Literacy 2023: Book 4: Bonk

Mary Roach applies her wry takes on uncomfortable topics to the subject of human sexuality and sex research, and the results are hilarious

Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Roach takes an at-times-uncomfortably close look at the various ways that scientists have tried to understand and improve the sex lives of humans.


  • Roach’s comedic timing is at its absolute height here. Overly dry (no pun intended) or uncomfortable passages (ibid) are split up perfectly with an odd or humorous digression, or a well-placed footnote.
  • Full-to-bursting (so to speak) with clever double entendres, and even a lament that some terms have no good synonyms or room for double entendres.
  • Goes even further than other books to advance the studies she writes about, as she and her husband volunteer for a sex study.
  • Mature, modern, and open in a way that I never see, finding the humor and fun in the subject of sex without becoming vulgar or resorting to snickering and lazy gags.
  • Matter-of-factly acknowledges differences in orientation and behavior without even a hint of prudishness.


  • Contains a detailed description of penis surgery. I cannot overstate how stressful this is. (Roach acknowledges this in a footnote, expressing sympathy for biologically male readers and commenting that she noticed her husband had to read some chapters with his legs crossed).
  • Often had me reflexively putting a hand down to protect my business while I was reading.
  • Not really a con, but it spends significantly more time on female sexuality than male (at least partly because female sexuality is more complex at both the physical and psychological levels, and because it’s historically been repressed and misunderstood).

My favorite of Mary Roach’s books that I’ve read so far, interesting and exhaustively (literally) researched while also being laugh-out-loud funny.