Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Review)

Book cover for "Bonk" by Mary Roach.Title: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Author: Mary Roach

Narrator: Sandra Burr

Publication Year: 2008

Pages: 320 (audio length: 9 hours 28 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from

From the cover:

The study of sexual physiology — what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better — has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey’s attic. Mary Roach, “the funniest science writer in the country” (Burkhard Bilger of The New Yorker), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn’t Viagra help women — or, for that matter, pandas? In Bonk, Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm, two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth, can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place.

This is the second of Roach’s books that I’ve read – the first was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll definitely be picking up another of her books soon.

In Bonk, Roach tackles of the topic of medical research that looks at sexual physiology. Unlike her last book, Roach actually had quite a hard time getting to see firsthand what kind of research was being done in this field. For starters – there simply wasn’t as much research being done, largely due to the ethical (and other) hangups of the bodies that fund research. Also, the subjects in these studies were alive, so there was the issue of consent: apparently, live humans on the whole are a bit too shy to allow you to be a voyeur while their sexual responses are studied.

When she does get a chance to look at research – or, at least, the results of research – Roach applies her typical irreverent attitude to the science of sex. (And the narrator, Burr, does a great job of letting Roach’s voice really shine through.) Although there were a few cringe-worthy moments, I generally enjoyed her analysis of things and the closer look that I was able to get into the minds of the researchers through her book.

The one thing that I found most interesting about Bonk was the look at the struggles of modern medical researchers to even be able to do interesting research that could help us improve our knowledge of how the body works during sex. The ethical arguments were fascinating to me, even at the same time as they were frustrating. How are we supposed to learn more about this integral part of human life if people aren’t willing to let scientists try to find things out?

Ultimately, Bonk is a successful piece of popular science writing for people who don’t “do” science. Roach did a great job of holding my attention as a reader/listener, and I think you’ll find the same thing if you decide to pick up the book.


6 thoughts on “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Review)”

  1. Making the style of the author shine through in narration is always the difficult part in audiobooks, I think. I’m glad to here that in this case it really worked.

    I’m never sure if Roach’s books are for me. The iireverence combined with the topic of sex, I think I might feel a little uncomfortable.

    1. Maybe not that book, then, but perhaps Stiff or the one I haven’t read yet … I think it’s called Packing for Mars? That one might be good since it’s likely to share the irrelevance of the others but be about a topic that’s not as sensitive as sex or dead bodies. 🙂

  2. It’s kind of ironic that sex is everywhere and in that way not particularly private, and then there’s the reactions you’ve discussed here, which I’m assuming for most of it came from the same societies. I’d be interested in reading this book, but if there was trouble in getting the research, how much is speculation?

  3. I loved Bonk – i definately laughed out loud in a few places while listening. Packing for Mars was equally as entertaining – I subtitled my review, “everything you ever wanted to know about eating, peeing and pooping in space but were afraid to ask”

  4. On the whole I enjoyed the book too, but became frustrated in her comparisons of male and female genitalia. When she referred to the clitoris as having its origins in the penis, that got my back up. As I recall, she provided no background for that reasoning. If we’re being arbitrary about it, it seems just as likely that it may have been the other way around, that the penis has its origins in the clit. Anyway, that was a bone(r) of contention for me, but otherwise it was a light, enjoyable read.

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