Bonking in the Name of Science

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.

More like this

Shouldn't it be boink? To bonk is to hit someone over the head. How can I have any decent expectations from this book if they can't even get the title right?

By Mustafa Mond, FCD (not verified) on 04 Apr 2008 #permalink

If I'm not mistaken, "bonk" is a variant of "boink," and more often used in the UK. Another one of those instances of two societies separated by a common language. Perhaps one of the Refuge's Brit readers (hopper?) could enlighten us.

Here in the UK bonk is to have sex and to me boink is a onomatopoeic word,it is a sound.

After seeing this post's title and noting it was the Chimp Refuge, I rushed over here expecting to read about long distance running! Oh well, still very interesting. Hmm, I wonder if anybody has ever bonked while bonking? Now theres a study!

karen, thanks so much for confirming the usage of "bonk." Usually, we Yanks tend to take letters away from British spellings, e.g. colour, honour. In this case, we added a vowel.

Norm: Yes, one might wonder how long it would take before lactic threshold is exceeded. Probably longer that thirteen minutes. Paging Dr. Tim Noakes!

I'm not sure it would be physically possible to bonk while bonking. Unless maybe you had about 100 liters of lube and some well-placed Novocaine.

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.

This may explain the phenomenon of slash fan fiction -- stories written by fans of TV shows, etc., that feature male characters having sex with each other. Typically, the writers are het females, and the original fictional characters are not gay. (The "slash" originated with Trekkies who wrote fanfiction with a "Kirk/Spock" theme.)

As for the photos: I don't think the bonobos do much for me. But I have to admit to an affinity for photos of butterflies or moths in flagrante. :-)

By Julie Stahlhut (not verified) on 04 Apr 2008 #permalink

Jim - don't forget the Viagra. Call you physician if you have an erection lasting more than 4 hours, or you manage to bonk while bonking, whichever comes first.

Oh dear, a comment with both "Viagra" and "erection" in it, no way that makes it past the spam filter!

Julie: This may explain the phenomenon of slash fan fiction -- stories written by fans of TV shows, etc., that feature male characters having sex with each other.

This is one of those amazing moments of serendipity! Last night at the local watering hole, a friend (also a biochemist) and I were discussing this very idea, i.e., that women's purportedly more generalized arousal might contribute to the interesting phenomenon. I'm familiar with the term, e.g., Kirk and Spock - The Founding Fathers of Slash (NSFW)!

Norm! You slipped through the filters! Jim's probably right although the idea of local anesthetic and industrial grade lubricant makes me clench.

In Mark Twain's "Letter from the Earth", he explains how these behaviors may have all been "designed in". The arousal of the female at the least bit of excuse, her distractions, lack of attention to the ongoing bonk, and the urgency of the male to bonk when he can. Here it goes...

"But man is only briefly competent; and only then in the moderate measure applicable to the word in his sex's case. He is competent from the age of sixteen or seventeen thence-forward for thirty-five years. After fifty his performance is of poor quality, the intervals between are wide, and its satisfactions of no great value to either party; whereas his great-grandmother is as good as new. There is nothing the matter with her plant. Her candlestick is as firm as ever, whereas his candle is increasingly softened and weakened by the weather of age, as the years go by, until at last it can no longer stand, and is mournfully laid to rest in the hope of a blessed resurrection which is never to come. "

By SKrishnan (not verified) on 08 Apr 2008 #permalink

Ah, Dr. K.! Thanks for posting the brilliance that is Mark Twain. I don't often use smilie icons here on the Refuge but this deserves a big :^D

and you wonder why the furries are visiting your blog.

Dervin: and you wonder why the furries are visiting your blog.

Ha! I suppose the Chimp Refuge does have a certain "yiffy" appeal.

ETA: Now you're at liberty to blackmail me since you obviously stumbled upon the reeking tidal flat that is my secret hideout. ;^)

From The New Hacker's Dictionary version 4.2.2
Various editors:

" Node:boink, Next:[1754]bomb, Previous:[1755]Bohr bug, Up:[1756]= B =

boink /boynk/

[Usenet: variously ascribed to the TV series "Cheers" "Moonlighting",
and "Soap"] 1. v. To have sex with; compare [1757]bounce, sense 3.
(This is mainstream slang.) In Commonwealth hackish the variant `bonk'
is more common. 2. n. After the original Peter Korn `Boinkon'
[1758]Usenet parties, used for almost any net social gathering, e.g.,
Miniboink, a small boink held by Nancy Gillett in 1988; Minniboink, a
Boinkcon in Minnesota in 1989; Humpdayboinks, Wednesday get-togethers
held in the San Francisco Bay Area. Compare [1759]@-party. 3. Var of
`bonk'; see [1760]bonk/oif."

The numbers within the [square brackets] can be accessed at this URL:

A gentle reminder to Dr. Bushwell: a couple of your friends will appreciate a few personal electronic notes from you, and are wondering why you have disappeared from the personal sphere ...

By K. Radika (not verified) on 17 Apr 2008 #permalink

KR - many thanks for the definitions! I'm especially taken with the "humpdayboinks." With regard to the other query, an e-mail has been sent.

Doc Bushwell, I thought you might get a kick out of the attribution of the slang origin in part to "Cheers", "Moonlighting" etc. too. As to the Commonwealth variation, I wonder if it is really a derivative or the progenitor of the US version.

As to the other, thank you!

By K. Radika (not verified) on 17 Apr 2008 #permalink

It's a bit strange that in this interview females responding to gay male porn doesn't seem to be seen as parallel to males responding to lesbian porn. I haven't really understood why not.