How Sex Works

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How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel and Act the Way We Do
By Dr. Sharon Moalem
274 pages; Harper

The Gist:

At this point, is there anything we don't know about the biology of sex? Never before has a populace had as much access to information about how their bodies operate. Yet, Dr. Sharon Moalem, a Ph.D. in human physiology, believes that we deserve a one-stop primer on what goes where and why. There's a lot of science behind the book's deceptively simple title. ("See TIME's 100 Most Influential People of the Year.")

Highlight Reel:

1. On Brazilian waxes: "A new study suggests that the cultural preference for trim pubic hair is having dire consequences for a pesky parasite that has been freeloading in our personal perfumeries for thousands of years ... It seems that waxing down under is like deforestation as far as pubic lice are concerned."

2. On how watching certain types of pornography can increase better sperm: "A 2005 Australian study showed that, when men looked at pornographic images of two men and a woman together, they produced significantly better quality sperm than when they looked at images of just women. Evolutionary biologist Leigh Simmons, one of the researchers on the study, stated that "males ejaculate more sperm, or sperm of better quality, when the risk of sperm competition is high." (See pictures of the best Bond girls.)

3. On female ejaculation: "Today, the existence of female ejaculation is more accepted in the scientific community, although it still has its detractors. From survey results, some sexologists estimate that about 10 percent of women ejaculate during orgasm ... Why don't more women experience ejaculation? It seems that the initial sensation ... is similar to the feeling women get when they need to pee. Not surprisingly, many women put a stop to the stimulation right there. They don't know it's leading to ejaculation and they don't want to pee in the presence of their partners." (Read "Help for Sex-Starved Wives.")

The Lowdown:

Less a work of original theory and more a compendium of facts from other people's books and studies, How Sex Works often feels like a retread of an uncomfortable high school sex-ed class minus the acne. Here's a description of how menstruation works, there's a step by step description of how a man gets an erection; here's the reason why women have wide hips, there's a look at why testicles hang dangerously outside the body. Nothing we don't already know.

Where Moalem does venture into new territory — attempting to figure out why girls are experiencing their first period younger and younger, for example — he does so on basis of sometimes contradictory studies and unproven theories that will leave readers bursting with interesting factoids, but few answers. Still, it's easy to imagine parents uncomfortable with discussing the physical aspects of sexuality just handing their kids a copy of this book and saying, "Look, this has all the basics. Come back to me if you want to talk about feelings."

The Verdict: Skim

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