SEX by Joann Ellison Rodgers


A Natural History
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A Lasker-winning science journalist's comprehensive—too comprehensive—survey of current research, discoveries, and theories about sex, genetics, and gender.

The ’90s gave us a glut of information on human sexuality and its origins, with the very latest coming from fields like molecular biology, evolutionary psychology, and neurobiology. New, controversial theories abound, and Rodgers (Psychosurgery, 1992, etc.) performs a much-needed service here in bringing them together. All the major perspectives appear, many of which will be familiar (Simon Levay on the brain's sexual dimorphism; John Money on gender assignment; Thornhill and Parker on rape), but Rodgers also includes many of what Stephen J. Gould derides as “just-so stories,” adaptionist theories based on meager research, leaving lots of loose ends in what might have been a more tightly knit work. But as interesting as the research itself are reports that scientists are still discouraged from sex research in humans, or extending their findings in other species to our own. If for only this reason, Rodgers’s work is valuable; there is so much inconclusive evidence of factors in our own behaviors (e.g., from bonobos and brain structure) that it can't all be dismissed. The author’s breezy style is largely unobtrusive, and if readers work their way through the drier sections on genetic molecular biology, there are scads of fascinating information: that women prefer the scent of symmetrical men, but only while ovulating; that the more power women have in society, the thinner the ideal female; that faking orgasms might be an inherited skill that, along with the real thing, help women “decide” when to get pregnant. Professionals may be dismayed at the prominence the controversial Johns Hopkins professor John Money is accorded here, and Rodgers’s job doing p.r. for Johns Hopkins is not particularly reassuring.

Still: Everything science knows about sex that you never would have thought to ask. And then some.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-7167-3744-2
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2001


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