Since you are all inquisitive scientists, it is not a big surprise that sex is a popular topic of study in the real world. I attended a talk by Mary Roach, author of “Bonk: The Curious Coupling Of Science And Sex” , at UC Davis on Monday. Aside from the series of thank-yous provided by the introducer that seemed more appropriate for an Academy Award than an author of a pop science book on sex, it got right to the meat and potatoes.
She opened with the statement, “Thank you for coming…er, I mean attending.” The relieved laughter (probably that she wasn’t going to attack this in a text book way) set the tone for the talk. I didn’t have my tape recorder and I know that a live stream is available on the UC Davis writing program page, but I think it’s more interesting to write this blog based on the notes that I took, since I don’t know by what strange means I decided to write down the things I did. Somewhere down the line, I think I probably need to be studied as well. I’m just throwing that out there in case there is a scientist out there who doesn’t have a squeamish stomach or sensitive hearing and is in desperate need of a for grad school.
Mary Roach and moi.
Back to the author.
This book came to be when Mary Roach decided to fully immerse herself in the research conducted in sex laboratories. In fact, she got downright dirty in her research efforts to the point of actually using herself and her husband as the participants in these labs (apparently there are some confidentiality issues with having another party watch and take notes of how people watch and take notes of people having sex for research purposes?). She did not recommend being the researcher and research subject simultaneously,
since her note-taking was apparently a negative variable in her husband’s performance.
So here is a filtered synopsis, according to my notes: 70% of women don’t have orgasms during sex in the ‘traditional’ missionary position. In pigs, the clitoris is inside the vagina. In 1917 Marie Bonaparte got together a group of women and measured the distance from their clitoris to their vaginal openings, after thinking that this distance may be linked to the ability to have an orgasm. Her findings weren’t of note, but she did later find out that her husband was gay (here I wrote a note to self in my margins, “check with hubby to see if he’s gay before contacting a transgender surgeon to relocate my stuff”).
The room erupted in laughter quite a few times, and while I did find her amusing, I started pondering the idea of laughing out loud at lectures like this. For instance, why didn’t I ever laugh out loud? Are they forcing it? Do they want to seem cool and at ease with the subject matter by doing it? I wished I had Bloggy the Bear (http://www.science20.com/science_20/blog/blogging_aaas_meeting_chicago) to offer some comfort and be the voice of reason, and also to encourage me to be a more assiduous note taker, but he is taking a short LOA while waiting for some scientific accoutrements to arrive before his next adventure. Until then, I get to mind wander.
My attention jolted back to Mary (I feel I can be on a first name basis since we have had more intimate discussions than I’ve had with most of my friends) when she announces the topic she will now be discussing is The Orgasm. I like her use of the term because it makes it sound powerful and important, like The President, or Madonna. Quickly I come to believe that somehow she has been paid by a third party to create a fear in women of orgasming, since the strange findings she chose to share were a little alarming. There is a woman in Saudi Arabia who was (and very probably is) having 30 spontaneous orgasms daily. She said it has ruined her life and she cannot partake in cultural and religious rituals, among other things, I’m sure. I think of her as a teenager running up stairs and slamming her door screaming.
Then there was a woman who would have an orgasm every time she brushed her teeth. They tried to study the brain activity while she is brushing her teeth to figure out what the connection was, but nothing conclusive came of it. Or was concluded for that matter. And the saddest part of the story was that the woman gave up on brushing and took up mouthwash as her main source of oral care. I went to brush myteeth before bed, fearing this orgasm bandit is lurking around every corner. It was along the lines of being afraid of suddenly contracting Tourette’s Syndrome, which is completely improbable I know, but I brushed my teeth for 18 minutes just to be sure.
Then she talked about a woman who practiced the art of Tantra for two years and can now will herself to have an orgasm. For the record, women have been able to ‘will’ themselves to have orgasms for many moons now. Either way, the woman sat on a bench in public and in a minute and one half, she was having one. Again my stupidity is standing in my way of understanding this.
So this woman practiced for two whole years to give herself an orgasm in 1.5 minutes, when the complaint of women has been that men can’t 'go' long enough since the time of dinosaurs? I think that maybe Mary was sponsored by celibacy.org.
I don’t know if the economy has anything to do with it, but sometimes orgasms and brushing teeth can lead to a career change and increased profitability. One manufacturer, who will not be named, switched from making electric toothbrushes to making dildos, because he found out what his product was really being used for. Good for him I say, I think more household goods should be converted. Electric toaster? A mop? Since we know it’s getting the cold shoulder since Swiffer showed up.
She also covered for a brief time the ridiculous things found (because they got them stuck) in anal cavities of patients. I will spare these details because I was really worried for our nation’s intelligence level and inevitable self-destruction after hearing some of the items people deemed appropriate to place there. I was so consumed by sadness and stupor that I didn’t even write them down. Regardless, they are lodged in my brain cavity.
At the conclusion of her talk she began to take questions from the audience. Some eager students asked questions, which quite frankly, they had obviously edited and re-written 74 times on the bus on the way there. Mainly, they wanted a step-by-step blueprint of how to be ‘cool’ writers about taboo topics in a legitimate field. Her P.R. rep must have taught her well, because she handled it quite nicely, I thought; inserting laughter and shrugging appropriately and humbly, while avoiding unanswerable questions by offering cute anecdotes.
In conclusion: I am nowhere closer to knowing what triggers orgasms, I have added fear of doing it in the missionary position, toothbrushes and pig genitalia to my list of phobias to discuss with my therapist next week, I am contemplating taking Tantra lessons on the off chance that I wind up stranded alone on an island someday (it could happen), and I put Mary Roach down in my little black science book in case I ever need a recipe for artificial sperm … she says she knows two.