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Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (Part 3)

Published: June 15, 2010

In our third and final installment of this series, Dr. Doug questions Mary Roach, author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, about her research into some of the more taboo aspects of sex.

You went to a factory that produced vibrators. Talk about that.

This was related to the device I was talking about. It was marketed as a medical device. I thought, let’s see what the people who make sex toys have to say. Some have an R&D department. I went to a company called Topco in Chatsworth, Calif. Their R&D department is really sort of a table in the back — not what I was envisioning. They do, however, have encyclopedic knowledge of what feels good and what does what best. It was entertaining seeing the women there. A lot of Latino women from the valley work in the factory. Most are Catholic. I asked, “What do you tell your parents you do for a living?” One said, “That I work in plastics.”

You talk about differences between the sexes and had a great quote about the sexual response of females.

“As predictable as the weather,” I think it was. [laughs]

Your book is filled with stats, as in, “A human male’s average thrusting time in sex is 2-5 minutes or 100-500 thrusts.” This is data only research can reveal.

True, but I hate those figures in a way. That is only the period of time where the man is inside the woman. It ignores all of the foreplay that might have gone on, whether it was erotic massage or something oral or whatever. It’s just the final act. Such stats can make sex sound so mechanical and short-lived.

You found in Southern California a police force sponsoring a class in bondage safety.

I think it’s offered through one of those sex toy stores. Apparently, there were enough calls that the police were getting annoyed. They asked, “Will you do something about this? Do a class and tell people how not to get hurt.” So they, in fact, do offer a class, supported by the police department!

In all your research, what was your most pleasant surprise?

I was surprised about every other page. I was learning things like: women have nocturnal erections. You’d think I’d know this. Women have little tiny clitoral nocturnal erections. That was news. I also didn’t know that another part of the body with erectile tissue is the nose. When you have a cold, you have an erection in your nose. I love that! Some ask, “What about nipples? They can get erect.” It’s a different mechanism. Those are little muscles that contract, not erectile tissue. So there you go: the penis and the nose — there is a link. Not the one people think, though.

A side effect of Viagra-type drugs is nasal congestion. I guess now we know why.
For me, the show-stopper was your description of British researcher Giles Brindley. At a 1983 urology convention, he delivered a lecture on papaverine after he’d found it can induce erections if injected directly. Brindley gave a slide show of his own organ after various dosages, then revealed that he had just injected himself. Walk us through what happened next.

I love this story! It sums up the challenges researchers face. Here is a guy excited about the fact that he’s found a substance that dependably gives an erection. He wants to share it with other urologists. He’s up on stage and not only does he show slides and let them know he used it, he then pulls his pants tight so people can witness that he has an erection. He thinks, that’s not good enough, so he pulls down his pants — and this is in front of not only the urologists, but their wives who are all dressed up to go to a cocktail party. He proceeds to walk to the edge of the stage and says to the audience, “I would like to give some of you the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence.” Brindley then walks down the steps towards the people in the audience. Women in the front row throw up their arms and scream “What are you doing?” [causing him to terminate the demonstration] One might ask: what were you thinking, Doctor? On the other hand, he wanted to share the exciting results of his research. That, to me, sums up sexology.

It’s a story I that cannot be improved upon. Mary, thanks for speaking with us.

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Doug hosts Radio Parallax which can be heard in the Davis/Sacramento area on Thursdays from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. by tuning to KDVS, 90.3 FM or online at http://radioparallax.com/.