THE BLOG
04/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Culture Zohn Off the C(H)uff: Bonk : Sex in the Gritty with Mary Roach

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A few weeks ago I was flying transcon and miraculously got an upgrade. I was afraid to take out my knitting surrounded by all those titans, and let me just say that on this particular flight there was a famous titan riding commercial seated right near me and I was a bit depressed that the miserable economy had actually come home to roost so quickly.

In the interest of the American dream and as long as they are not going to appear before congress, don't we still want our titans still enjoying the perks to which they, and we, had become accustomed to on their behalf?

Ok, anyway, shamed into separation from the domestic arts, I finally pulled out the book I had been toting back and forth and I was not even a page into it when I realized this was entirely more subversive yet constructive than any knit and purl could ever be. I cackled my way across the country, delighted to be immersed in pure, unadulterated sex.

Luckily the book, Bonk, had a black and white cover which did not betray its graphic content. And now, on the eve of its release in paperback, the cover is a tasteful Tiffany blue with a microscope which will save face under any circumstances. Only if you look closely do you see the couple getting it on under the lens.

The book is purportedly an investigation into the "curious coupling of science and sex." It really is a first-person tumble by its author, the fabulously funny and incisive Mary Roach, down the rabbit hole (not just rabbits, also pigs) of sex research, an up to the minute slog through penile, vaginal, and other post-coital orifices.

Are you with me so far?

Roach, who had previously written about dead bodies (Stiff) and the afterlife (Spook) is unabashed, or rather, if she does occasionally come down with a case of the shys, she quickly overcomes it with the hair of the dog.

Or rather the pubis.

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Luckily, Mary Roach too has a tasteful cover: she appears at a San Francisco restaurant for lunch looking every inch the Dartmouth professor's daughter that she actually is, understated, on time, affable. The thing is, Roach (great name, huh?) chose to go to Wesleyan, not Yale like her brother, because, well, she is just that little bit outrageous that all good Wesleyan students are. (We weren't the first kids to have African drum beating as a credit-bearing class for no reason.)

And you will see from page one of this fascinating bildungsroman of sexual discovery that its pretty hard to write about sex and not get into it yourself.

There is apparently a long history of auto-experimentation in scientific research of all kinds, born, as it were, out of desperation that no subjects were ready and willing.

Roach even volunteered her husband Ed for a study. Originally, she says, he was up for it, and then when it actually came time for him to get undressed and lay down on the table and well, get it on with her, observed from every possible angle by ultrasound, he was finally somewhat daunted.

I don't blame him for trying to keep up with her one bit. I think he has been a hero. If your wife or girlfriend was out running around exploring penile prostheses or X-rated video filmmakers, wouldn't you be suspicious?! I think he finally had to show up just to make sure she wasn't getting it on with Dr. Hsu, the creator of the dead penis erection, or, worst case scenario, Curt Olson, the inventor of the Eros Clitoral Therapy Device.

Because, as Roach points out, even people like Alfred Kinsey, sex researcher extraordinaire, got hot and bothered by his sexual subjects.

Roach ranges far and wide over animal, vegetable and mineral, inside and outside our various cavities, domestically and through Asia and Europe, and finally just when you are shedding all pretense of anti-prurience, she makes you feel sorry that after all this research, we still don't know the recipe for perfect sex.

I learned so much! Did you know Marie Bonaparte had her clitoris moved to try to get the pleasure principle to come home? Did you know you can order a vagina to keep you warm and not have to bother with the body and brain that goes along with it? Did you know people stick the most amazing implements as well as cameras inside themselves? These and other fun sex facts will endear you to Roach who is also the creator of the perfectly hilarious footnote.

Like Roach, I am a fearless researcher, which sometimes has my local librarians stymied. I often wear a hat and sunglasses when I go to my local village branch to pick up the books I have ordered from the downtown branches. Roach also had to deal with the raised eyebrows of her superintendent, the vitriol of her mother; Roach says she is "fearless to the point of stupidity."

My favorite factoid is that you could be almost dead, dying even, and if you are having sex, will experience absolutely no pain. Sex removes almost every negative thing you are feeling mentally or physically. No wonder entire countries, civilizations, even, have been overturned for a well placed orgasm.

I was not able to load for you the video about pig husbandry (that's husbandry) she recently presented at the TED conference or the film of the dead penis getting an erection (down boy, all in the name of vascular science!) or, failing that, the famous sonogram of Roach and her long suffering husband doing the nasty.

Roach has mastered the art of talking about sex without a blush and all I can say is that it's a shame that she has no children on this point alone -- she would make somebody a fabulously hip mother. I'm thinking she should hire herself out to the greater Bay area to give one-on-one seminars to all those kids whose parents can't quite muster the courage to say

PENIS

VAGINA

CLITORAL THERAPY

MALLEABLE PENILE INSERT

Etc.

Roach's next book is about the space program. This will most probably focus on the wrong stuff and reveal things about the astronauts we never actually wanted to know, having gotten a taste of astronaut shenanigans from Lisa Nowak et al.

I mean, what do you think they do up in the space shuttle cockpit for all those hours, days and weeks?

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