A collection of essays explores the oddities of sex appeal.
Most of these 12 pieces originally appeared in psychologytoday.com’s “The Bejeezus Out of Me” column. Science journalist Coffey (Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story, 2014, etc.) is fascinated by fringe science stories and deftly draws attention to research that might otherwise be overlooked. For instance, according to a study in Indonesia, women with tall husbands are happier, perhaps because of the evolutionary lure of a strong protector. Another paper suggests fertile women are more attracted to men who are wearing red. Some surprising trends cannot be explained away by chance: Men cheat more when the wives are the breadwinners and are more likely to suffer penile fractures or sudden deaths during sex when committing adultery. Only 26 percent of women physically match the level of arousal they say they’re experiencing, as opposed to 66 percent of men. Norwegian porn is less degrading to women, in keeping with its more egalitarian society. “The Human Ape” is a particularly timely essay, written at the height of the #MeToo movement. Coffey compares the great apes’ sexual practices with humans’ to suggest that, put in perspective, men’s behavior might not be so bad. Yet the author cites a disturbing study in which nearly one-third of male college students said they would force sex if they were guaranteed there would be no consequences. Interestingly, this was at least partially a question of perception—when asked if they would “rape,” only 13 percent agreed. Other essays consider partner commitment and females’ predatory habits. Coffey’s interest in the life of Anna Freud fuels one of the most intriguing and in-depth essays. Sigmund Freud analyzed his daughter even though he recognized therapy can be an “erotic relationship.” Initially, the aim was to cure her of her masturbation habit; his work with her also led to his penis envy theory. A few of the shorter pieces feel insubstantial. But the author writes clearly and engagingly, and, as the first and most wide-ranging essay proves, she can bring together everything from the history of kissing to face mites within a handful of enjoyable pages. This offbeat collection should appeal to fans of author Mary Roach.
Entertaining and envelope-pushing popular science.