Book Review

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach - A Guest Review by CarrieS


Title: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Author: Mary Roach
Publication Info: W. W. Norton & Company 2009
ISBN: 978-0-393-33479-1
Genre: Nonfiction

Bonk by Mary Roach

If you loved Sarah's post entitled, “Where is the Hymen?” you will love Bonk.

In Bonk (which for months I've been referring to accidentally as Boink, God knows what that says about me) Mary Roach takes on the subject of what scientists do and don't know about sex, and how they know it.  I apologize for the over-abundance of long quotes here, but they are the best way to convey the flavor of the book.  Also, I'm being self-indulgent.  I read most of this book in a hospital cafeteria (Mom had a hip replacement – she's all better now).  Anyway, there I was, cackling madly over the cafeteria food, with no one to say, “Hey, you gotta hear this!” to.  I certainly wasn't going to read these passages to my mother (although given the pain medication she was getting at the time, I doubt she would have been offended).  Here's an excerpt I'm fond of from the chapter, “The Prescription-Strength Vibrator:  Masturbating For Health”:

“There are images that stay with you your whole life, whether you want them to or not.  Here is one that I imagine will make the cut.  A man in a blue smock and a hairnet walks across a factory floor with an armload of enormous chocolate-brown dildos.  He is loaded down to the point of absurdity.  He is Audrey Hepburn leaving Bergdorf's in some 1960's romantic comedy, her arms piled so high with packages that she can barely see over the top.   I want to trip him, not out of meanness, but just to see the penises fly through the air and rain down around us”.


It's all like this, although there's more actual science than you might assume just from that quote.  That particular section comes from a visit to a sex toy factory.  The factory noise is deafening, so the manager has to yell things like “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS”.  If you can think of a way that I can work yelling, “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS” into my daily life, let me know.  By the way, when reading Bonk, don't skip the footnotes – they are the best part.  Here's a footnote from the chapter “Monkey Do:  The Secret Sway of Hormones” that might be useful to any men who are lacking in seductive techniques:

“Ladies, do not get involved with a chimp.  Not only are they fast ejaculators, they want to perform this minor irritation constantly (highest copulatory frequency of all primates.)  And here's how they let you know:  “the male invitation posture”, in which the male sits on the ground, knees up and legs wide open to, quoting Reproductive Biology of the Great Apes, “reveal his erect penis.”  As an alternate wooing strategy, the male chimpanzee will shake a branch at you.”


Be still, my heart. 

This is my favorite style of science writing:  it's accessible to the layperson (me), it focuses more on funny or interesting anecdotes than hard facts (I'm not proud, people, but that's the way I roll), and yet it manages to get a lot of hard facts across.  It was hilarious.  It was also informative – mostly about history, but about biology as well, and, for the more daring among our readers, I daresay it includes shopping tips.  There's a fine line in science writing between being accessible and being patronizing, and this book definitely was accessible but also made me learn and think, sans patronization, and Lord knows, it was entertaining.

The only problem I have with Bonk is that reading it is rife with side effects.  For example, the descriptions of penile implant operations are seared into my brain in the most unpleasant way.   Even worse is the fact that I am no longer capable of saying or thinking anything that doesn't seem to me like a double entendre, a pun, or a highly suspect word.  I am eager for this effect to wear off.  Also, reading the book involves a lot of potential for public embarrassment, what with the blushing and the giggling and the uproarious laughter, not to mention having very nice strangers ask me what I'm reading.  If those are side effects you can live with, read on!

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    ann_somerville says:

    “the male invitation posture”, in which the male sits on the ground, knees up and legs wide open to, quoting Reproductive Biology of the Great Apes, “reveal his erect penis.”

    I had a boss who used to sit like this :)

    “If you can think of a way that I can work yelling, “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS” into my daily life, let me know.”

    I am married to a man with a typically loud, middle class voice who used to be prone to advising visitors to the primate house watching the spider monkeys that “Of course those aren’t males. The females have pseudopenises.”

    His friends tended to melt into the shadows when he did that. Side effects of being close to a primate expert! (As is learning more than I ever wanted to know about orangutan rape.)

    Natural history is awesome. I highly approve of this book. Thanks for reviewing it.

  2. 2
    TheDuchess says:

    I read and loved this book too! Mary Roach’s style of writing made this book so approachable, the way scientific research is peppered in with anecdotal facts and asides. And the footnotes really are the best.

  3. 3
    SB Sarah says:

    For some reason, this story made me laugh and laugh so hard this morning. Thanks – especially for the pseudopenises.

  4. 4
    Maya S. says:

    I love Mary Roach’s writing.  I’m a scientist, so I’m really picky about my popular science books, and she is one of the best.  I think her newest one, “Packing for Mars”, may be the best.  You can feel her joy about being able to write about the mechanics of using the bathroom in space.

