The Science of Good Sex

Finding the funny in coital research

woman and man looking into each others eyes and smiling
(Image credit: Paul K/liniStocke)

Usually, we don't like science interfering with our sex lives (except when it's the Pill, of course). But in

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

, best-selling author Mary Roach has managed to find the funny in coital research. She spent two years unearthing the quirky technicalities of the way we make love. We put in a call to Roach to, er, probe her.

Q: What aspect of sex research especially caught your attention?


There's such a thing as a penis camera. Someone came up with a way to document female arousal by putting a camera in what is essentially a dildo.

Q: What's the hottest area of research?


The study of women's sexual desire and libido is at an all-time high, because that's where all the pharmaceutical funding is.

Q: Is the hope for a Viagra for women?


Viagra does have a physiological effect, but it doesn't make women feel aroused. Nowadays, researchers are looking at drugs that affect the central nervous system rather than blood flow to the genitals.

Q: Where are the other challenges in research?


Pure anatomical research is almost nonexistent: It's difficult to get funding because there's perceived to be no practical application for the information. Yet if you don't understand the physiology of a biological system or process-like female sexual arousal-you can't possibly come up with a way to fix it when things go wrong. No one would have come up with a treatment for diabetes if physiologists hadn't figured out how metabolism, blood sugar, and insulin work.

Q: How hands-on was your research?


At one point, my husband and I had to participate in a study because it was the only way I could learn about how the research is done [nonresearchers aren't allowed to observe]. So, we had to get an ultrasound during sex while the lead researcher was sitting there, inches away from us. It was harder for my husband. He's the one who had to, as they say, achieve and maintain. I was essentially a receptacle. It was the weirdest sex I've ever had.