The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
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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.
StoryShot #1: 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. This study measured and recorded physiological changes during sexual arousal. The study found that changes in heart rate, breathing patterns, and we could observe other physiological markers of arousal during sexual stimulation. Their research also suggested that there were two distinct phases of sexual response:
- the excitement phase
- the orgasmic phase
At the time, this book was highly controversial. However, as this era developed, society became more open to the book.
StoryShot #2: 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 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 the machine was effective because the woman had better control of the speed, angle, and thrust.
StoryShot #3: 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.
StoryShot #4 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 found a 6% increase in fertility. This is partly because the research didn’t even confirm that non-human female animals even experience orgasms.
Another study on pigs found that females who experienced orgasm while mating were more likely to become pregnant than those who did not. Additionally, researchers in Holland found that female rats who experienced orgasm during mating were more likely to become pregnant than those who did not. Studies on humans, however, could not conclusively demonstrate that female orgasm increases the chances of pregnancy, though some research suggests that orgasm may be beneficial for couples trying to conceive.
StoryShot #5: 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.
StoryShot #6: 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.
StoryShot #7: If Two Are Good, Would Three Be Better
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 used as a way of increasing sex drive. However, there are alternatives. One alternative is completing daily pelvic exercises.
StoryShot #8: 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.
StoryShot #9: 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.
StoryShot #10: 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.
Masturbation is a normal and healthy behavior, and that it has been scientifically proven to be beneficial to physical and mental health. For instance, one study found that using a vibrator during masturbation reduced levels of chronic pain in women. Additionally, other studies have found that masturbation can help reduce stress and improve sleep quality.
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.
StoryShot #11: Who Needs Genitals?
In this chapter, Mary investigates the possibility of obtaining orgasms without stimulation of the genitals. One study conducted at Rutgers University showed that women who used orgasm without genital stimulation reported less pain and increased sexual pleasure. Additionally, a study conducted by Dr. Beverly Whipple and colleagues at the University of Michigan found that couples who used orgasm without genital stimulation reported increased feelings of closeness to their partner. Finally, a study conducted by Dr. Clifford Bloch at the University of California, San Francisco found that women who used orgasm without genital stimulation reported increased feelings of sexual satisfaction and closeness to their partner.
Orgasm can be achieved by stimulating other erogenous zones in the body. The orgasm does not have to involve, or end with the genitals. In fact, it is possible to have orgasm with no genital stimulation. 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.
Mary examines several techniques for achieving orgasm without genital stimulation, such as sharing fantasies, using visualization, indulging in massage, and using body pressure techniques.
StoryShot #12: Women Are Complicated
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.
StoryShot #13: 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.
StoryShot #14: The Secret Sway of Hormones
Hormones are chemical messengers responsible for regulating processes in our bodies, such as growth and development, metabolism, and behavior. The author provides examples from animal research to show how hormones can influence particular behaviors.
For instance, in some species of primates, certain hormones can help determine which animals will take on a dominant or a subordinate role within the social hierarchy. Some animals, such as mongoose, use hormones to communicate and to strengthen social bonds among group members. When a female rat releases a pheromone, it attracted male rats to her.
Testosterone, in particular, affects men’s feelings of aggression and assertiveness. Hormones can treat mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. It is important to consider the ethical implications when exploring how hormones can manipulate behavior.
StoryShot #15: The Lab That Uncovered Great Sex
The author examines the groundbreaking research being conducted at the University of Texas at Austin on human-pair relationships. The work of Drs. William Ickes and Ted Huston revealed that couples need to have strong emotional connections in order to have good sex. The data they collected showed that couples who felt close emotionally and liked each other had more successful physical encounters.
The emotional connection between the pair’s bond was important to the couple’s success. Happiness in pair relationships can be achieved through emotional closeness and a great deal of mutual respect.
The findings of this research can be applied to other kinds of pair relationships, such as parent-child and platonic friendships.
Final Summary and Review
Bonk covers a variety of facets of human sexual response from perspectives of both past and present. It delves into the hypothesis of orgasms boosting fertility and discusses the similarities between the clitoris and penis.
Additionally, the book looks into the mental state of women, the historical methods used to treat impotence, and the concept of using different tools to increase sex drive. Mary Roach also looks at the possibility of obtaining orgasms without genital stimulation, and touches on the brave career of Ahmed Shafik in conservative countries. Through introducing both scientific and historical points of view, this book provides a comprehensive view on the aspects of human sexual response, from understanding common myths and taboos to looking into the science behind it. It provides the reader with new perspectives and scientifically supported hypotheses on the complexities of human sexuality.
We rate Bonk 3.9/5.
How would you rate Mary Roach’s book?
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