Bonk by Mary Roach

Chantel’s rating – 4.5/5

Caidyn’s rating – 4/5


Earlier in the year, Caidyn and I read A Mind of Its Own which was a cultural history of the penis. Ultimately, it was an interesting topic with a poor execution. Bonk was what The Penis Book (what we dubbed it while reading it) should’ve been. Mary Roach’s humor was on point throughout the book combined with essential literature and interviews with experts. Call me crazy, but as a female, I was excited to read chapters featuring female sexuality. I mean, there was a whole chapter about a woman moving her clitoris. That was fun.

There were definitely some disturbing parts of this book. Ones involving penis surgery and one that focused on pig insemination. The last thing I wanted to read is about some of the odd things men do with their penises. While there were times I was squeamish I found myself laughing more than being grossed out. My favorite part of the book was when Mary Roach and her husband participated in getting a 4D ultrasound while having sex. The fact that she was able to convince her husband Ed to be a part of it was hilarious. My only complaint, and it’s small, I would’ve liked a chapter dedicated to asexuality and the science behind that, but back when this book was written/published in 2007-2008, I don’t think there was a lot of research on it. I only hope that has changed.

It really saddens me that sex is such a taboo subject to the point where it can be shameful for some people. Sex is a perfectly natural thing, we are not the only species to do it nor are we the only species to enjoy it outside of reproduction. By combining sex and science, I believe Mary Roach normalized sex and I don’t think that should be overlooked and this is coming from someone who identifies as asexual. She threw herself into this book and research and I was so glad I read it. I can’t wait to read more books by her.

Really, I agree with Chantel completely. (Or, on some pieces.) I thought The Penis Book was too pompous at times and the author pretended to know something when he wasn’t a professional while Roach embraced not knowing things. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing on a topic when you aren’t a professional, just that you have to do a lot of extra work to catch up with an expert and then to exceed them. As someone who often writes on well-researched topics, it’s so hard trying to make sense of the research then add in some new contribution.

For me, Mary Roach was great. I think that it was hilarious and she made no qualms about highlighting the awkwardness of things since sex is awkward. There are odd noises, faces, positions, etc that lend themselves to hilarity and awkwardness. Plus, I actually watched her Ted Talk for my Psychology of Sexual Behavior course (also called psych of sex) in summer and I knew just how funny his book could be going off that one little talk.

However, I just wish that her take home message — that there are sexual differences and you need to learn about those differences to have sex with people — should have been highlighted more. It was a great take home message to have, but it felt like there should have been more. The book was full of odd or funny anecdotes and that seemed to be the main purpose of this book. Let’s look at the weird things scientists thought/think about sex or sexuality and the weird research they did to find proof for it. Not that it’s wrong — scientists are very weird and have hilarious ideas or rivalries — just that I wished that there was more substance to it. I loved the humor, but I wanted more take home messages than funny anecdotes about the oddity of human beings.

The great thing about Bonk is you could tell Mary Roach did a shit ton of research. She’s not a professional, but she completely threw herself into researching for this book by reading actual studies and talking with people who researched and worked in fields relating to sexuality.

That’s really true. She did so much research for this and visited so many various people. Roach is an author you could have as a secondary resource on a paper. Roach took very specific topics and breathed life into them. I think Roach talking about modern research with a look at how we haven’t changed too much from the past (along with her hilarious commentary and anecdotes) made it a more interesting read.

While I appreciated her talking with people in the field at that time, the book is almost ten years old by now. I’d love to know what (if anything) has changed in the worlds of sexual psychology and physiology.

Personally, I don’t think too much has changed with stigma. There’s a lot of stigma around it. However, there’s just so much more technology available — PET scans, ultrasounds, MRIs, and fMRIs — that you can see the true physiological reactions then make inferences based on a person’s verbal response. Such as, Roach talked about how women get aroused (i.e. wet) by watching any type of pornography — straight, gay, animals mating — and they don’t report being aroused by anything except what they think of as their sexuality.

I certainly don’t think it’s gotten easier to research sexuality because there is a stigma, but for example, she talks about certain drugs that were going through trials for the FDA, I suppose a Google search would tell me if they were successful, but things like that seemed a bit dated. Plus, there could’ve been more talk about LGBTQ+ couples and asexuality. However, that’s just a nitpick of mine. I don’t think if she wrote the book today those things would be included. That could be a completely separate book.

