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Bonk delves into the scientific investigation of sex throughout history. For centuries, sex was studied in laboratories and brothels. Today, sex-toy research and development labs and MRI centers spearhead sex research. Bonk is a culmination of two years of research by Mary Roach. She goes behind the doors on the historic and modern scientific investigations of sex. The result is various sex-related facts and tips. Some are useful; some are just interesting.

About Mary Roach

Mary Roach is an American author specializing in popular science and humor. She graduated from Wesleyan in 1981 and then moved out to San Francisco. Though she mostly focuses on writing books, she writes the occasional magazine piece. Her magazine articles have been published in Outside, National Geographic, New Scientist, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine.

“This book is a tribute to the men and women who dared. Who, to this day, endure ignorance, closed minds, righteousness, and prudery. Their lives are not easy. But their cocktail parties are the best.”

– Mary Roach

Chapter I – Highlights From the Pioneers of Human Sexual Response

The 20th century had pioneers of human sexual response. Firstly, John Watson investigated sexual behavior within lab settings in the 1910s. Subsequently, Albert Shadle started to investigate animal behavior in the 1940s. By the 1960s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson performed and published Human Sexual Response. At the time, this book was highly controversial. However, as this era developed, society became more open to the book. 

Chapter II – Can a Woman Find Happiness With a Machine?

A scientist has created a penis camera to investigate the inside of a woman. This is because research suggested that a man’s orgasm was from the outside, while a woman’s orgasm was inside. Therefore, a man invented a penis camera to understand better the mechanisms inside a woman leading to an orgasm. Mary Roach explains that she searched for a long time for this penis camera without success. However, this concept did question whether a machine can effectively help a woman orgasm. Mary observed an orgasm machine in an exhibition. She noticed that the machine was effective because the woman had better control of the speed, angle, and thrust. 

Chapter III – The Woman Who Moved Her Clitoris, and Other Ruminations on Intercourse Orgasms

In the 1920s, a woman named Princess Marie Bonaparte worried about her inability to obtain an orgasm. Therefore, under the pseudonym A.E. Narjani, she presented a theory of frigidity. This theory was based on her measuring the distance between the clitoris and the vagina in 243 women. According to her results, she argued the distance between these two organs impacted a woman’s ability to reach orgasm. Those with a short distance were more likely to reach orgasm successfully. As Marie defined herself as a téleclitoridiennes, meaning her distance was large, she decided to move her clitoris surgically. However, this did not produce the desired outcome. However, some modern physiologists, like Kim Wallen, still believe a distance less than the thumb’s width increases a woman’s chances of orgasm. The distance appears proportional to the height of the woman and breast size. Mary also considers other more effective approaches for producing orgasm. For example, doggy style is more effective in stimulating a woman’s G-spot. Alternatively, some positions appear more effective as the woman has a sense of control.

Chapter IV – Does Orgasm Boost Fertility, and What Do Pigs Know About It?

This chapter focuses on the possibility that orgasms could boost fertility. Research has been conducted with boars and sows to investigate this hypothesis. The research seems to offer little evidence of female animal orgasm increasing fertility. Although, some studies did find a 6% increase in fertility. This is partly because the research didn’t even confirm that non-human female animals even experience orgasms. 

Chapter V – The Diverting World of Coital Imaging

This chapter spoke about the highly advanced research of Dr. Deng. Dr. Deng has produced a scanner which created 4D MRI scans. Essentially, these are 3D MRI scans with a time component. This tool has been highly effective in allowing surgeons to observe an individual’s heart in real-time. In doing so, they can better diagnose problems and identify how to best proceed with surgery. However, Dr. Deng has also used this imaging technique to measure erect penises. This allows him to learn more about individuals with vascular or structural abnormalities in their penises. A long story short, Mary convinced her husband to engage in a piece of research Dr. Deng wanted to complete. It involved Mary and Ed having sex in this machine. Subsequently, Deng could understand better the entry point and the varying angles associated with male and female orgasm.

Chapter VI – Creative Approaches to Impotence

This chapter covered the work of Dr. Geng-Long Hsu. Hsu is from Taiwan and specializes in repairing penile injuries and curing erectile dysfunction. Mary shadowed Hsu’s work and learned about the creative approaches many people take to avoid impotence. However, there is a long history of odd approaches to impotence. In the Middle Ages, people blamed witches for male impotence. Following this, they blamed the psychological state of man and masturbating too much. 

Chapter VII – If Two Are Good, Would Three Be Better

“Sexual desire is a state not unlike hunger.”

– Mary Roach

Mary covers a wide range of tools used throughout history to increase sex drive. For example, one approach is to transplant or ingest animal testicles. Viagra has been a prominent tool utilized as a way of increasing sex drive. However, there are alternatives. One alternative is completing daily pelvic exercises.

Chapter VIII – Transplants, Implants, and Other Penises of Last Resort

This chapter outlines Mary’s experience of observing a penile implant. She describes Hsu’s operation on a patient and how she even got to touch the operated penis. These microsurgeons can create a relatively realistic penis for those who have had freak accidents. However, they will never have the same potential as a natural penis. 

On top of this, Mary visited a clinic where men were attending to have penis enlargements. Of the 44 men who visited while she was there, 100% of the men actually had penises within the ‘normal’ range. This suggests that men now have an unrealistic idea of how large their penis should be.

Chapter IX – Is the Clitoris a Tiny Penis?

Mary explains there are actually a few similarities between the clitoris and penis. Firstly, they are two of only three body parts that have erectile tissue. The only other body part is your nose. Your nose will get bigger with blood delivery to this area. This is why your nose gets bigger when you have a bunged up nose. 

Additionally, Mary explains that men are also not unique in having erections at nighttime. Research suggests women experience several clitoral erections per night. Like a penis, the clitoris is enlarged when experiencing a rush of blood (erection). Despite this, Mary found that Viagra is not helpful for women who have Female Sexual Arousal Disorder.

Chapter X – Masturbating for Health

Mary Roach explains that masturbating to orgasm is vital for women. It seems the longer it has been since your last orgasm, the harder it becomes to orgasm. Hence, masturbation is a useful strategy for those who are struggling to get aroused or reach an orgasm. Mary also explains that sex tools like vacuum pumps for a woman’s clitoris might increase blood flow. However, she explains that one can produce the same effect through masturbating. Plus, this will save you $400.

Chapter XI – Who Needs Genitals?

In this chapter, Mary investigates the possibility of obtaining orgasms without stimulation of the genitals. For example, quadriplegic people can reach orgasm without physical manipulation. Hence, this suggests the nerve paths for orgasms are not blocked by spinal cord injuries.

Chapter XII – Women Are Complicated

“It is the mind that speaks a woman’s heart, not the vaginal walls.”

– Mary Roach

It is clear that, on average, more women struggle with arousal than men. This is shown by the scientific literature still having challenges to overcome in unlocking the mystery of female sexual arousal. Mary explains that research is currently showing that most of the challenges to overcome seem mental in origin. However, there is a promising drug on the market. Flibanserin appears to be the best option for women struggling with sexual arousal. At the time of this book being published, Flibanserin was in Phase III trials.

Chapter XIII – The Strange, Brave Career of Ahmed Shafik

Ahmed Shafik was an Egyptian researcher whose studies centered on human anatomy, physiology, surgery, and sexual physiology. Crucially, he was releasing scientific papers on these topics in a conservative country: Egypt. Mary explains that sex studies within conservative countries are difficult. However, just talking about sex can have a positive impact on people’s sex lives. Therefore, try to talk about sex as much as you can. 

Comment below and let others know what you have learned or if you have any other thoughts.

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