My rating: 2 of 5 stars
We enjoyed listening to Mary Roach being interviewed on Fresh Air about this book so I thought this would be a great foray into my first science book read. I mean really, wouldn’t a book about sex be great? Well when you really dive into the details of the various research and clinical work being done it can become kind of “squeamish”.
Studying sex is tough. It’s difficult to get funding for research because the research boards think you are a pervert and it can be difficult to get good subjects. As Mary Roach says “The laboratory study of sex has never been an easy, safe, or well-paid undertaking. Study by study, the gains may seem small and occasionally silly, but the aggregation of all that has been learned, the lurching tango of academe and popular culture, has led us to a happier place. Hats and pants off to you all.” (p 304).
Mary Roach is an exhaustive researcher; she went around the world to cover the topics. The book covers both scientific topics and sociological. I found the sociological aspects to be my favorite. There are some real cringe-worthy moments in the book as when she discusses penile implants. But we do get some insight into what an orgasm; we read about 20 definitions. Who knew it could be so complicated. We also learn why men get stuffy noses when they take Viagra and “how rectal probe electrostimulation came into use as a therapy for muscle spasticity in people with spinal cord injuries”. (p 222).
On the sociological side we find that “the best sex going on in Masters and Johnson’s lab was the sex being had by the committed gay and lesbian couples. Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they ‘took their time.’ They lost themselves – in each other, and in sex.”(p 300). “Masters points out that the heterosexuals were at a disadvantage, as they do not benefit from what he called ‘gender empathy’. Doing unto you partner as you woud do unto yourself only works well when youre gay.” (p 302).
I also enjoyed the study of putting many students in a dark room so they can do what they like without the fear of judgement. Couples form. “‘People share strong yearnings to be close to each other,’ concluded the authors. ‘However, social norms make it too costly to express these feelings. ‘” (Location 3814)
Mary Roach’s style reminds me of Calvin Trillin: ironic with a little distance. (Well not too much distance: she and her husband did have sex in an MRI as part of the study). I’ll read “Packing for Mars” where I imagine she’ll have plenty to say about getting rid of bodily waste.