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How Sex Works

Sharon Moalem

Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act the Way We Do

(HarperCollins; US: Apr 2009)

Forget about the birds and bees. Shelve all those romantic comedies that paint touching pictures of love’s magic conquering all. Just for a second, consider all your unique fetishes and what drives you crazy with desire, whether an hourglass figure or perhaps a tall, dark, and handsome stranger. From where do these attractions stem? You think perhaps there are some genes passed down through the ages of evolution that triggers our most primal lusts, coded in our DNA, prompting our magnetic attraction to each other?


At least Dr. Sharon Moalem does, and he outlines the many theories for sexual attraction, monogamy, and even sexual orientation in his recent book, How Sex Works: Why We Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Act the Way We Do.


Author of the bestselling Survival of the Sickest, Moalem is no stranger to evolution and the sexual habits of men and women throughout the centuries. As far as theories go, the ones attempting to explain our seemingly random desires for sex, love, and intimacy number in the hundreds. Luckily, Moalem is on the case, taking readers on a journey from basic anatomy to sexually transmitted infections down to teledidonics, short for sexual remote interaction technology, which allows someone to remotely control a vibrator through a wireless connection.


Interesting factoid after interesting factoid, you’ll learn about how our bodily scents are linked to the strength of our immune systems, thereby signally potential mates (or love interests) that we might produce better offspring with but a whiff in passing. Additionally, Moalem explains that there may even be an inherited standard for beauty (according to some evolutionary theorists), essentially pulling us toward our best genetic match. Not only that, but there’s a whole section on female ejaculation, with studies dating as far back as the ancient Greeks, which in itself makes the book a fascinating voyage into the sexually unknown.


As Moalem himself states in his introduction as a starting point for sex education:


As we set out to explore how sex works and examine all the fascinating differences between male and female sexuality, keep this in mind: ovaries and testes—and the sexual organs most likely to give us pleasure when stimulated, the penis and clitoris—started out in the very same place, from the very same parts.


That said, you might be afraid of a dense, dry, and overly scientific prose—the kind that make textbooks on sexuality so utterly boring (and plain inaccessible at times)—but Moalem instead takes a conversational tone, which not only makes for a quick read, but also digests the most interesting of humanity’s sexual exploits, studies, and fetishes so even a teenager can understand their seriousness.


In other orders, though an award-winning neurogeneticist and evolutionary biologist with a PhD in human physiology to boot, Moalem writes about intercourse and sexuality in a candid, inviting way for a change, bridging the gap between the scientist and the layperson, reinvigorating the learning process (and the bedroom) once again.


For example, did you know the nickname for the female vagina in the late-1500s was actually hey nonny-no? Have you heard that when a woman is ovulating she’s likely to fantasize about men who aren’t her partner? Weirdly enough, as one study suggests, women who have sex with more than one man during ovulation have a real chance of mothering fraternal twins by two different dads. Talk about a complicated family tree.


These sexual tidbits and more are peppered throughout Moalem’s How Sex Works, and though he may neglect the metaphysical (dare I say magical) connection between partners that people associate with the ineffable nature of love, he’s at no loss for words, nor information when it comes to the scientific fundamentals of our bodies and our chemical magnetism to one another. As a concluding remark in his chapter “Good Vibrations”, he writes:


Learning about the influences that millions of years of trial and error have played in our evolution as a species can bring us closer to breaking free from instincts and making informed choices ... The more we understand how sex works, the greater the opportunity we have to enjoy one of evolution’s greatest gifts.


In short, a fun, entertaining, and informative read that keenly observes and successfully outlines the frequent patterns of our sexual behavior, How Sex Works is a great primer for those who are just discovering sex as well as people who have been around the proverbial block a few times.

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