  5. 5
    Jewel says:

    I recently read this book, too, and loved it. And I guess I’m a little odd, because when people would ask what I was reading that was making me giggle I happily shared the title of the book. Some folks gave me that ‘you are weird’ look, some were happy to join in the discussion.

    For those of you with a Kindle and Amazon Prime, you can get this book for free through the Kindle Lending Library.

  6. 6
    Starrambrose says:

    Loved this book!  Also her book about human cadavers, “Stiff.”  Anyone who can make dead bodies fascinating and funny has a rare talent.

  7. 7
    Joan says:

    For more readable/interesting women science writers visit:

  8. 8
    MarieC says:

    Great review! I’ve read both this book and ‘Stiff’ and loved them both! She has such a fluid writing style that it makes her books an easy, fun, yet interesting read!

  9. 9
    CarrieS says:

    If your boss also shook a stick at you, I think you might have grounds for a lawsuit.

  10. 10
    JimLynch says:

    I’m adding this to my list of books to read.  Thanks for the review!

  11. 11
    Karenmc says:

    “If you can think of a way that I can work yelling, “THESE ARE THE VAGINAS” into my daily life, let me know.”

    My niece, an ER nurse, spent some time recently with a patient in her nineties, whose hearing and memory were pretty much gone. Unfortunately, what my niece had to keep shouting when the lady asked the same question repeatedly, was “It’s your rectum!” (Don’t ask. For the love of all that’s sweet and pleasant in the world, don’t ask).

  12. 12
    SusannaG says:

    Haven’t read this one (yet), but Packing for Mars, Stiff, and Spook (“science tackles the afterlife”) were all terrific.

  13. 13
    Roserita says:

    I think I remember a link/Friday video of Mary Roach doing “Ten things you didn’t know about sex,” which includes a how-to video by Danish livestock experts who’ve found that sows who get some lovin’ produce more piglets. 

  14. 14
    Sandy D. says:

    Oh, I loved this book, too. But I learned more than I wanted to know about what Alfred Kinsey did with a toothbrush (the bristly end, no less).

  15. 15
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    I think I first heard about Mary Roach and her book from this website a couple of years ago though perhaps I’m wrong.  Anyway, as a result I read this book and then all of her other books (so far) and enjoyed them all.  I highly recommend whatever she’s written if you’d like to learn something and laugh at the same time (oh, and think, too, really).

  16. 16

    I’ve read all four of her books and loved them. :)

  17. 17
    Lisa Hendrix says:

    “the male invitation posture”, in which the male sits on the ground, knees up and legs wide open to, quoting Reproductive Biology of the Great Apes, “reveal his erect penis.”

    This is the typical posture of a Japanese businessman on the subway, taking up two seating spaces on the massively crowded trains while all around them women totter in heels.

  18. 18
    Cat C says:

    Thank you so much for posting this review! I read other reviews when the book first came out, and I was quite intrigued, but I made the mistake of putting it on my Amazon Wish List. I was a junior or senior in high school at the time, so my mother saw the list and made a remark and I got so embarrassed I let myself forget about it. But now I have that magical—and free—embarrassment mitigation tool, the Kindle for PC. Isn’t technology wonderful?

  19. 19

    I can’t believe I have forgotten about this book. I read it when it first came out, bought it because it was awesome and haven’t thought about it since. I definitely need to pull it off the bookshelf. P.S., For anyone who likes science but prefers anecdotes to a rote recitation of hard facts, all of Mary Roach’s books are pretty much fantastically awesome like this one and I highly recommend each and every one of them.

  20. 20
    Sally says:

    I just obtained the Kindle edition based on the review posted here, and I’ve never been so thankful for an e-reader.  It’s embarrassing enough at times to be caught snickering on the bus, but at least I’m not getting the funny looks I’d collect if people could actually see what I was reading!

    Words cannot express how much I’m enjoying this book.  Now I want the rest of hers.

  21. 21
    LibrarianJessi says:

    I also love Mary Roach, although this is the only one of her books I haven’t read. However, I did quite enjoy her discussion near the end of Packing for Mars on the possibility of sex and conception in space.

  22. 22

    This IS a terrific book although parts of it were some of the most un-sexy reading I’ve ever done. *LOL* I think my favorite part is where she convinces her husband to take part in the revolutionary imaging of sexual intercourse by bribing him with an all expenses trip to London. The doctor making polite small talk while she and her husband are joined together in the spoons position with the wrap up line from the doctor, “Um-hmm. You may ejaculate now” has got to up there in absurd situations!

    I think the other book of hers I really enjoyed was _Stiff_. And, no, it was about what you’re thinking! :-)

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