Monday, January 29, 2007

Book Review: The Science of Orgasm

The Science of Orgasm by Barry R. Komisaruk, Carlos Beyer-Flores, and Beverly Whipple has got to be one of the best science books on sex that you can buy, if you can deal with wading hip deep through medical and biological research jargon.

I learned something new on just about every page, and each fascinating factoid and phenomenon - from the horrific sexual behavior that can result from certain types of brain damage to the question of whether or not orgasms are good for your health - is backed up with citations from top research journals and institutes. The authors themselves are responsible for a significant amount of the original research in the book. It seems pretty clear that that they know what they're taking about.

Still, you have to be awfully determined to plow through passages like this, "The participation of the adrenal cortex as a source of steroids capable of maintaining sexual response in women after bilateral oophorectomy has often been suggested" (page 179).

It can't hurt to have browsers open to Gray's Anatomy (the medical text, not the TV show) and Wikipedia as you make your way through the book, just to keep up with the lingo.

It's interesting that the publisher would choose cover art that resembles a plain brown wrapper, as if you're going to buy a copy to read under the covers while your mom thinks you're sleeping in. No matter how sexy the topic, doctor-speak is hardly a turn on. (Although, I'm sure it works for someone.)

If you read nothing else in this book, I highly recommend the brief section addressing the biological function of the female orgasm (pages 10-15). I have never seen a more coherent and compelling argument that orgasms in women serve some vital, if only partially understood, purpose. It's an excellent counterpoint to arguments claiming that orgasms are critical rewards to induce men to mate, but in women are only evolutionary accidents.

I'm not going to go into details here, but basically the authors point out that women seem to have at least some specialized anatomy that lets them experience types of orgasms that have no male equivalent. (The authors even invented a device to give women orgasms by stimulating only the cervix, which is an exclusively female body part.) The female-only orgasms can't be something left over from male anatomy, they conclude, if they can't exist in male bodies.

I plan to explain things more fully in a future post, but if you can't wait and you think reading the Journal of the American Medical Association is a good way to pass the day, pick up a copy of The Science of Orgasm. If nothing else, it's a good addition to your sexual science reference shelf.

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