Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Spook, has a new book debuting this month: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. To promote her new book, Roach is making the interview rounds. Check out her interview with Katharine Mieszkowski for Salon: Getting it on for science.
An excerpt pertaining to sexual arousal in women follows:
Edited to add a video of Mary Roach discussing Bonk; be sure to check it out, particularly her remarks on Danish swine sex! Thanks to Steve C. from W.W. Norton for providing the clip.
There can be a split between what the sex researchers measure happening in their genitals, and what women report feeling?
When sex researchers are doing female arousal studies, they tend to use sexually explicit clips — porn. One researcher found that women say that they prefer female-centered porn. In other words, the guy is attending to the female’s sexual needs, rather than just banging away. Women will say: “That is more arousing to me. That other stag film, I hated that one. It had no effect on me.” But if you look at their blood volume, they were responding to both of them the same. So, it’s just all much more subtle for women.
Didn’t you also find that one study showed that women responded to gay male porn?
And bonobos, too. This is something that was completely unexpected. Women are really indiscriminate in what they respond to, which is totally counterintuitive. It doesn’t matter who is having sex in the video, women have a physiological response. It doesn’t mean they are inclined to have sex with bonobo apes, it was just that [what aroused them] didn’t align with their own sexual preferences, unlike men. Straight men were turned on by straight sex. There was a little hitch in that lesbian sex also turned them on, but they’re seeing two naked women.
Women also seem to be more easily distracted during sex. Kinsey had this line in one of his books that said, “Cheese crumbs spread in front of a pair of copulating rats will distract the female, but not the male.”
There’s a twisted history of attempts to improve women’s sexual experiences. For instance, the case of the princess who had her clitoris moved. Can you talk about this princess, and why she did it?
Marie Bonaparte, who was the great-grand-niece of Napoleon Bonaparte, had this notion that the distance between the vagina and the clitoris would determine how aroused the woman got during intercourse. She was very frustrated that she never had orgasms during intercourse. By the way, her husband was gay; I don’t know if that played into it at all.
She couldn’t manage to have an orgasm during missionary position intercourse. Rather than try a different position, she decided it had to do with clitoral-vaginal distance. She did a lot of measurements on women, and then asked them, “Do you orgasm during intercourse?” and found a correlation between the distance between the clitoris and the vagina. In other words, the clitoris wasn’t getting stimulated at all during intercourse, in some of these women with a far distance. She called those, like herself, the “téléclitoridiennes” — “she of the distant clitoris.”
For the surgery, she worked with this French doctor, and he tried it on a cadaver first, and then he did it on her, twice. Sadly, it didn’t work the first time, or the second time. She’s kind of a tragic story in the annals of sexual surgery.
So. Women are aroused by watching bonobos have sex. And that is surprising – why?
My off-the-cuff take (read: wishful thinking) on this observation is that women’s neural-behavioral hardwiring is closer to our inner bonobo or at least hearkens back to shared characteristics with the common ancestor of Pan paniscus and Homo sapiens. Like our bonobo sisters and brothers, our deep-seated predilection is to make love, not war! I will allow that men occasionally display bonobo-like characteristics. Please see wprd’s comment (number 8) in this bit of dessicated Refuge scat: The Joys of Cottaging. That was the first time I encountered the term “boredom boner.”
Bonk, like Roach’s other books, looks like it is chock full of interesting tidbits including the ultrasound study of coitus for which she and her husband volunteered. Nothing like taking notes whilst shagging.
Sadly, the Princeton Public Library appears not to carry Roach’s books, so I’ll have to buy this one.