You’ll be the life of any party after reading Zoe Cormier’s informative, entertaining “Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Science of Hedonism, the Hedonism of Science,” full of facts about pleasure.
‘Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll: The Science of Hedonism, the Hedonism of Science’
By Zoe Cormier
Da Capo, 352 pp., $26.99
If you want to be the hit of any cocktail party, don’t miss Zoe Cormier’s new book “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ’n’ Roll.” Cormier is a scientist, but the topics of her first book are three areas of pleasure, which she cheekily calls “hedonism.” Reciting facts from any of the three sections would provide you with a lifetime of lively party banter.
Did you know goats, hyenas and gibbons all engage in oral sex? Or that Vesalius (the “father of modern anatomy”) was unable to locate the clitoris? Or that the human penis is rare among mammals in that it doesn’t include skeletal support and consequently it is more closely linked to the brain? And this is just the start (cue the punch lines here).
Those concepts seem salacious but they are presented here simply as science. Cormier’s goal is to separate moralism from drugs and sex, and look at these topics instead for their biological history.
Cormier realizes that even the idea of a “scientific fact” can be debated. “Few things in science can be termed ‘factual,’” she writes. “What we consider to be the truth shifts over time, whether we are discussing the shape of the solar system, etc. … But biologists unanimously agree: Evolution is a fact.” What she’s interested in is examining pleasure from that factual viewpoint.
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Though human sex is explained as the evolutionary maintenance of the species, Cormier has a hard time with praying mantises; after copulation, the female bites off the male’s head. She’s also at a loss to explain why the male koala bear has sperm that hooks together at high speeds seeking, as Cormier writes, “the ovarian goalpost.”
Her section on “rock ’n’ roll” is actually on music in general, and seems less hedonistic and less scientific, and also feels tacked on to gain a clever title (from an Ian Drury song). Cormier does note that musical instruments like the flute date back so many thousands of years that scientists believe music appreciation may be built into our genes.
Her section on drugs will be the most controversial, because the debate continues about whether drug addiction is genetic and predisposed. One cocktail-party snippet: a study on the use of the drug Ecstasy among Mormon youth — who were not mixing it with alcohol, for religious reasons — found the drug had fewer negative effects on those users.
Cormier admits to using a variety of recreational drugs herself, without apology. Ironically, in a book with so much hedonism, it is the side effects of a prescribed drug that causes her the most outrage.
“It destroyed my happiness and my health,” she writes of the epilepsy drug Lamotrigine. “I can count on one hand the number of things in my life that I regret, and taking that foul prescription tops the list.”
One thing you won’t regret is the pleasure of reading this fun and fascinating book.