I should start by issuing a warning to anyone who plans to read this book: Bonk will turn you into a sex-fact-spouting monster (in my case even more than usual), for whom every turn in the conversation conjures up a fresh piece of erotic trivia that absolutely must be shared.
In fact, the very title could represent the way in which these factoids rise up inside your consciousness and demand to be let out.
Bonk! Did you know that the ridge under the head of a penis has evolved to displace the semen of any previous lovers?
Bonk! The distance between the clitoris and the urethral opening determines whether or not a woman can orgasm through penetration alone.
Bonk! An odour of semen is detectable on a woman’s breath with an hour of having unprotected vaginal intercourse.
What I found completely enchanting about Bonk was Mary Roach’s voice – witty, bouncy, humane and inquiring, she manages to walk the line of being light hearted without making light. This is not a book about the dark, exploitative history of sex; it’s a book about how sodding hard it is to study it.
The lack of evidence out there – and the difficulties that researchers face in funding and conducting the science of sex – is staggering. Torn between commercial pressures (most notably from drug companies looking for the next Viagra, preferably for women) and the nervous conservatism of funding committees (who seem to suspect sex researchers of being a bit pervy), it seems that scientists are still unable to answer some of our most basic questions about arousal.
If Bonk ever leaves the reader feeling as though this cloud of information doesn’t amount to any better understanding of sex at all, then this is a fair representation of the piecemeal nature of the evidence-base on sex. I, for one, found it immensely entertaining, but also slightly startling: are we really this incurious about our most basic urges?
For a great taster of Mary Roach’s work, you can watch her TED talk here (16 mins; probably NSFW unless you have headphones!).