If I remember correctly from my class on this topic, there still weren’t any drugs specifically for women and treating sexual disorders for them. Recently, though, there was the push and the backlash over female Viagra. And, I agree on LGBTQ+ relationships and asexuality. There has been a lot of research on it (perhaps not asexuality since that’s technically a sexual disorder in the DSM-5) but it wasn’t included. Perhaps because she didn’t find that topic as interesting to her.

Which doesn’t surprise me. Doesn’t she talk about a sexual disorder or is asexuality different? There are probably more than one. I think that’s fine that she decided to ultimately not go in that direction, I just know that would be interesting to me and that isn’t necessarily a knock on her.

All right, pulling out notes for this now. There are 12+ (depending on how I was to split them up) in my notes over sexual disorders. That’s just a specific category in the DSM. Asexuality is, technically, hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). However, to get diagnosed with it, you have to be upset by it. If you have that, it’s not necessarily that you’re asexual but someone who doesn’t believe that asexuality is a thing could diagnose you as having that and “fix” you. People with HSDD do feel sexual desire and want to have sex. Just that they can’t get aroused.

I see. She does refer to HSDD a few times but also adds in parenthesis low libido. I can’t see myself getting diagnosed with HSDD, asexual fits better. Plus, it’s so much more complicated than not being interested in sex.

No, you wouldn’t be diagnosed with HSDD. Nor would I. Why? Because to be diagnosed you’d have to be seeing a therapist about it specifically and exhibiting the Four D’s as they’re called in abnormal psychology. Distress, danger (to yourself or others), deviance, and dysfunction. Usually, I take distress and danger as the hallmarks of abnormal psych. Asexual people don’t show that sort of thing, you know? It’s not low libido because they aren’t interested. I’m ace and I don’t have a problem getting aroused. When I watch pornography, I’m not going to lie and say I don’t because most people do, I have no problem getting off. It’s just that I don’t have a desire to do the things they do. That’s not HSDD. Although, I think we’ve gotten a bit off topic.

Maybe a little bit. I’m the same way in that I’m not interested but I have the ability to be aroused and get off. It’s just I have no interest in doing that with another person, or at least I’d have to trust that person considerably. Anyway, I think we should stop talking about masturbation and move on.

What??? Come on, let’s just keep going and break societal norms some more. But, okay. I think that in a reprint or something, it’d be important for her to discuss those specific topics since they’ve come more into the view of mainstream media. This book is definitely good, just that it focused on heterosexual individuals and odd anecdotes about researchers, which was something I got a bit tired of. I want the research, not all this about the researcher.

Dammit society for making me uncomfortable! I would’ve liked more about non-heterosexual individuals and relationships, but overall I liked the anecdotes and thought she had a unique point of view and voice with which she talked about the research. I liked the humor a lot and that really made this book better for me because when I wasn’t interested in a certain subject she had something funny to say about said subject.

I do agree about the humor. It was so funny and I literally read some part of it out loud to my dad — about paralysis and checking if a certain reflex is working you have to stick your finger in the rectum and squeeze the penis or clitoris to see if the anal sphincter will squeeze the finger — and he just stared at me like “how the hell is this my child???” I just wish it had gotten serious at times and laid aside the humor. Humor made it better, but I also wanted some substance.

I’d just like to add that I really enjoyed the fact that she had a chapter dedicated to quadriplegics and paraplegics and included so much information and research that showed you can still have a sex life afterward depending on where the injury occurred. I would agree that getting serious could’ve helped, but overall I’d recommend it and read more of her books. I’m intrigued to see how her humor is injected into other topics that might be dull or serious.

I mean, having read her book on cadavers, it can be a very weird combination. And I hope that we decide to read more of Roach’s books in the future for the club.

Don’t worry, I can definitely see us reading more of her books in the future. At least the ones with dirty titles.

All of them are dirty if you have the right (or wrong) mind.

Please tell me how Packing for Mars is a dirty title.

Another time.

Such a tease.

3 thoughts on “Bonk by Mary Roach

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