Book Review

The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain by Judith Horstman -Guest Review by CarrieS


Title: The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain
Author: Judith Horstman
Publication Info: John Wiley and Sons, Inc, and Scientific American 2012
ISBN: 978-0-470-64778-3
Genre: Nonfiction

The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex and the Brain It's time for…SCIENCE!  That's right, I finally got a copy of Scientific American:  Love Sex, and the Brain.  This non-fiction book summarizes the results of studies that were written up in Scientific American magazine regarding, well, love, sex, and the brain.

Although the book doesn't talk in detail about the methodologies of various studies, it does have references to all the original articles, which presumably contain more information.

This was not the most wildly entertaining book I've ever read (it lacked the crazed glee of Bonk).  However, it was extraordinarily interesting and certainly accessible to me as a lay reader.  The language was clear, and the book was well organized.  Here's a few examples of questions the book addressed:

  • •Can you die of a broken heart?   (Answer – basically, yes.)
  • Does bisexuality really exist?  (According to a 2005 study, it doesn't really exist in men, but a 2008 study shows it is common in women and not just in an “everyone experiments in college” way.  I'd love to see the methodology on the 2005 study since that's a major claim, there.  If it involved self-reporting, I'm skeptical in the extreme.)
  • Do seniors get smarter about sex?  (Nope – not only do they still report having sex as often as their health permits, but they also report not using condoms and they have the STDs to prove it).
  • Is sex good for the brain?  (Yup.)

I'm surprised there hasn't been more controversy around this book – I'd expect any one of the above questions to cause the comments thread to light right up, and those are just a few examples.  The book covers birth, parents, the importance of relationships with friends, marriage, break-ups, old age, and religion. 

I think the content benefits from the author's matter of fact tone.  She's not taking a big political stance on stuff – she's just reporting what it says on the MRI (or whatever analytical tool is being used).  Without more detail regarding the studies, it's impossible to evaluate how valid their claims are, but if she did report the details then the book wouldn't work as a summary of results, so I'm willing to rely on the bibliography.  If nothing else, it's fascinating to see the variety of issues surrounding love, relationships, sex, and gender that scientists are currently studying.

Honestly, I don't have tons to say about this book even though I liked it.  If the topics I listed are topics you are interested in, then I highly recommend the book.  If not, no harm, no foul.  It was easy for me to follow and I learned a ton, which is all I ask from a science book.  Enjoy!

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

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sarah Wynde says:

    The studies that measure sexuality usually hook people up with sensors and make them look at pictures. The 2005 study measured genital arousal patterns and basically found that men responded to either pictures of other men or pictures of women, not both, even if they self-identified as bi. But it wasn’t brain-based like an fMRI would have been and sex isn’t all just about what the genitalia do, so it would be a mistake to decide that means that male bisexuality doesn’t exist. Our heads influence who we are attracted to, too. (Me<—therapy grad school dropout, so not an expert, but occasionally familiar with random research.)

  2. 2
    Ruby Duvall says:

    Did the book tackle sexuality at birth? I hear recent studies find a correlation between the structure of the amygdalae and sexual orientation, not to mention the correlation between sexual orientation and birth order, especially for brothers.

    As for dying of a broken heart, I believe we’ve all been there and can nod understandingly. :(

  3. 3
    Cate M. says:

    A bisexual male friend of mine said that, for him, he is attracted to the feminine aspects in a person. So that could be a feminine woman or a feminine man. But if you tested his attraction to a body-building alpha male in a study, the conclusion you’d draw would be that he’s not attracted to men. Me talking to my friend is hardly scientific, but if Sarah Wynde is right about likely study designs, than results could be skewed if there wasn’t a big enough variety in the pictures shown (i.e., not enough masculine women and not enough feminine men). Then again, these scientists probably know a lot more about study design than I do.

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