“Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” by Mary Roach (Norton, 2008)


We are now eight years into the twenty-first century and the world has made many great strides in areas like medicine, anthropology, sociology, politics, and increasing our knowledge and respect for our planet and the many different peoples who live on it. And yet the United States is still a country that views sex as an act to be hidden behind closed doors, performed infrequently (preferably for the purpose of reproduction), and as quick and easily dispensed with.

In the May issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine, “a survey of sex therapists concluded the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes.” Now Mary Roach, author of the bestselling Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, has turned her scientific mind to an act that can only be performed in specific ways according to laws in certain U.S. states.

The empirical study of sexual intercourse has certainly come a long way since humanity began having problems with performing the act, and Roach does a fantastic job of showing just how much work and research has been performed in the name of science on the subject of sex. While the author does go back to the days of ancient Greece, Bonk is not arranged chronologically, but rather by subjects ranging from human sexual response; to how the shape, size and placement of the sexual organs can vary from person to person and how this affects people having sex; to sex toys and devices; to what exactly is going on biologically during an orgasm.

Roach continues as she did with Stiff to “turn off” readers as she goes into detail on what takes place during penis surgery, having seen it performed before her very eyes; as well as revealing the scientific fact that because an orgasm is essentially a reflexive response to specific stimuli over time, a dead body would be able to have one. Roach makes a giant leap for humankind into the world of sexual study in volunteering herself and her husband to be studied scientifically while performing intercourse.

Just as in the author’s other books, Bonk is an eye-opener for readers, no matter their background; after absorbing it cover to cover one feels educated enough to make diagnoses for those experiencing sexual dysfunction. But then this may be one of the reasons Roach wrote this book: for those too ashamed to seek clinical help. She makes her point clear: that sex isn’t something to be hidden especially when problems affect people’s everyday lives. There’s a group to help everyone – even a special one for the disabled who are unable to have sex in ordinary ways – and offer advice and help in maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.

After finishing Bonk, one can see how this subject has been taboo for so long, and this continues to be the case with the current U.S. administration being a major advocate of abstinence over contraceptives. But at the same time it is clear that many people over the years have devoted their lives to the scientific study of sex, and here we see a different world of those who want to help and educate others. Ultimately, whatever goes on between consenting human beings behind closed doors is their business, but is there any reason why it shouldn’t be enjoyable?

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 26th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.