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Sex at the L.A. public library

April 16, 2008 | 10:51 am

Mary Roach talks about her book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex On Tuesday night, colleague Alan Zarembo invited me to attend a discussion at the downtown L.A. public library where we learned, among other things, that:

-- The average volume of a boar's ejaculate is 1.5 cups.

-- When copulating rodents are presented with morsels of cheese, the female gets distracted but the male does not.

-- A scientist, concerned that man-made fibers were harming human male sperm counts, conducted experiments with rats fitted with little polyester pants to track the effect on their fertility.

The speaker was Mary Roach, author of the new book "Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex" (Norton, 2008), a history of sex research. Questions from the interviewer weren't so hot, but Roach was fun and a font of interesting sex-science tidbits and anecdotes, such as her description of the camera-dildo used by landmark sex researchers Masters and Johnson to track the response of the vagina to penetration.

The audience seemed especially to like the story of Roach's participation, with her husband, in a British sex experiment: The pair were examined via ultrasound while having intercourse, Roach taking notes for her book all the while. And Roach even learned a fact from an audience member, one she lamented not including in her book: Scientists once had a theory that human semen "surfs" along the lining of the vagina toward its target.

In recent years, some sex researchers and sociologists have decried the increased medicalization of sexuality with its drug company-financed focus on finding drugs to solve sexual problems. Roach, too, expressed sadness about this trend. Drug studies, she said, aren't nearly as fun to write about as rodents wearing miniature polyester pants.

Roach's talk was part of the ALOUD program of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. You can hear her in a recent NPR interview here.)

--Rosie Mestel

Photo: David Paul Morris/W.W. Norton via Bloomberg News