the spectacles.)

I highly recommend Bonk for your own delight and as gifts for your sex-minded friends.

[Read my interview with Mary Roach here.]


  1. paula on December 9, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Oh, right, that’s “uterine upsuck” in pigs. At first I thought it said “uterine lipstick in pigs.” Guess we heard so much about pigs and lipstick during the recent presidential campaign that I read it wrong at first.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Al, who usually doesn't comment on December 1, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    “uterine upsuck” in pigs?

    Oh please, here I thought I’d be reading something sexy and titillating about older women on this blog! If I can stifle my gag reflex, I’ll read some other posts.

    Seriously, I’m a regular reader. I love this blog, Joan!

  3. Joan Price on December 1, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    Jaliya, I love the image! The things we learn from each other!

    Mary, thanks for the compliments! My photo was taken at age 62, and I’m now (as of Nov. 2008) 65. Yes, line dancing does help keep the vigor in my step and the smile on my face!

    I’ve recently started letting my hair go grey, and losing Robert certainly aged my face since the photo was taken, however.

  4. Mary Roach on December 1, 2008 at 6:03 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you! And please tell me that that photograph of you was taken long before 60. If not, it should be illegal. I’d better take up line dancing.

  5. Jaliya on November 29, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Sex with a shoe buffer!!! Hilarious! OK, Joan, I have to ‘fess up here (tee hee) … Once, as a horny 12-year-old, I (ahem) pleasured myself with my father’s shoe buffer (kept my pants on — that thing got *hot*) because my mother’s vibrator wasn’t in its usual place…I guess she’d clued into my sneaking off (and getting off) with it … So she relocated it! AGONY!! 😀

    I must read *Bonk*. It looks like a riot!

    Thanks, as always, for your wonderful thinking and writing 🙂

    I hope all’s well with you!

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