This book is subtitled “The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex,” and right from the subtitle the puns and jokes flow from Mary’s pen like… water. I said water! Get your mind out of the gutter!
I was giggling madly, hooting with laughter, or cringing while reading this. Roach’s style is that of Interested Observer (and Occasional Test Subject) of Science. Thankfully, the laughing and giggling happened more often than the cringing.
The guiding thesis to this book is pretty much what it says: where do science and sex overlap? And Roach found out some pretty interesting, often hilarious, things. I’m just… I’m just gonna give you a bunch of quotes and then maybe a list of the stuff that made my eyes go wide for one reason or another:
Theodoor Van de Velde on nurturing “the perfect flower of ideal marriage” and “combatting the forces of mutual repulsion,” which include “fermented clitoral smegma” [Ed. Note: UM WUT] and “bad breath,” which does not apparently include semen breath.
Because according to Van de Velde, a “slight seminal odor” can be detected on a woman’s breath within an hour after intercourse, and it can be “very arousing” for the man. (75)
Robert Latou Dickinson’s Atlas of Human Sex Anatomy included 14 thumbnail “Coital Diagrams” with titles like “Pillow Lifts Hips” and “He Diagonally Across,” but the publishers still objected so he tried to appease his publisher by replacing human forms with – I can’t even – entwining robots. (76)
|Perhaps the publishers were worried about people using the book to put a spark in their sex lives?|
There is erectile tissue in the lining of the nose. Sooo… nasal congestion is an erection inside your nose. (135)
In medieval times, it was believed that both women and men had “seed,” and that it was the mixing of the two seeds that created babies. Men, as we learn earlier in the text (and probably earlier in life), need to… err…. expel… their seed regularly. (There’s actually a scientific reason for this: if sperm get held in for too long, they start doing weird shit like growing extra tails and heads and probably hair and opinions.) So I suppose it follows that under the same paradigm women would also need to release their seed – apparently not connected to menses at this point – and those who could not would get hysteria – literally “womb fury – from lack of sex. At this point, I kind of picture my uterus waving its little fallopian tube arms about in RAGE, but I digress.
A medieval physician concluded that “By a long Detention there, [the seed] may be converted into VENOM, or a Poysonous Humour…” (Roach describes this guy as “typographically deranged,” which seems pretty accurate...) Thus, one of the midwife’s jobs in regards to widows was to take “various oils with her fingers,” and “rub the part gently for a long time.” To expel the she-semen and prevent brain injury, you see. (214)
In conclusion, even though I usually refuse flatly to read non-fiction because life is non-fiction enough thankyouverymuch, this book was great, and Mary Roach lives in the Bay Area so I might have to email her and beg her to be my friend.
8 out of 11 Medieval Sex Manuals
*A final tidbit of learning for us all: “Nominations for a Nobel Prize…remain secret for fifty years. You make the claim, and nobody can prove otherwise until after you’re dead. Add one to your resume today!” (263)