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Oh, the Things You Learn at Readings

BonkI wish book tours were the first step in publishing a book, not the last. At almost every event on the Bonk tour, some wonderful human being has raised a hand and shared some irresistible nugget that I'd managed to miss. After two years of fruitless searching, here is the man with the answer to the question: Is it true that people put live gerbils up their rectums? (Yes. And hamsters too. With thanks to Massachusetts radiologist Rick Schwartz.) In Denver, Colorado, urologist David Cahn shared his experiences with neoclitorises. I had told the story of how I'd suggested to a transgender surgeon that when he fashions a clitoris (using a bit of the glans) for a man who's becoming a woman, he should place it closer to the vagina than nature does. Kahn chimed in to say that it didn't really matter, as neoclitorises tend to "turn white and drop off." I've met two adults who were delivered by William Masters (of Masters and Johnson), a woman whose parents were interviewed about their sexual habits by Alfred Kinsey, and a man named Scott, who wanted to know if I'd come across the research on how sperm "surf" the walls of the vagina.

These are bittersweet moments for me. While I'm delighted to learn these things, the knowledge that it is too late to add them to the book is almost physically painful. I wanted to be able to go home and call that sperm researcher and ask him how it's possible to surf with no arms or legs? Is it a sort of body-surfing that the sperm do? How does vaginal discharge differ in composition from the breakers at Mavericks? Can you please, please send a picture?

Two nights ago I gave a talk at the Center for Sex and Culture, a sex-positive educational group in San Francisco. I told the story of a SUNY Downstate paper on 22 men who regularly enjoyed multiple orgasms. A large man in the back row raised his hand. How many, he wanted to know, and what was the refractory period? He is pretty sure he can do better. "At last year's Masturbate-a-Thon..." he continued, referring to the CSC's annual fundraiser, and going on to detail his contributions. "Those researchers need to come study us," he said. He's right. They should have been there, and I should have been there while they were there. And what a chapter it could have been. Shoulda woulda coulda.

There's no way to do a book tour before a book is written, but I can do this. I can tell everyone I meet what my next book is about, in hopes that they'll share the strange and wonderful things they know. Ready? The next one is most likely going to be about human beings traveling to Mars. The upside-down, surreal world of space exploration. Toilets on the ceiling and all that. If you have something to share — a NASA anecdote, a friend who works at the Indian Space Agency, tidbits, rumors — go to my website (, click on Contact, and drop me a line. Thanking you in advance, yours truly, Mary Roach.

And thanks to Powell's for letting me blather this week. I adore Powell's. Powell's for President!

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Mary Roach is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Her writing has appeared in such publications as Salon, GQ, Vogue, and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Oakland, California.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human...
    Used Trade Paper $6.95
  2. Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  3. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of...
    Used Hardcover $9.95

Mary Roach is the author of Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

2 Responses to "Oh, the Things You Learn at Readings"

    Carla May 9th, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    I missed you yesterday. Thanks for your posts...

    bc May 11th, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    How about adding some of these book tour discoveries to the paperback edition or subsequent reprintings?

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